To get the write stuff, ask for the right services

Janet Arrowood

You’ve finished writing that proposal, report, manual or other documents. Now you want to make sure it’s clear, correct, readable and audience-focused. So do you need the services of an editor, reviewer or proofreader — or some combination of all three?

You get what you ask for, so make sure to ask for the right services. Develop a checklist of what you want edited, reviewed and proofed and then consider the normal support provided by each service.

Editing should take place at least twice — once after you write the initial draft and again after the reviewers have had their say.

Editing is a reduction, organizing, sanity checking and cross-checking process. An edited document is almost always shorter than the original document and certainly shorter than what comes back from reviewers. A good editor can often reduce the length of a document by 20 percent to 40 percent following the review cycle, yet authors and reviewers rarely notice anything missing other than length.

Editors adhere closely to author- and reviewer- provided guidelines with an emphasis on what the end user — the audience — wants, needs and expects. If a document is a proposal, for example, an editor goes back to the source documents — the solicitation in this case —to ensure the document contents reflect the requirements of the originating document.

Reviewing occurs between the two editing cycles. It’s tempting to omit the first editing cycle and go straight to the review cycle. But completing an initial edit that’s audience-centric rather than reviewer- or writer-centric saves time.

Reviewers tend to add rather than delete. So the document grows rather than shrinks. Too often, redundant or repetitive material gets added in the review cycle because reviewers read in a serial fashion. If they read something and a thought occurs to them about something that should be there, they add it right then. If the same information shows up later in the document, the reviewer doesn’t delete it from one or the other place. Now you have repetition and a growing document.

It never hurts to ask your editors and reviewers to put themselves in the place of the audience. Remember, the document is for the audience — not the writer, editor or reviewer.

Proofreading is the final step before releasing a document. Proofreaders neither add nor delete. They just look for typos, misspellings and grammatical issues. After a proofreader has gone through your document, it should be the same length and word count. Proofreading is the final step in the document sanity checking and review process.

Here are some steps to build into a checklist for your editors, reviewers and proofreaders — and, most importantly, writers.

Format instruction, including font type and size, spacing, margins, colors, heading structure and numbering.

The general style guide to use — the Associated Press Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, American Psychological Association style or other.

Corporate style sheet.

Such general “problem” areas as creating acronyms properly, words you have trouble spelling or using correctly and overall style considerations.

Customer-imposed requirements.

A final note: For those of you who are editors, indexers, reference/citation checkers or proofreaders, I’m trying to start a chapter of the Editorial Freelance Association in Western Colorado. Contact me if this organization might be of interest or value to you. To learn more, log on to the website at