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Different ways of working

What’s the best way to organise the division and flow of writing and editing work? I am familiar with several possibilities, depending on the individuals involved, the project, and the organisation.

Some questions to consider:

  • How many people are involved in the project?
  • What are their skills levels?
  • What are the time constraints?
  • How much other work does each person have to do?
  • How well do team members get along with each other? Do they respect and value each other’s work (both methods and results)?

Some typical scenarios for electronic editors are:

Editor types in changes; result goes directly to layout and production
Best when writer is not available (for example, has left the company) or fast turnaround is required (for example, news); may be used in any situation where the editor has the final say
Editor types in changes and questions; file goes to writer to accept or reject changes or to request clarification
Best when writers are experienced or will have their names on the resulting document, or when writers are inexperienced and markup will assist in their education; equivalent to markup on paper
Editor types in changes and questions and discusses with author
Best when training inexperienced writers (or those new to the company style), or in the case of many questions that are best resolved through discussion
Editor provides comments in a separate file and writer or layout person inserts them
Best when editor doesn’t have appropriate software to edit the file directly and/or layout is most important (for example, in brochures)

Most of the problems I have seen with any of these scenarios has more to do with conflicts between the writer and the editor, rather than any technical problem. Some writers want nothing to do with electronic editing, even if the original files are not touched; such writers typically do not want to deal with anything other than marks on paper.

If a new way of working is being imposed on an existing writer or group, management needs to (but all too often doesn’t) treat the situation with tact and consideration. New hires (staff or contract) can reasonably be required to do it the new way without any discussion, but hiring managers should ensure that candidates are aware of the working arrangements, whatever they are. Remember that the word “teamwork” means different things to different people.

Related reading

Beyond copy-editing: the editor-writer relationship
About Technical Editing
Negotiating with writers, managers and others

Last updated 27 May 1999