Eclectic Blog

Editing Skills for Managers

If you want to hone your employees’ writing skills and encourage them to be self sufficient, you need to know how to be a good editor. Let’s take a look at ways you can do this.

Let Your Employees Do the Re-Writing

This can be a tough one. As managers, we often see what needs to be done to make a document better, and we think it will take less time to do the re-writing ourselves. Don’t fall into this trap!

If you want your employees to learn and not become overly dependent on you, let them do the work. (It can also hurt their morale if you don’t trust them to do their own work.) Employees won’t get better if they never have to fix and polish their own writing. While providing specific feedback and letting them do the work may take more time in the short run, in the long run, everyone will be better off, and you will spend less time on writing tasks that aren’t your own.

Meet with the Writer

To help your employees improve their writing, don’t just send back their drafts with your comments attached. Meet with them to discuss their writing. This will allow you to explain your reasoning for the changes you’d like to see. It also allows employees to ask clarifying questions. Remember to also provide positive feedback, so employees will know what they’ve done well. This also helps morale.

Have Employees Take Charge of Their Writing

Writing is a skill, and like any skill, the more you study it and practice it, the better you become.

  • Encourage your employees to keep a list of items they need to improve upon.
  • Direct employees to places for continual learning.
  • Have writing references on hand, such as the Canadian Press Stylebook.
  • Provide coaching and training opportunities.

Post and Share Good Writing Examples

While we all need to know our weaknesses to improve, acknowledgement and celebration of our strengths help keep us motivated. They also allow employees to compare their work to good writing, so they know what to keep doing and what might need improving.

Being a good editor will help your employees flourish as writers and reduce your own work burden. What’s not to like?

Controlling Sentence Length

Writing is often plagued with sentences that are too long. The more words and relationships in a sentence, the more confused your readers may become. As writers, we need to remember that our brains process information better when it’s presented in small chunks.

Using shorter words and removing bulky phrases is one way to reduce sentence length. However, controlling sentence length is also a matter of selecting information units and making separate sentences for each unit. In other words, a sentence should only cover one main thought or idea. When you change ideas, start a new sentence.

A good guideline to follow is to keep sentences to a maximum of 2.5 typed lines. If a sentence is over 2.5 lines, there is probably more than one idea being presented to readers. Sometimes a sentence with only one idea might end up being longer than 2.5 typed lines, or much shorter. That’s fine, because having different sentence lengths adds variety to your writing.

You can also prevent your sentences from becoming overly long by avoiding the overuse of linking words such as and, but, or, so, because, also and however. All of these words are useful to help you link ideas, but if you overdo it, your sentences can get away from you.

You can have a never-ending sentence if you throw in too many of these linking words.

Let’s look at an example of a sentence that can be chunked into shorter ideas.

Before

Our job is to stay between the stacker and the tie machine to see if the newspapers jam, in which case we pull the bundles off and stack them on a skid because otherwise they would back up in the stacker and the press would have to be turned off.

After

Our job is to stay between the stacker and the tie machine to see if the newspapers jam. If they do, we pull the bundles off and stack them on a skid. Otherwise, they would back up in the stacker and the press would have to be turned off.

We’ve taken one sentence and turned it into three. By separating the three ideas, we’ve made this text easier to read, something your readers will appreciate.

Evaluating Training by Examining Performance

Evaluating performance means taking your training beyond the classroom. You’ve already taken a training class and confirmed you learned what you were supposed to. Now ask yourself, have you taken your new knowledge or skill back to the workplace?

Performance looks at how we transfer and use the learning that we do in a formal learning setting. Here, we are looking at the practical effects of training.

Why Performance Doesn’t Always Change after Training

Just because you have learned something new doesn’t mean your performance will change. Sometimes, we go back to work and keep on doing things the same way we did before training. Why? There can be a number of factors at play.

Sometimes, we are resistant to change. Just because you can do something in a new way doesn’t mean you want to. Without support and supervision from management, change isn’t likely to happen. This may also be a sign that training didn’t do a good job of explaining how this new method will benefit you and other employees.

Changing habits also takes focus and time until new skills become ingrained. If you feel rushed or unsupported, you may not be able to apply your learning. For example, if you learned how to write business documents using plain language, but have a manager who still insists you write using business jargon, you aren’t likely to change the way you write.

The Bottom Line

If you want to know how effective your training was, your performance back on the job needs to be examined by you and management. To help ensure success, management also needs to look at ways to support you while you are changing your behaviour.

When Can I Use a Dash?

In writing, we often provide additional information that is not needed in the sentence for its meaning to be clear to the reader. That additional information is call a non-essential clause.

In this example, if you remove the non-essential clause in italics, your reader knows which person is easy to work with.

Dave, who was hired as creative director, is easy to work with.

When setting off non-essential information in the middle of a sentence, you can use commas, parentheses or dashes. Which punctuation you use is a style choice.

Em dashes tend to emphasize.

Acme Plastics — once a leader in its field — has fallen on hard economic times.

Parentheses tend to de-emphasize.

Acme Plastics (once a leader in its field) has fallen on hard economic times.

Commas tend to be neutral.

Acme Plastics, once a leader in its field, has fallen on hard economic times.

You can use dashes in other ways too:

  • to replace a colon in informal writing

Example: Ms. Prairie has all the qualities of a great teacher — a sense of humour, a knowledge of her subject and a love of her students.

  • to emphasize a word or phrase

Example: The new website is difficult to navigate — especially the search function.

What’s the Difference Between En and Em Dashes?

En and em dashes are not interchangeable.

  • Use an en dash to separate numbers and dates.
    Example: Her dates of service were 2011–2015.
     
  • Use an en dash to combine open compounds.
    Example: His sales territory extends across the Ontario–Quebec border.

What Makes a Writing Workshop Effective?

Often at the end of a workshop, you’ll be asked to complete an evaluation sheet. These sheets tend to only focus on whether you found the training favorable or engaging. However, if you’re attending a workshop with the intention of learning something, shouldn’t you be focusing on what you’ve learned, as opposed to how much you liked it?

How Can We Measure Learning?

When looking at this level of evaluation, we are asking if you’ve actually learned what you were supposed to in the training. For example, if one of the learning objectives states that you will be able to create clear and concise emails with effective subject lines, salutations and closings, then learning means you can create clear and concise emails on your own by the end of training.

One way to ensure you’ve learned what you are supposed to is by using learning activities throughout the training. The best training is not simply talking at people and sending them back to work. Every time you learn something new, you need time in the session to practice it. With bigger or more complicated skills, these should be broken down into smaller tasks, so your learning can be evaluated throughout the training day.

Going back to our email example, after training, learners might be asked to submit an email to the instructor for feedback. This way, you can know if you’ve formatted it well and included all the relevant content. You should get feedback on what you’ve done well and what can be improved for next time.

If you aren’t given the time to practice new skills or demonstrate your knowledge while in the training environment, you will never know if you’ve learned anything at all. Also, activities to help measure your learning will also help you retain what you have learned when you go back to work.

Before you register for your next workshop, ask the provider these questions:

  • What activities will we be doing to practise the skills that I am learning?
  • How will I demonstrate what I’ve learned during the workshop?
  • How will I receive feedback on my progress?

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