By examining what authors say about the editing process, editors are better equipped to serve them.

As editors we want our clients to listen to our advice and take it seriously, but sometimes it can be difficult to persuade authors. As important as it is for us to get our suggestions across, we need to seek to understand our authors’ point of view. The key to maintaining productive relationships with authors is knowing how to communicate with them. And communication goes both ways; assuming never got anyone anywhere. We are better equipped to serve our authors if we know and understand where they’re coming from.


Angela Eaton et al. (2008) published an in-depth article called “Examining Editing in the Workplace from the Author’s Point of View: Results of an Online Survey.” For decades, the relationship between editor and author was considered adversarial, with many believing the editor to be the blunt, abrasive murderer of dreams and stifler of creativity. It wasn’t until Eaton et al. that anyone conducted a study to see what the authors really think about their relationships with their editors.

Results from the study suggest that most authors described their working relationship with their editors as largely positive. In order of frequency, they cited these positive aspects of their relationships: improved products, effective collaboration, learning opportunities, the editor’s objective viewpoint, compliments from editors, content knowledge, quick response time, explanations, standards, time savings, and edits not done. Authors who had negative experiences with their editors cited these aspects, in frequency order: subpar editing, edits made for the editor’s style or preference, harshness, nitpicky editing, changes in meaning, late or forgotten work, taking things personally, inconsistent or contradictory edits, rewriting or rewriting without explaining why, and editing substantively when a light edit was requested.


It’s heartening to know that most authors feel their experiences with their editors are positive ones. Although each relationship is different and subjective, the data clearly shows that there is a plethora of elements that combine to make the experience either more positive or more negative. As editors, we can draw from this conclusion what we will and develop strategies to get to know and understand our authors so we can more easily work with them. Some of us may want to have phone interviews with our authors, or to meet in person to try and understand the various types of people we’re working with. Others of us might simply write up a questionnaire for our authors to fill out. Such data can help us understand that there might be a problem in our relationships with our clients, but as far as knowing how to work with our clients to try and solve those problems, we may be better served by asking authors for their perspectives on how we compare to the lists of positives and negatives above.

See the results and full implications of Eaton et al.’s (2008) study:

Eaton, Angela, Pamela Estes Brewer, Tiffany Craft Portewig, Cynthia R. Davidson, and Cynthia Craft Portewig. 2008. “Examining Editing in the Workplace from the Author’s Point of View: Results of an Online Survey.” Society for Technical Communication 11 (2): 111–39.

 —Erin Nightingale, Editing Research