The first thing to know about an editor is this: you need one! Of course if you are writing materials for your own learners, you don’t need to engage the services of a professional editor, but it is a good idea to ask someone else to look over your work and help you refine and improve it.

Different kinds of editors

There are different kinds of editors and if you work for a publisher you might interact with them in different ways.

  • A commissioning editor sources writers and other professionals to work on a project.
  • A developmental editor look at ‘the big picture’. This includes things like structure and layout, logical flow and tone.
  • A copy editor looks at the detail in your text. They correct spelling errors and punctuation, check for consistency and make sure you are following the publishers style guides.

Sometimes editors take on more than one role. The important thing to remember is that an editor is there to work with you to make the materials as effective as possible.

A checklist for an editor

If you can ask a friend or colleague to look over your materials, get them to check for typos and other obvious errors like missing punctuation. You can also give them a checklist. Below are some suggestions of questions for a checklist  but ultimately you can decide what is important.

  • Do the materials match the aims and objectives?*
  • Is there a logical flow of activities with plenty of variety?
  • Are the instructions clear?
  • Is there enough space to write answers?
  • Do the images and/or texts have attributions?
  • Is the answer key correct?*
  • Are the materials the right level?
  • Do the materials avoid stereotyping?
  • Is there enough/too much support on the page for the tasks?

*Obviously you will need to provide these.

You might also want someone to check whether your materials are inclusive or accessible, whether they show a range of diverse people, whether they are appropriate for the target users or whether the page design and layout is well-balanced, and a range of other things. A checklist will depend very much on your context.

Context is everything

When writing materials for publication, a healthy relationship between a writer and an editor is important. The basic rules for teamwork apply, but it is helpful to consider a few things at the beginning of a project. These are things like:

  • where communications will take place
  • where you will write (a word doc, a special template, a shared space)
  • how many drafts you will write
  • how feedback will be given
  • how you need to respond to feedback.

Increasingly these days writers and editors work as freelancers who sign agreements with a publisher. This means that they might be working on several projects at the same time so working out a schedule that suits both of you is key. Communication is important so always let your editor know if your circumstances change and you need more time to get something done, or if you decide it’s better to change a plan on which you’ve previously agreed.

Research on the author-editor relationship in ELT

In 2017, freelance ELT editor and writer Penny Hands conducted research into the relationship between materials writers and editors. She presented her findings at the IATEFL MaWSIG pre-conference event that year. Penny’s survey was completed by 66 authors and it revealed some interesting findings. You can watch an interview with Penny where she talks about it here. She also gives some great examples of the kind of things she might comment on in a manuscript.

What do you think?

So next time you write materials, whether for your own learners, to share with other teachers or to publish and sell, don’t forget to find an editor. What would you like an editor to focus on when they check through your materials? Who do you ask to look over your materials? Let us know in the comments.


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