Beware the Red Pen: Seeing Your Edited Document for the First Time

Your computer lets out a beep or a ping. You’ve got mail.

As you scan your inbox, you’re excited to see that the editor you hired has gotten back to you with that piece you sent for review and revision. Then you open the document, and everything changes. Send it back! Cancel the contract! You wanted help, but not that much help!

Opening an edited document for the first time can be a bit, well, overwhelming. Even though you knew your piece needed some work, seeing all those tracked changes and red comment bubbles in the margins can be off-putting. You may be wondering, “Is my writing really that bad? Or is this normal?”

Rest assured, a heavily marked up document is a normal part of the editing process and not necessarily related to writing quality. Even the best of writers benefit from editing.

If you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed by the editing process, here are some tips to consider.

Make Your Document Pretty Again

The editor will have tracked changes so you can see which parts have been revised and how. But the tracking marks (usually some form of underlining and a different color of text, such as red or blue) can make it hard to review and assess your revised document.

On your first read through the document, you can hide the tracked revisions by switching to “Final” mode (from “Final Showing Markup”) on the Reviewing toolbar in Microsoft Word. This will make your document look normal once again and much easier to read.

Give It a Chance

The mere fact that someone has changed the work you have already spent so much time on can be off-putting, even though you are the one that initiated the help. This feeling of pride is normal and to be expected. This is your precious work after all!

Take a deep breath and try to read on with an open mind. This is still your piece and you have the power to reject any of the changes suggested by the editor. But keep in mind that the editor has a fresh perspective that may offer valuable insight.

If needed, take a break and come back to the paper in a few hours or the next day. Once you’ve mentally sorted through some of the comments, there is a good chance that you will like what you see more on your second read.

Keep What You Like, Fix What You Don’t

This is your piece: you get to have the say over the final product. An editor’s comments are meant to flag areas for possible revision; her revisions are done in good faith to improve the material. But you are still the content expert. The editor fully expects you to keep what you like, change what you don’t, and even revise any areas where the editor unintentionally altered your meaning. Two heads are almost always better than one when it comes to writing; editing should be a collaborative process in which the editor and author take turns polishing and finalizing a piece.

Editors can work magic on your piece, making average writing good and good prose great. If this is your first time working with an editor or you know you can be sensitive to critique, plan to give yourself some extra time to absorb the editor’s comments and revisions. Soon enough, all those red markings will be cleared away, and you will be left with a piece that shines.

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