How do I brief an editor?

How do I write an editor brief?

You know you need an editor but you’re not sure what to do next. You’ll get the best result if you take the time to write a comprehensive editor brief so the editor understands your objectives and expectations.

The best approach to deciding what to include in an editor brief is: Overwhelm them with detail. In addition to factual information such as page count and word count; number of images, tables, charts and references; critical milestones and delivery deadlines, tell the editor the background to the document, its purpose, its target audience; and any issues you are aware of that may need attention such as jargon or bureaucratic language, or problems with structure or repetition.

Provide a sample

Ideally, let prospective editors examine a draft of the document so they can gauge the degree and complexity of intervention required to meet your expectations, and clarify any issues they identify which you may not be aware of – for example, varying capitalisation styles, which aren’t wrong but need a decision on the preferred style for consistency throughout the document. If your organisation has an editorial style guide then it will specify these preferences and should be provided to the editor with the brief.

Be realistic about timeframe

Don’t underestimate how long editing takes. In your project plan make sure you allow enough time not only for editing and proofreading (both are essential for important reports), but also for internal review of the editor’s amendments by the report’s authors, management and possibly other stakeholders. As a guide, for a 20,000 word report allow at least four days for a straightforward copyedit and three days for proofreading. Actual turnaround will depend on the editor’s other commitments at the time.

Ask and answer questions

The best outcomes arise from clear communication. Editing is not a mechanical process (despite what some grammarchecking services proclaim) but is part art (creative) as well as part science (technical).

There is no one ‘right’ way to edit any document. Given the same task, no two experienced editors will produce exactly the same solution; however, each will strive to produce an error-free text that communicates effectively with the target audience. A two-way dialogue throughout the editing process to clarify any queries will ensure that the final result meets your expectations.

A comprehensive checklist for an editor brief is available from the Canberra Society of Editors. This commissioning checklist is a good reference for developing your own brief.


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