General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks

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I have been asked a few times since starting work with my new company to edit "spelling and grammar" on proposals going out to prospective clients.  The issue for me is that the proposals are so badly written that I feel they need major rewrites before they go out and I'm not sure how to broach this with the person sending the proposal and the president of the company (who is not a native speaker) who has written the "Executive Summary" portion. Both of these people are very smart and quite good at what they do but I think that the proposals are so badly written that prospective clients may not think so. (Examples: using "equipment's" as the plural for equipment; writing "locate" when they mean "allocate".) This whole issue is further complicated by the fact that I do not understand what they are doing technically and don't want to change wording and inadvertently change the meaning.

Both of these people are my bosses and have been sending these things out long before I got here.  Should I talk to them about it or just continue to make changes when asked and hope for the best?

Oh wow!  That's tricky for sure.  Is it a lot of work for you too rewrite what they are saying?

Maybe, if this is within your role expectations, your Boss is really asking you to edit as necessary, but include somehow the same info/theme to what was originally written.  I would likely edit to my standard, and resend back a good copy for a "final approval."

Good luck!  I don't envy your delicate position at all!

is this your job? are you the editor? is this a job you *could* do (e.g,. you have the experience/qualifications to *be* the editor?)

I am asking because I sort of fell into this kind of position myself. I started out here as an admin/project coordinator, but as time went by they realized (thanks to excellent work i've done and some self-promoting) that i am *really* good at this. I work for an international non profit organization and not everyone speaks the same language (even those who speak English as a first language -we have americans, brits, aussies, etc).

I started by making suggestions, using track changes so that they could see what I am doing. suggesting things like "This sentence comes across as ambiguous. I think using 'We all believe' instead of 'some of us may think' sends a stronger message", or "biennial is every two years; bi-annual is twice a year". I've said things like "that's a common error - even i used to say 'comprises of 1200 communities...' but the correct form is 'comprises 1200 communities'". Of course our all-time favorites were the it's vs. its fiascoes...

As time went on, it was clear to everyone that i know what i'm talking about, and now it's just natural for me to do the editing. and yes, i've had to tell extremely highly educated, high ranking officials, how to write. you do it in a nice-but-firm way. I've re-done our web site - made suggestions and ran with them.

I think that you are in a position to make yourself a valuable part of the team.

You should definitely talk to them. As in the next time they ask you edit (or proofread) something you could say "This part doesn't make sense to me. Would you please tell me the major point you're trying to get across?" Plus, asking for explanations will help you understand the technology.

I really like cicero's post.

Just because "Both of these people are very smart and quite good at what they do" doesn't mean that they know how to write.

They are good at what they do (technological aspects) and you are good at what you do (writing) . . . That's what makes a team.

You need to start by getting a clear picture of their expectations.  "Boss, I can fix the grammar and punctuation, but there will still be some syntax issues.  Would you like me to just do the basics, or would you prefer me to fix the syntax also?  I would have to bring it back to you for a final review just to double-check that I didn't inadvertently change anything technical."

It's also worth pointing out, if your job description doesn't include editing, that being an editor is a specific skill set.  It's not something you can just dump on support staff and expect to have done at the same level a professional editor with years of experience would do.  (I don't know where you fall on that scale, so you can tailor that point to fit yourself.)  People often assume that any native English speaker with decent spelling skills can do professional editing - and while it's true that most people can catch at least basic errors and many people can do more than that, it's not something to be taken for granted.


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