To edit or not to edit?

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“Please don’t judge my spelling, I know you’re a writer.”

“I’m sorry for my sloppy email, I know you’re a writer.”

“I apologize in advance for my crappy IM, I know you’re a writer.”

– Lots of people

I hear these fearful phrases (and similar) more often than I’d like, usually from people who are about to put something in writing for me to read.

Colleagues, new friends, old friends, casual acquaintances, passersby on the Internet—you name it, too many people are afraid I’m going to point out their mistakes just because I’m a writer.

But I’m not.

I’m not a member of the grammar police. And I don’t know a writer who is. Yes, we’re sticklers and yes, we do enjoy a good Oxford comma debate. But I’d like to think enough of us know when to turn it off.

But it does make me want to ask—when is it okay to edit and when is it not?

To edit: When it’s part of the job.

I’m a copywriter by trade. It’s how many writers make a living. So, on behalf of copywriters everywhere, when someone sends us something and asks us to take a look at it, we’ll zero in on every little detail and question every little comma.

We’re on the clock and earning a living. If we hold back because we’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, we’d be bad at our jobs.

To edit: When someone asks.

That someone could be a colleague, friend or family member. An email here, a letter to the landlord there, everyday stuff that they just want to make sure comes across well. If someone wants my help for a little off-hand editing, I like to help when I can. It’s the nice thing to do.

Note: Here I try to be more respectful of people’s feelings, but if someone is going to ask for my help, that person is also responsible for taking it like an adult. It’s only fair.

To edit: When someone will appreciate it.

Several of my favorite writers’ blogs regularly have typos. So does mine. It happens. We’re all human.

And, without my asking for feedback, sometimes someone will let me know when I’ve made a mistake. Believe it or not, I appreciate it. It makes my post look better, my blog looks better and it helps me become a sharper writer.

It’s okay to help someone whom you know will take it and say “Thank you.”

Just don’t go overboard. No one likes a know-it-all.

Which brings us to…

To edit: When someone needs to be annoyed.

Unsolicited editing is one of life’s greatest irritants. Kinda like getting sand where sand doesn’t belong.

I’ll admit it—if I want to annoy someone, I’ll offer them ‘helpful’ grammar, word usage and punctuation pointers. Bonus points if I’m there when they read my feedback so I can hear their teeth grind.

Because I’m that kind of person. And I have no shame.

Not to edit: When no one asks.

Again, back to the whole unsolicited editing thing. Sometimes, people are just trying to communicate and have a conversation. If I spent my life trying to fix the world’s commas and get people to speak correctly at all times, I wouldn’t have time to read or watch pointless TV.

I’d also have to start by watching every word that came from my fingers 24/7 and quite frankly, I just don’t have that kind of discipline. I can’t even keep up with my laundry.

Not to edit: When someone can’t handle feedback.

Someone once asked me to help with her resume. She asked me to take it apart and put it back together again and to not hold back. When I did as requested, she held it against me for the next 5 years. It was not worth it.

If someone asks me to edit, but I know they’re going to be overly sensitive to any level of critique, I prefer to either say no or set the expectation that I’ll look it over for spelling and punctuation only.

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Life is too short to be shamed for doing a good job.

Over to you. When do you refrain from editing people? When do you jump in? Share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “To edit or not to edit?

  1. This is great advice–I know I always have to bite my tongue (or sit on my hands) when one of my relatives or friends posts something online and it contains a spelling or grammar error. I know there are times when people just want you to concentrate on WHAT they’re saying as opposed to HOW they’re saying it!

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