The Top Ten


Every August for over a decade, I’ve walked into a classroom full of (mostly) eager freshmen and spent the next few months teaching them to write. During that time, I’ve developed a few “tips” that I tell students to help avoid a “look-I’m-new-to-college” faux pas. I was thinking (as I was editing, of course) that many of these apply not only to the relationship between professor and student but also to the relationship between editor and writer.

When you work with someone, no matter what the capacity, you are creating an unspoken contract. It’s not legally binding, I’d imagine, but it’s one of those things sort of like the “bro code” that you really don’t want to mess up. But, often we do because we don’t know any better.

So, here are my top ten things that you might learn as a freshman in college that also apply when you hire (or are assigned) an editor.

  1. Don’t procrastinate
  2. Be professional
  3. Be specific in what you want and/or need
  4. Reply to emails promptly
  5. Acknowledge receipt of emails
  6. Accept constructive criticism
  7. Don’t wag your tongue
  8. Learn to use your tools
  9. Follow directions
  10. Be gracious

Don’t procrastinate

imagesI tell students this all the time. If you wait until the last minute, you’re not only creating more anxiety for yourself, you’re also going to get less quality feedback.

Let’s think about this here. If you ask your professor to look at a draft of your paper a couple hours before it’s due, you’re not going to have time to get good feedback and revise. It just won’t happen. Likewise, if you send your work to an editor days before the release date, they will probably either A) not have time to get to it at all or B) not do as good a job as they usually would because you’re rushing them. Two to three weeks is a decent turnaround time for an editor to get your manuscript back to you, unless it’s really long or full of problems. Then, expect longer.

Be professional

This point really should speak for itself, but somehow, it doesn’t. When communicating with a professor or editor, be professional in the words you choose, the manner in which you present them, and how you respond.

Here’s an example of an unprofessional student email:

Yo, G, I was out today b/c I had some stuff. Wat did we do 2day?


Here’s a more professional version of the same email:

Dear Mrs. Gilbert,

Unfortunately, I missed class today because I had a flat tire and had to call AAA. I am attaching a scan of the receipt and will bring you a copy if needed. I will ask my classmates what I missed today. May I come by your office if I have questions about the material?

Thank you,


Likewise, sometimes I get very unprofessional emails requesting editing services. (My default answer to these emails, by the way, is “I’m not currently accepting new clients. Thank you for your interest.”)

Here’s an example of one such email:

Im looking for someone to edit my book. What do u charge? I need it by Friday.


First of all, a professional writer should use apostrophes and full words, even in a short professional email. Next, my rates are listed on my website. I really don’t mind telling you more information about what is included in those rates or even telling what they are, but if you have my email, you probably also have my website, so please look. Third, see item #1.

Be specific in what you want and/or need

If I had a dollar for each time a student asked, “Will you look at this for me?” or a writer said, “I need this edited,” I could move to my own private island and have someone serve me drinks with little umbrellas all day. This does seem to be a newbie mistake, however, because I have noticed it less with more advanced writers and upperclassmen.

What this question really means is “I have written something, and I need feedback. I am not sure what kind of feedback I need.”

I did a post a while back about the different types of editing. If you need a refresher, those posts are HERE and HERE and HERE.

If you’re seeking feedback and/or editing, be specific in what you want. Do you want holistic feedback (content editing) or do you want feedback on grammar and usage (copy editing)?

**Yes, I realize this takes practice, but if you truly aren’t sure what you need, ask for help in figuring that out!

Reply to emails promptly

I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have time to reply in detail, at least reply and say, “I got your email and will reply in more detail as soon as I can.” This lets the person on the other end (me) know that you saw the email and a reply is coming. And for goodness sake, don’t wait a month before sending back that longer reply! (My general rule of thumb is to acknowledge the email within 24 hours and respond substantially within 48 hours, if you can’t respond right away. I don’t like things to linger.)

Side note: it seems “read receipts” on email are a thing of the past — what’s taking the place of that?

Acknowledge receipt of emails

This is somewhat related to the previous email point, but here I am referring specifically to when I send you something. For example, if I sent your edits (for a writer) or whatever you’ve requested of me (for a student), please acknowledge receipt of the email and file! I can’t tell you how many times I have sent “did you get this?” emails because I want to make sure the information made it to the intended recipient. This doesn’t have to take long. A simple reply of “thank you” or “I got it” will suffice. (I don’t find those kinds of emails unprofessional, even though they’re short.)

Accept constructive criticism

Accepting feedback on your work is tough. But please remember that my job — whether as an editor or as a teacher — is to help you improve your writing. If you were perfect, we’d probably lock you in a lab somewhere to study you. (I’m kidding… mostly.)

All writers, at every stage, need feedback on their writing. And it hurts. I work very hard to give clear feedback that is written in a professional tone. I focus on the writing, not the person, to help with that.

For example, I won’t say, “Your writing sucks,” even if it does… but I will say, “This piece isn’t ready for publication, so let’s work on it to make it stronger.” Likewise, I won’t tell a student, “Your thesis is the worst thing I’ve ever read,” even if it is… but I will say, “I would like to see a stronger thesis in this essay. Let’s talk about what makes a good thesis.”

Don’t wag your tongue

Don’t bad-mouth people. Just don’t. Life’s too short. If you have a legitimate concern, address it professionally. Don’t gossip like a hen. It will likely get back to the person and can irreparably damage relationships. It’s not worth it.

Learn to use your tools

All writers (and students, actually) need to know how to use track changes and basic formatting functions in Word. I did a post about using track changes in Word for PC HERE and for Mac HERE if you need directions. I have a post planned about formatting for my next post.

Follow directions
For goodness sake, please read the directions and follow the directions.

636007790015657708-1682200549_yodafollowdirectionsI used to teach a college skills course, and one of the activities I would give students would be a list of things to do — stand with your arm in the air, write the alphabet backwards, draw a picture of a house, etc. — but in the directions, it would say to complete only #1 and #25. (#1 was write your name on the paper; #25 was turn the paper over and wait until everyone else is finished.) Usually ¾ of the students would not read the directions and do all the things listed. However, after this activity, most of the students (at least for my class) would follow the directions exactly.

What does this mean for a writer? Well, I expect files to be sent as email attachments in Microsoft Word. I expect you to use track changes. But there are lots of posts about getting rejected simply because you didn’t follow the submission guidelines. That’s the loss of a job if you’re doing this as a career. I’m not an HR person, but I’d imagine people in human resources also toss a lot of resumes that aren’t submitted how they’re supposed to be.

Be gracious

revandy-orgFinally — and this serves for all human interaction — be gracious. Use your manners. Say please and thank you. Mean it.

That’s all for today, folks. Okay, that was a lot for today, but it’s important stuff. All you out there who are returning to the classroom this month and all of you who are going through edits, I wish you strength, courage, and compassion.


Comments are closed.