What does a good editor do?

To jumpstart our thinking about editing, let’s consider this question: What does a good editor do? Or, worded another way, what is the primary role of an editor?

Give it some thought, and post your thoughtful, well-written ideas below.

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15 responses to “What does a good editor do?

  1. I think in a basic sense, an editor’s primary job is to clean up after writers. Granted, this is coming from a writer who is a terrible self-editor and makes multiple grammatical errors. Without an editor, I’d look like a total buffoon (as I most probably will in this post :P). Editors reduce the amount of unnecessary words, offer ways to re-enforce or improve the writer’s thesis for a piece , and ask tough questions that should make the writer carefully examine his or her point. Without editors, We wouldn’t look nearly as intelligent.

  2. A good editor spell checks and offers advice on how best to improve the story from their point of view; a GREAT editor guides the writer in the right direction to improve the story in the direction that the writer sees the story going.

  3. Molly Rasmussen

    My idea of a good editor is a person who guides a writer. They do not demand or insult instead they suggest and constructively offer advice. A good editor pulls or brings to the surface the writer’s natural instinct and knowledge and points them in the right direction. The greatest part about a good editor is that a writer is never put down or discouraged, instead the writer’s good qualities are given positive reinforcement and are encouraged to continue.

  4. I believe the role of a good editor is to help facilitate good writing from the reporter/writer. As the superior it is his/her duty to demand the best in terms of writing out of the writer/reporter. A good editor will check to make sure that all grammatical and syntactical errors are corrected and revised to produce the best piece moving forward. I know this bleeds into the other blog, ‘Reflections’ but I also think a good editor should be a coach or have coach like qualities such as empathy and patience and the ability to inspire a writer/reporter to do better and make the piece better. The totality of that I believe is what makes a good editor and what fosters good writers/reporters.

  5. Heather Shoning

    I believe a good editor is first and foremost responsible to her readers. She guides the publication to be the best product to meet the needs of the reader. Under that umbrella falls the task of ensuring the writer is creating a piece that serves that purpose. She directs the writer in a respectful manner. She helps the writer form a cohesive and engaging article. The editor should NOT have to check spelling. It is a writer’s responsibility to submit a clean and polished final draft free of errors such as spelling.

    In essence, a good editor guides a writer to produce writing that suits the audience of the publication, engages the reader and is clear and accurate. When she must make changes to a writer’s article, she does it without destroying the entire piece, always keeping in mind service to her reader.

  6. I agree with the previous posts that editors will “clean up” after writers, so to speak, but I think a great editor will take his/her job even further. I’ve always considered an editor as the staff mentor. A good editor will inspire writers, coach them on ways they can improve, and be familiar with the needs of the audience.

    I agree with the previous posts that editors will “clean up” after writers, so to speak, but I think a great editor will take his/her job even further. What does that audience want to know? What does that audience need to know? What’s the best way an editor can convey a particular message? How can the editor’s staff members improve ways of communicating to the audience?

  7. There are many characteristics invovled in being a good editor. Not only do they hold the responsibility of correct grammar, punctuation, word usage, facts, etc., they also provide the writers with coaching, encouragment and praise.

    Before reading the chapters in Coaching Writers, I simply believed the only duty of a good editor was to ensure an article had been cleared of all mistakes. However, after reading the assigned chapters, I realize that there is much more to an editor than just that.

    Encouragement, praise and offering suggestions without force is important in providing the writer with growth in their own writing ability. Good editors must ensure the article is free of mistakes but in the end, to also ensure that the piece of work (and the writor) has not been ultimately destroyed due to harsh remarks or suggestions.

  8. Brigitte Haugen

    Besides the obvious “editing” job of an editor, the primary role of an editor is to oversee a writer (or many) and help him or her through the teeth-clenching process of story development. A good editor is available to the writer and offers his or her time to meet the writer and patiently work through a piece. A good editor is a human.

  9. In my eyes, a good editor is someone who is encouraging, inspiring, and truthful. An editor should encourage their writers to compose something that is theirs. I know writers have to tailor their pieces depending on what publication they are writing for, however, I think a good editor would encourage their staff to write something they feel proud of, not just something to put in a magazine or newspaper. It can be very discouraging for a writer to see a published piece that is completely changed and their voice is no longer recognizable.
    Second, editors should inspire their writers to want to produce something better every time. Editors should be teachers and should give constructive criticism that allows their staffers to grow and flourish.
    Finally, editors should always be truthful with their writers. If they don’t like something I think they should be very open with the writer about what they would like and not just change the piece once it goes to press. Or, if an editor becomes to close to the writer they may not be as analytical of their friends writing and let things slip.

  10. A good editor brings out the best in his/her staff and writers. A good editor works closely with design, advertising, and other departments and understands that drawing on the skills and knowledge of others is the key to success for the publication.

  11. I agree whole heartedly with Leslie, a great editor dedicates his or her efforts to guiding staff writers to produce the best possible copy that effectively tells a story using the writer’s voice.

  12. A great article tells me everything I wanted to know (and everything I didn’t know I wanted to know) in a way that flows effortlessly. A writer may think their work accomplishes that. But a good editor can provide an objective perspective to help them communicate the story more clearly, concisely, and completely. Editing is also key in shaping a story to fit the style and voice of a publication.

  13. A good editor does not edit a story to the point where the writer’s voice is lost. A good editor never asks for the bare minimum and never offers only criticism. A good editor never critiques at only the grammatical level. A good editor demands greatness.

  14. A quality that I find very important in an editor is the feeling that the editor and the writer are equals. Although the editor usually has the final say on the way that a story is published, it is the writer’s story, with the writer’s name on it and something they should own. I’ve always found that editors who see themselves as writers and peers to writers are the best. I don’t need to have an editor who acts like they are better than me, I need someone who help make my writing better.

  15. For me, the key word is “perspective.” A good editor offers a new personal perspective on the story and also thinks from the perspective of the future audience to shape a story into being as effective as possible. It is easy to lose perspective while writing, so the best editors can see what works and doesn’t work within a story and helps the writer communicate their research and ideas as clearly as possible. I know I rely on my editors because sometimes I know what I want to say, but I need help teasing it out or putting it directly.

    Elizabeth, I like your point that an editor needs to encourage their staff to write something the writers are proud of. Nothing is more demoralizing for everyone than a piece a writer is embarrassed to be producing, and the audience can usually tell.

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