Whether editing your own work or someone else’s, it’s important to not just mark/correct mistakes, but to also highlight a writer’s weaknesses. Mistakes are those errors that everyone makes – typos, misplaced punctuation, and occasional misuse of they’re/their/there. These are quick fixes. Weaknesses, however, are consistent mistakes. When a writer uses a semicolon everywhere there should be a comma, this is a weakness – the writer doesn’t understand proper punctuation. As an editor, you need to correct this mistake, but you should also point out the weakness so the writer can begin to learn the correct technique for future works.
As a visual learner, I need to see what’s going on, but it’s not easy to separate all of the black and white on a page to zero in on my errors. That’s why I use color when working with clients (and myself). Many people hire me to search and destroy – find the errors in the documents and correct them. There are other writers, however, who want the critique and coaching. They don’t just want me to fix their work, they want to see what’s going on and improve. For these writers I use my color pallet. There are two main reasons for using the highlighter (or its digital counterpart on the computer).
1. It lets the writer see how frequently an error occurs. I once read a chapter in which every other sentence start with, “She was …” That can hide amongst the sea of words on a page, but when I highlighted each “she was” with yellow, the writer could instantly see the repetition.
2. If gives the writer a picture of how much work still needs to be done. This is important for two reasons: it helps the client know how much work I’ll be doing (thus supporting my fee), and, if the work has been rejected by agents or editors, it helps the writer see what others have noticed.
Not all clients need (or want) to know how to write a captivating article. That’s fine (that’s why I’m here!). When you step into the role of teacher, however, don’t be afraid to bust out the red pen, and the blue marker, and the yellow highlighter.