There are all sorts of editing tips out there, but it takes a pro to edit writing for the healthcare industry. That’s why we’re especially thrilled to have an editorial manager with seasoned editing skills on staff — Kris Henninger.
Kris started freelancing with WriterGirl over ten years ago, so she’s been around for a while. But, when you learn her background, you’ll understand why we are so thrilled to have her join us in her new capacity as our editorial manager.
All about Kris
Kris holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Calvin University and a master’s degree in education from The Ohio State University. Her original career goal was to be a dean of students at a college. She worked for a few years for some colleges and universities but was always freelance writing on the side.
Eventually, a freelance gig turned into a full-time writing job, and the rest is history!
She has nearly 25 years of experience as a writer (marketing/advertising copywriter, executive speechwriter, technical writer and communications consultant) for a wide variety of clients. But, most of her experience has been in healthcare.
Kris’ editing tips
At WriterGirl, we value editing as an essential ingredient to creating great content. With Kris’ experience and education, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get some editing tips and insight on how to be a good editor. Here’s part of our conversation.
Q. What experiences help someone become a good editor?
A. Being a writer, of course, is always a good start. I firmly believe that writing is harder than editing—it’s always easier to tweak something than to create it from scratch. So, I’m very sympathetic to how hard a writer’s job is, and I have a lot of respect for that process.
Having a broad knowledge about a lot of topics helps, too. I’ve had clients in many different industries and been exposed to a wide variety of topics. That, plus a good old-fashioned liberal arts education, help me be tuned in when I’m reading. When I think, “that doesn’t seem quite right,” I take the time to look it up instead of just accepting it as-is.
Early in my career, I was a proofreader for an ad agency. That experience taught me to pay extreme attention to detail and learn to slow down (and even read copy backward if necessary—you really can catch more errors that way!) Plus, I learned the hard way the difference between a quotation mark and the symbol for inches.
Q. Editing is a broad, vague term that can mean different things at different stages in the writing process. How do you differentiate the types of editing?
A. Editing can mean:
- Proofreading (for grammar, punctuation, consistency, typos)
- Maintaining flow (is the piece organized in a logical way that brings the reader along in their knowledge of the topic)
- Upholding style (does it fit the client’s style—both their specific grammar and punctuation preferences but also the tone they want to convey)
- Focusing on the audience (will they understand the piece, is it meeting them where they are and speaking in a way they’ll understand and be able to take action after they read it)
- Fact-checking and checking for plagiarism
Often, I mark all of these things at once. But it’s also good to read something multiple times—read it once for grammar and flow, for example, and read it again for style and with the audience in mind.
Q. What skills do you need for different types of editing?
A. For proofreading, you need a good understanding of basic (and sometimes advanced) grammar rules.
For flow/style/audience, you need the ability to put yourself in the audience’s shoes—how would they read this the first time, would they understand it, are the main points clear?
Also, for style, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of the client’s style and the ability to keep that top of mind throughout the editing process.
Q. With all the various levels of editing, how do you deliver what the project or writer needs?
A. If I don’t already know what kind of editing is desired, I make sure I ask questions. Generally, I know what I’m looking for because I’ve edited for the same clients many times. But if it’s a new client, I want to really understand what’s important to them, what’s sacred and can’t change, how heavy of an edit they’re looking for, how important tone is to them, etc.
Q. A writer gives so much time and effort to a draft before it goes to an editor. How do you find the line between helping a piece be better and not reworking it too much?
A. As I mentioned before, I’m very sympathetic to how hard writing is. I don’t ever want a writer to feel like all that hard work was for nothing (by me just cutting their work to shreds)! So, I’m not a fan of “wordsmithing” (changing something just to change it). There’s more than one good way to say something. But, if another word or phrase will make the writing clearer or better reflect the client’s style, I will change it or make suggestions for another word or phrase.
We want our WriterGirl writers to continually become better writers and experts in their clients’ styles and preferences. It’s one of my jobs to help them do that, so I try not to just turn on “track changes” and make edits to their documents. I often have a conversation with the writer in the comments—I can ask questions, make suggestions, give editing tips, or point out possible ways of changing something and then let them take it from there. That way, they can stretch their writing muscles and not just “accept changes” and never really get a chance to try something new in their writing.
Q. Do you have any pet peeves about healthcare content?
A. Information that’s too technical or too wordy. Plain language is the inevitable goal. I consider good healthcare content to be clear, concise, up-to-date information that’s also human and helps people take the next step to improve their health.
Q. What content editing tips would you have for those times when you don’t have access to an editor? How do you review your own work to be able to make it better?
A. I am pretty adamant that no one (even the best, most experienced writers) should edit their own work—it’s too easy to miss things. So, if possible, at least have a colleague read over your work. But if you can’t do that:
- Read it out loud—your ears might catch something your eyes don’t.
- Use an online editing tool like Readable or Grammarly.
- Walk away—for an hour or a day. It’s amazing what you’ll see when you read it again after having some distance from your own work.
- Remember that you don’t have to follow all the grammar rules you learned in school all the time. In fact, good writing sometimes breaks those rules in order to be more compelling, readable and informative. (Don’t take my word for it – check out a book called “Dreyer’s English” by language guru Benjamin Dreyer.)
Q. If someone wants to enhance their editing skills, are there any resources you recommend?
A. The resource that’s made the most difference in my writing and editing is a book called “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. A college English professor introduced me to it, and it’s still the best book I’ve ever read on writing (and editing). It’s full of great advice about simplifying your writing, achieving clarity, and, as he says, “caring deeply about words.”
Thanks to Kris as we continue building relationships one word at a time.
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