The following email exchange started in response to an earlier blog post (Kinds of editors and levels of edit--what every writer and editor should know). It seemed worth its own blog post.
JOE CASEY WROTE: "Thanks so much, Pat. This is a great and helpful explanation of a reasonable hierarchy. It is also supported by the fact that edits get progressively easier to fix as one moves down the list. By metrics I mean this: when the editor is also managing writers (say in a content development context for instance) and has to assess their writing (track performance), how can one translate this hierarchy into something numerical? How do we "weight" a structural problem against other types of errors? Maybe this forum is not the best place for this query as it is not a purely editing question, but I'm just curious if anyone has had to defend an assessment of the relative merits of different writers. It's obviously not an exact science, but sometimes it has to be done, and can have very real consequences (on pay etc.). My question is really about quantifying quality of writing.
PAT McNEES RESPONDS: Well that's a different kettle of fish, and also closer to what a managing editor has to do -- figure out what level of editing to assign to a particular writer or piece of writing. It isn't always easy to assess ahead of time if a piece of writing is a structural mess, without reading or at least skimming it, but if you sense that it probably is, you will assign it to a good developmental editor--someone who can see the big picture as well as handle the nitpicking. And if the writer is sound but a little sloppy on the details, as we all can be when we're in a rush, you'll assign it for a light edit.
So when you are assigning an edit, why not think in terms of heavy, medium, and light edit. And if you are evaluating their skill, evaluate the same as if you were grading a student: D for structural, B for grammar and spelling, C for style and flow (or whatever), A for typos. (Whatever you can easily measure.) I had a friend in college who wrote brilliant papers, but couldn't spell worth a darn (this was before we knew about dyslexia), and her teachers would give her a split grade: A/D , to show appreciation for the quality of her thinking and writing -- but yes, they did notice she would always need an editor. Which is why exams are worth giving because students don't have time to get a friend or parent to correct all the spelling errors so the teacher doesn't see them.
And I agree with what you said: Sometimes it's only the typos and obvious grammatical errors that most people notice--they just wonder why a piece of writing is heavy slogging for the reader.I hope others respond with how they do a quick assessment of the writing they're about to hand off to an editor.
JOE RESPONDS: I like your idea, and I have been developing a few tracks.... Another track I have to consider is level of difficulty: some projects are relatively easy, others very difficult!
PAT ADDS: And then there is budget: If you have a small budget, you have to decide which aspects of the ms. you can afford to have edited.
---Editing for structure, organization (not every editor is good at this)
---Editing for clarity
---Editing for grammar and style
---Editing (proofing?) for typos and other mechanical errors
If it's a structural mess, does it make sense to have it edited only for grammatical and spelling errors?