by Barbara McNichol
Students taking a professional editing course at Kennesaw State University recently contacted me and asked the question below. As I responded to them, I thought both writers and editors would find this list helpful.
What are the most important skills someone needs to be a high-quality nonfiction editor?
These essential skills come to mind:
- Patience to concentrate on one tedious project for countless hours (ADD people rarely do well with this)
- Knowledge of English language and grammar rules – sounds basic but the basics are often missing among writers (that’s why we have editors)
- Curiosity to question accuracy of word use and willingness look up answers (e.g., dictionary.com, my Word Trippers)
- A proven process to ensure projects are handled thoroughly (in my case, 3 reviews of every manuscript)
- Focus on what might be missing from the piece in terms of logic, examples, clarifications
- Ability to whack wordiness (e.g., tighten the writing, get rid of extraneous words, finding redundancies, keep sentences short, etc.) If writers did this in their own reviews, the editor would focus on value-added aspects such as flow and creativity.
- Respectful, explanatory tone rather than demanding tone (e.g., beware of using “must” and “should”)
- Power of using active voice rather than passive voice – rewrite where practical
- Sense of orderliness and flow so there’s a logical thread running through the piece
- Smooth transitions between paragraphs
- Use of figures of speech, metaphors, similes, etc.
- High level of skill in Word, including formatting and setting up automated Table of Contents
The bonus? Authors who revise their own writing using these skills can save time and money in the editing process before ever getting an editor involved.
What is your experience editing your own writing? What techniques work best for you?