I believe, fundamentally, that the editing process must be a human one.
If writers don’t see their editors as collaborators and advocates, the relationship turns hierarchical and cold. If this is the case, the editor becomes the arbiter of quality, and the writer is a supplicant seeking approval.
These 65 professionals have 65 different writing processes, and each person brings different strengths, struggles, and comfort levels to the task at hand.
To make matters more confusing, more than half of our team is remote, living in locations as far from our Connecticut headquarters as California, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico, and the UK.
Although I’ve met them all at company events, some team members I primarily see through a video call — and even that may be rare.
When I sit down to edit their writing, I am, to them, merely a cursor; a running string of comments in a Google doc. If they see me as a snarky, condescending judge, their defenses go up and the process becomes laborious and contentious.
If they see me as a cheerleader, a commenter, and above all else, an active reader, we can make magic together.
When editing content, relationships matter
For about a decade, I taught AP English to high school students.
I had a reputation for being a tough grader, and I often marveled at how graciously my students accepted criticism of their writing.
Now, these were highly-motivated, very bright students, and I would pick apart their writing, critiquing their arguments and disputing their analysis. Still, they not only accepted but welcomed these evaluations.
However, looking back, I realize how many other factors influenced this relationship and made delivering feedback easier.
First, I had already built a rapport with each student through daily classroom interaction.
For many students, I also knew them as their coach or as their club advisor, too. What’s more, I made sure to be extra encouraging on the first essays of the year, focusing on growth, even as I held strong to my high expectations. This helped establish my good intentions from the get-go.
Also, the students did not see me as a peer.
I was their teacher. I was older, holding advanced degrees and a position of power, along with years of experience under my belt. If I said something about their writing, it must have been accurate, right?
Today, things are a bit different.
Editing as a peer
Now, as an editor at a digital sales and marketing company, I work with peers; some older, some younger. In some ways, this changes my editorial process and in others, it doesn't.
First off, there is no hierarchy here, and there shouldn't be. I edit for world-class professionals who possess exceptional industry knowledge that is way beyond my ken.
However, in many ways my editing is still similar to how it was in my teaching days. I break it down into two directives:
1. Evaluate the how
No matter the subject, my first goal as an editor is to scrutinize the way things are expressed.
This means transitions, pacing, and organization. If I feel rushed through certain elements, bogged down by details, or thrown off by a quick switch between topics, chances are our readers will, too.
2. Reading as a learner
In many cases, my colleagues are writing about their unique field of expertise — covering graphic design trends, HubSpot portal set-up, modular website development, or sales enablement techniques.
This is why I seek to read as a learner.
If I can approach the work as an active reader, someone seeking to engage and ask questions, then I can anticipate the experience of our audience. When I adopt this stance, the writer is less likely to see me as an authoritarian or a pesky neophyte, but rather a partner.
This allows me to ask questions of an expert about the very topic of their expertise without calling into questioning their expertise itself.
But any feedback must be given in a way that it will be received well. That’s where video comes in to supplement the suggestions I insert into any given Google doc.
The power of 1:1 video in editing
We’ve written extensively about how effective video can be in the modern marketplace. Customers engage more with product pages that have video; social media stories get more engagement than photo posts; sales emails that include a personalized video garner more clicks.
What we haven’t written about nearly as much is how personalized video can help with intra-office communication. That is, between colleagues within an organization.
For me, 1:1 video has helped humanize the editing process. Suddenly, rather than just being a cursor who corrects, I can be a human voice who empathizes, praises, ponders, and inquires.
At IMPACT, we work closely with video hosting platform Vidyard.
I use their GoVideo tool to record videos that include a screen capture and my voice. I have the ability to include a video of myself, too, but I find that to be distracting.
The effect these videos have on the editing process is profound.
Making a human connection
If, at the end of my editing a piece, a writer is left with just my critiques and corrections, they likely will see me as the judge who tells them what’s wrong with their writing.
To avoid this, before I return a draft to a colleague, I record a quick hello that can introduce my edits for their piece. Something like this:
When a colleague can hear the tone of my voice it immediately begins to build trust and establish common ground. The effect is profound.
Putting critique into context
If I do have a structural or stylistic critique to offer, a video allows it to be put in the context of more general praise.
Rather than a curt note that asks a writer to fix something, a video can easily remind the writer of how good other parts of the piece were — and that my suggestions should be in the context of my general celebration.
It also enables me to actually show where the edits are needed as if the writer were in front of me.
Explaining the abstract
1:1 video also gives you the ability to talk through concepts that would be difficult to articulate in writing. This is especially important when working with remote team members.
Here, I am working with a writer to explain the way I think a certain example would enhance his piece that describes the relationship between intent-based and keyword-based SEO.
Rather than trying to type out complex notes, I can talk through my suggestions — which is easier for me and more digestible for the writer.
What’s more, they can go back to the video over and over again if needed, which they can’t do if the feedback were given orally in person or over a video call.
Getting started with 1:1 video
If you think 1:1 video might help you be a better editor, head over the Vidyard and sign up! It’s free to get started — although certain advanced features come at a cost.
Next, install the Chrome extension, linked above.
Then, dust off your webcam and get going!
I suggest making your videos without a rigid script or agenda. Just think about what the writer needs to hear. Imagine yourself in the role of a coach — but think more like your JV basketball coach than Bobby Knight.
Don’t throw chairs and knock people down. Build them up. Encourage them. Lead with praise, and offer specific steps they can take to bring their writing to the next level.
With 1:1 videos, your editing will be more effective, and your colleagues will be more receptive to your feedback.
And, ultimately, the quality of what you publish will improve.
I believe editing is a collaborative process that is best undertaken by peers. But when one peer is the writer and the other is the editor, power dynamics are established that can leave the writer, who already feels vulnerable, feeling judged, scorned, and nitpicked.
1:1 video can help humanize the process, establish harmony, and make your colleagues look forward to a process of collaboration.