The Psychology of Editing

by | Feb 9, 2019 | Making of an editor

Psychology is a field that enthralls almost everyone in the arts; however, not many would link editing and psychology. Of course, it is nearly impossible to evaluate the psychology of editors since the person sitting behind every keyboard or holding the proverbial red pen can be very diverse. So, contrary to the general opinion, editors cannot be put in a box labeled ‘nerd’. Through this article, we will take a quick dive into the basic psychology involved in the actual craft of editing and its importance.

First, it is important to distinguish between the tasks of a writer and an editor. It may be surprising to some, but good writers do not always make good editors and vice versa. A writer’s craft includes using words to convey a system of thought. A good writer has the capacity to do so lucidly. Readers enjoy the writing when presented in an interesting and engaging fashion. An editor’s craft primarily includes analyzing the usage of the writer’s words and ensuring proper structure of the written material. A good editor has the ability to do so without changing the writer’s ‘voice’. In turn, readers appreciate reading material that is well structured, clean, and easy on the mind.

Now that we have established the unique role and importance of editors, let us take a look at the craft itself. It can be compared to cleaning a well-furnished room; one should be able to clean without drastically changing the vision of the room’s design. Just as in the case of cleaning, it is the onlookers, who often have no expertise in the field, who judge the quality of the work done. In the workplace, this may differ as quality is analyzed by experts before being sent for print. And just as in the case of cleaning, there is always the danger of finding a speck of dust that even passes the eyes of experts. As readers, we may have experienced spotting a pesky error in a daily newspaper or even in famous books! Early prints of the Harry Potter series and even classics like Pride and Prejudice have a few errors that got corrected only in their subsequent print editions.

The reason publishers emphasize on the editing process is to avoid any mental discomfort that may turn away readers who are the main drivers of their business. For instance, search the Internet for the worst books or this Litreactor’s article (this piece is aged, but you get the idea). Hence the art of good editing requires that the editor review their work from the psychological standpoint of a reader. Readers can be notorious when it comes to deciding whether they want to pay heed to the work coming out of any publishing house. The same need for ease in reading applies for academic publishing where the presented material is expected to convey information without any discrepancies or room for misinterpretation.

The human mind is a fallible entity which can ovrelook minor errors to read well. For instance, you may or may not have noticed that “overlook” was misspelled in the previous sentence, or you may have noticed the error and interpreted the word correctly. The brain can automatically interpret errors, which makes the need for sharp senses in an editor a must to ensure quality. Regular practice, detailed reading, and basic writing exercises can help editors enhance the psychological skills needed to ace their profession!

Perhaps this need for a super brain is what propagated the ‘nerd’ stereotype for editors… hmph.

  1. Preethi Venky

    An informative and thought-provoking post Sanjana🤗

    As you rightly pointed out, overlooking the misspelled word “overlook” is possible. You’ve correlated well. I enjoyed reading this article😊

    Keep posting!!!

    • Sanjana Keerthi

      Thank you!

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