Editors are worth something after all

When the boss says something like “We don’t need editors; we all have spell-check,” you face the uncomfortable realization that the boss is an ignoramus. You are working for someone who (a) doesn’t understand how spell-check functions and what its limitations are, and (b) has no more understanding of what is involved in editing than he does of Akkadian cuneiform.

So you might want to refer him to this article by James Mathewson, the editor in chief at ibm.com, which summarizes a little experiment:

Because editors are often seen as unnecessary, we at IBM conducted a study to demonstrate their value for some of our marketing pages. We took a sample of unedited pages with high traffic from across our various business units and ran them through Dave Harlan, the editing lead for the group that creates a lot of our marketing content. We then ran an A/B test, where we served the unedited versions to a random sample of users and the edited versions to the rest of the users. We then measured engagement (defined as clicks to desired links on the page) on those pages over the course of a month.

The results were astonishing.

The mean difference in engagement was 30 percent across the set of pages. And the standard deviation was one percent–we got a 30 percent improvement on the desired call to action for the pages across the board.

I’m fairly sure that to achieve such results, Mr. Harlan and his team did more than run the spell-check and fix the commas. They must have done honest-to-God, get-to-the-point, don’t-waste-my-time editing. That means establishing a focus up front, pruning verbiage, clarifying the organization, looking for meaning beneath jargon, and thinking more about the reader’s needs than the writer’s preferences.

Mr. Mathewson is careful not to make extravagant claims. He says that additional studies ought to be conducted to see whether this experiment was a fluke or an indication that editing indeed produces substantial benefits.

I, however, am under no such constraints. Editing, proper editing, adds value. There.

If your boss is interested in having readers pay attention to what you turn out, he might want to think about engaging a couple of editors and getting out of their way.



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