I’m often contacted by potential clients who think they need a copywriter, but who would actually benefit more from working with an editor. In order to get the right talent for your job, it’s important to understand which professional can deliver the best results for you. The lines can seem a bit blurry at times and in fact, there are many pros who offer both editing and writing services. But it’s important to clarify which skills you need for your project, no matter who you hire.
“The reason that the lines between editing and writing can often seem blurry is because there is almost always some overlap – writers self-edit when they’re writing, and editors are re-writing when they’re cleaning up language and organizing content,” says Gavin Elliott, professional editor. “However, here’s one way to think of the distinction: writing is about content creation, and editing is about content presentation and organization.”
“An editor’s job is to really understand how a written piece will be received by an audience, and to help organize and present that content in a clear way that will most easily be digested by the reader. This is especially important when it comes to complicated, jargon-heavy information, for example. Sometimes it might even help to have an editor who is NOT an expert on the subject, so that he or she is seeing the content from the same point of view as the reader.”
Both copywriters and editors work on a huge potential range of projects and types of content, applying a wide variety of skills. For example, there are many types of editing, but in this post, I refer to those who offer structural, stylistic and copy editing. Likewise, there are many types of writing, but here I focus specifically on marketing communications or public relations copywriting.
Get the right talent for your job. Answer these questions to determine whether you need a writer or an editor.
What are your timelines and deadlines?
This is not a hard and fast rule, but if your timelines are short and you have workable copy, an editor can improve the quality of your copy relatively quickly. Developing content from scratch takes longer, though of course, many copywriters will offer accelerated projects at rush fees.
What is your budget?
In addition to being time-efficient, copy editing can also be a cost-effective approach to improving your existing content. On the other hand, you may have identified a need or desire to invest in having a copywriter develop original content for you.
What content do you already have in hand?
What does your existing content look like? Are you quite happy with it or do you want to start over? For example, an editor might be your better choice if:
- You feel that your content is ‘almost there’ but needs some polish.
- Your existing content was written by multiple authors and needs to be revised to a unifying voice.
- Your content was previously approved or written by key decision-makers – and you simply can’t start from scratch!
On the other hand, you should bring in a copywriter if you:
- Have some content in hand, but feel that it is in ‘early stages’.
- Have identified individually or as an organization that you need something new.
- Would consider your existing content to be useful as background information only.
What work needs to be done?
Editors are very talented folks with a keen eye to improving your content. Here are a few examples of the kinds of tasks better suited to an editor than a writer:
- Updates to existing content
- Repurposing content across various media
- Review for adherence to style guidelines
- Smoothing language, editing for grammar and consistency
- Review from the perspective of a designer and a printer (e.g. checking charts and diagrams, photos, proper credits and sources)
- Review for stylistic continuity (e.g. fonts, capitalization, formatting, table of contents vs. page numbers, etc.)
- Re-checking text in layout for errors (e.g. awkward line breaks, wrong font sizes, etc.)
Writers are the more appropriate choice when you need new content developed and perhaps if you need advice on strategy. For example:
- Key message development
- Creative concept development
- Establishing voice
- Outline, format and style recommendations
- Writing original content
What expertise or experience do you need to access?
This is somewhat of a generalization and there are definitely exceptions, but great editors often come from a journalistic or publications background whereas excellent copywriters come from a marketing or public relations background. Both perspectives are valuable depending on your needs and your project.
Answering these questions will help you to figure out the right professional for your project. Both writers and editors can help you to develop excellent content that fits with the voice of your organization. And both want to help you develop excellent copy!
What other questions do you ask yourself when evaluating your need to bring in an editor versus copywriter?