Not editing to make the writing perfect

Not editing to make the writing perfect

decorative image: matches lined up, one upside down

Sometimes, my job is NOT to edit to the best of my ability. A lesson confirmed that my primary aim is—always—to meet the client’s needs.

In a recent job, a professor of public administration asked me to edit a 20-page graduate research paper. Her initial instructions were to watch for grammar, syntax, punctuation, but to not re-write it.

The challenging document

It was, admittedly, a challenging paper: the sentences were long, averaging 3-4 lines each. They tended to ramble on with multiple clauses, too many of which lost their subjects or verbs along the way.

Paragraphs went on for a whole page. The word “this” was used frequently, but it wasn’t evident what “this” referred to half the time. Verb tenses were all over the place.

Many ideas and phrases were linked by a string of “of”s: “pursuit of the LALALA of existing NANANAs of new opportunities from a PAPAPA perspective.” It was highly repetitive. And ideas were not presented or organized in a logical, clear way.

It almost became necessary to do a bit of re-writing to try to make sense of the sentences, before I could attempt to fix the grammar, syntax, and punctuation.

Checking in with the client

I start off my editing jobs making sure I have a clear idea of what the client needs and expects. Then, I check in with the client along the way, to clarify any new questions I may have.

Unfortunately, in this the case, the professor got sick and I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her until a day before the corrections were due. And that chat was so useful!

She clarified that she didn’t want to have too much sentence editing because that would require her to have the document checked again by the author. And that if the writing was poor, well, the onus was on her graduate student to defend the paper or to get it edited; it was not the professor’s responsibility.

My job: Deliver what the client needs

While I was almost disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to improve the paper a bit more—so many unnecessary words that I itched to cut out! and I was rather proud of the ways I patched up some jumbled sentences—it was a great reminder that my job is to deliver what each client requires.

Even if it means NOT doing my best 🙂

Need help in making your message clear? Want someone who listens to your needs? Let me help you! 

Photo credit: Daiana Lorenz

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