Editor at computer screen writing notes

Who needs an editor?

I do.

If you write, you do. Writers need editors.

This blog answers two entwined questions about writers and editors:

  • How can writers become even more effective when working with editors?
  • How can editors work with writers better?

Ideally, great writers and editors team up and pull together, instead of working at cross-purposes.

Great writers always take four steps before handing in copy to an editor:

  1. Agree with clients or editors on the topic up front, then research the topic thoroughly, to assemble teaching points or a Message Map.
  2. Write a first, often lousy, draft. Let it rest.
  3. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite before you turn in your copy to the editor.
  4. Meet agreed-on deadlines.

Great editors take a series of steps to support the writer and minimize friction.

Do the homework to understand the reader. Editors study up by reading the research on readers such as demographics, segmentation and buyer personas. Editors also stay current with interview transcripts, website analytics, and feedback such as comments or letters to the editor.

Figure out what the reader needs. Ask and answer the right questions. What does the reader want? What are the pain points they need to address? How will we help them become more successful?

reader pulling a book out of a computer screen
Readers need answers. Great writers deliver good answers with help from editors.

Edit according to Wilbur Schramm’s Fraction of Selection, that is:

Expectation of reward
Effort required

This fraction shows you what keeps readers reading, namely: the expected reward divided by the effort required to gain the reward.

Writers and editors can increase rewards, or reduce the effort required by readers, or both. But don’t overpromise on rewards – that’s why people hate clickbait headlines. Tip of the hat to Ann Wylie for introducing me to Wilbur Schramm.

Emphasize the elements users rely on most, since most website users are skimmers, not readers. Remember, people spend only about 10 seconds on a page before deciding whether to move on.

CXL research found that 97% of webpage users read the headline, 98% glance at the subhead, and 91% read image captions – but banner ads get less than 1.5 seconds worth of attention.

Establish consistent rules of the game. For example, at a telecom company, we designated the AP Stylebook, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and Newton’s Telecom Dictionary as our guiding lights.

the word "abracadabra"
Use magic words and power words. Avoid taboo words.

Choose tools that help writers. For example, establish your brand’s readability guideline and consistently use readability tests such as the Flesch-Kincaid grade level to enforce it. (For example, this blog reads at an 8.6 grade level.)

Use the Advanced Marketing Institute’s free Headline Analyzer to measure and boost the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of your headlines.

Identify and provide lists of power words, magic words and forbidden (taboo) words.

Establish your brand message on a Message Map. When you co-create a Message Map, you ensure that your message comes across clear, concise, consistent and compelling.

A Message Map helps writers connect the dots for readers, reducing friction and increasing comprehension. Of course, we’re happy to help you co-create your own Message Map.

brand voice
What does the voice of your brand sound like? How’s it different from competitors?

Use a consistent voice and tone for your brand. When your voice and tone are consistent, people recognize who you are by how you say things. For instance, here’s a range of brand voices, on a scale from formal to informal:

How formal or informal is your brand voice?

Here’s a blog to help you define your brand voice so that your brand always sounds consistent, even distinctive.

Simplified English reaches more people around the world
Use simplified English to reach a global audience.

When your audience is global, use global English. If your brand extends beyond English-speaking countries, choose a simplified global English vocabulary. Keep your words simple to reach more of the millions of people who learned English as a second language.

For instance, the Voice of America broadcasts with a vocabulary of only 1,500 words, enough to share all types of stories. This vocabulary makes it easier for people to learn and comprehend basic English.

If you work in a specialized industry, add the words that industry experts frequently use.

Randall Munroe’s book, Thing Explainer, Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, sheds light on complex science and technologies while using a vocabulary of only 1,000 words!

The children's book Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Suess
Green Eggs & Ham became a bestseller by using only 50 words.

If such a small vocabulary feels impossible to achieve, consider that Dr. Suess wrote Green Eggs and Ham, the bestselling children’s book, using a vocabulary of only 50 words.

Why? Because he wanted to win a bet with his editor.

Team up long-term with a great editor. I’m super-lucky to work with my business partner and long-term editor Ariana Nikitas. We’ve edited each other’s work for decades, since the 1990s.

Crystal Clear Communications is our third gig together. If you’re lucky enough to find an editor as good as Ariana, stick with them for years, for decades. I guarantee it will pay off. A great editor makes you a much better writer.

Meet your deadlines. As a former newspaper editor and annual report writer, I’m a stickler for deadlines. This blog is getting to Ariana just barely in time. Sorry about that.

When you make a date with your editor and your readers, they expect you to deliver on time, every time. That’s one way to become your readers’ favorite writer!