Why editing for voice or personal style is a time-waster


Posted Nov. 7, 2018

Editing written work is a critical aspect of the writing process. As we've said, "Editing is where the real writing happens." But did you know that there are different types of editing? In descending order from "big picture" down to "word-by-word" type editing, these include:
  • Developmental Editing: Big picture editing that considers overarching structure, organization, flow, and impact.
  • Mechanical Editing: Editing to align with a specific formal style, like Associated Press (AP) Style, or an organization’s internal style guidelines.
  • Line Editing: Reviewers literally look at the work line-by-line. Unconcerned with big picture considerations, the editor simply wants to make sure each sentence is as trim, functional, and effective as it can be.
  • Copyediting: The most granular form of editing, copyediting means looking for typos, grammatical mistakes, etc.
However, we've also found that most businesspeople add a fifth kind of editing that's actually counterproductive: editing for "voice" or "personal style."
This kind of editing means that, even if there's nothing wrong with the piece that one of the four main forms of editing would catch, they just don't like how it was written. In other words, they edit the work to make it sound more like how they would have written it, without actually correcting any errors or improving the effectiveness of the piece.
Sometimes this fifth form of editing can be appropriate. If someone is "ghostwriting" for you (they do the writing, but it's your name that will go on the piece), it's 100% appropriate to tailor the writing to your personal voice. Just be cautious: if you haven't received formal training or skills development in writing, you could end up undermining the piece's effectiveness.
However, in most cases, editing for voice or style is a total waste of time.
For one thing, it doesn't change the clarity, effectiveness, or impact of the piece at all. Whoever is reading that report, presentation, memorandum, proposal, etc. will have pretty much the same reaction regardless. So why spend extra time when it has no functional impact?
For another, it can result in unnecessary resentment from the writer. Many writers view comments from reviewers as derisive, and a comment we often hear is “I don’t know why I should learn to write because my boss/supervisor will just change it.” These situations arise mostly when the edits are based on style rather than substance.
Unfortunately, because the different forms of editing can get mixed up in a reviewer's mind as they try to undertake all forms simultaneously, the reviewer may not even realize they're making voice-based edits rather than, say, mechanical or line edits. The best prescription in this case is to strengthen your writing and editing skills. As you better understand the components of good writing, you also strengthen your ability to edit well.
For more information on saving time in editing, read "Ask An Expert: Why am I spending so much time editing?"
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.