Now that you’ve made the case for copyediting to your boss, writers and other colleagues are sending you so much of their copy that you can’t keep up, right?
Perhaps you have the same problem as one of our readers:
I’m a full-time, salaried employee at a company, so the main things that drive me nuts when people “forget” to involve me early on in any professional communication project are 1) they are blind to their errors in style, punctuation, and grammar; 2) they “just need to get it out now” and don’t consider copyediting an essential step in the production of any communication; 3) they have a lack of respect for the copyediting process; and 4) they have control issues and believe the work simply cannot be edited at all.
Unlike the person in charge of the budget, your colleagues are less likely to care about money or be persuaded that copyediting saves time. Skipping editing helps them meet their deadline, and if they don’t recognize errors as such, why would they risk missing their deadline for editing?
The One-by-One Approach
Colleagues who would seek editing are your internal clients. As with external clients, you need to persuade them that the service you offer will solve their problem. Marketers call this “What’s in it for me?”
Their problem is not poor writing. Their problem is that the writing doesn’t reach its goals. Whatever the reason for the copy, your colleague wasted their time writing it if it doesn’t accomplish its job.
Start by reassuring them that no writing is ever perfect, and errors cause readers to distrust what they’re reading, even if the piece is factually correct.
A review is needed to remove as many errors as possible (90 percent is a good goal, for those who need to measure such things). Why can’t the writers themselves review it?
Because our brain sees what it expects to see. The more you’ve looked at the copy, the more you’ll see what you intended to write rather than what you actually wrote. (This happened to me in last week’s Tip!)
Fresh eyes are required, then. Why couldn’t someone else on the writer’s team do it? Why should the writer seek out an editor?
- Editors are trained to defeat the brain’s tendency to skip over errors. We’ve learned how to read to spot errors. It’s not the same as reading for information.
- Editors have more training in grammar, usage, and other writing concerns than the average person. We likely can recite from the company’s style guide.
- Staff editors are paid to be available to the company’s writers. While other writers and colleagues may have the skills required, they may not have the time. You’re paid to make the time.
The Company Approach
If making the argument on an individual basis is impractical or not working, try a department- or company-wide campaign designed to educate your colleagues over time about the value of copyediting.
As with your company’s client-facing marketing, you don’t want to just try to sell your services. No one likes the hard sell. Instead, address the problems your colleagues are dealing with. Some topics you can cover:
- The company style guide. This is especially helpful if the style is very nuanced.
- Common errors that appear in copy. Don’t embarrass people by pointing out the errors, though. Share brief lessons or quizzes based on errors you’ve seen.
- Writing tips. Suggest ways to brainstorm new ideas or rework copy for use in several documents.
- Self-editing tips. Because sometimes colleagues really don’t have time for editing.
- Writing news. Everyone likes to be recognized. Ask writers what good things came out of their projects and share them with your readers.
- Editing news. Demonstrate your team’s value by sharing company-threatening errors you caught, awards and other achievements, and courses team members have taken. Consider sharing data such as the average number of errors caught, the number of documents you edited in a year, and the team’s average turnaround times.
Companies have different communication tools, but popular ways to share this information with colleagues include a brown-bag lunch series, a newsletter, and regular emails. Talk to your boss about the best approach for your company and seek promotional help from HR.
You won’t persuade everyone to value editing. As the commenter noted, some people have control issues. But with patience and an understanding of your colleagues’ struggles, you can persuade many.
And if you don’t, maybe it’s time for a new job.