Why critical thinking is key for any editor
Editors have one of the most important jobs in any company, regardless of what industry they’re in. They’re there for quality control and making sure that, for instance, articles and translations written/completed by others are free of errors and meet the highest standards.
The job of the editor is not an easy one, as it requires a lot of concentration and patience. With a lot of editing tools today that check a text’s grammar and can even suggest better words to use in a given context, it might seem that the modern editor can now just switch off and let technology do the job for them.
Theoretically, it’s possible to let tools do some of the work and ignore the other aspects of what being an editor entails. However, whether or not an editor relies on spelling and grammar check technology is the difference between a bad editor and a good one. A good editor will recognize that simply putting the brain on autopilot will give unsatisfactory results. Critical thinking is a must in this line of work, as it preserves the quality of the work.
In this article, we’ll cover the importance of critical thinking for editors and how it contributes to consistent and high-quality work within a company.
Critical thinking & quality of sources
When approaching any article, one of the most important jobs for the editor is to check the sources. As many of us know, not everything we see on the internet is true. Misconceptions are everywhere online, and it’s easy to mistake them for the truth.
It’s an especially easy trap to fall into for writers who have to hold a lot of pieces of information when writing. For instance, any article with an academic basis needs the writer to suspend various ideas at the same time as they form their overarching arguments, as well as build up smaller points within each paragraph. Between finding a way to express their ideas coherently, inserting keywords adequately, and paying attention to the form of the article, the integrity of the source material can often fall to the back a writer’s mind.
This is where the editor (usually the copy-editor) steps in. Part of the copy-editor’s responsibilities is to ensure that the information written in an article is factually correct. Each website used as a source should be vetted to make sure the writer is not conveying false information or pushing some kind of an agenda.
When it comes to sensitive topics or articles dealing with science and medicine, the quality of the sources is even more important. Without valid and carefully selected information, the whole article could be labeled as blatantly false, putting the reputation of the company and the client in jeopardy.
When checking the source material, an editor should ask themselves a few questions. Is there an author listed on the website? Can I check their credentials? Is the website just quoting another website? If so, which one, and what is the reputation of that website? Does the information conveyed on the website seem biased? Is it well written? Lastly, an editor should ask themselves if the information is logical. Logical fallacies are common online, and inconsistencies are everywhere. To remain credible, it’s important that an article be free of any logical shortcomings.
Critical thinking & translations
The biggest mistake translators make is translating something without thinking about what it means in the original language. Sometimes, it’s the writer of the original text that makes a mistake, and instead of correcting that in the translation, the translator automatically translates the false instance and inadvertently perpetuates the spread of misinformation.
This is where a translation editor comes into play, as their skills mean they will certainly notice a nonsensical statement in both languages. When an editor detects a false translation, the best thing to do is to inform the client or writer themselves and show them the mistake they made in the original text. Then, the writer or client will have the chance to express what they meant in a way that doesn’t misinform the reader.
The scenario is the same for any kind of translation, albeit the power of critical thinking becomes more evident when we’re dealing with law or science documents that need to be unambiguous and contain many facts that need to be fully verified.
In literary texts especially, idioms and collocations can also cause problems, as they are often translated literally instead of converted to their equivalent in the target language. The most important part is to translate the sense, the image, and the meaning that the writer was trying to convey, not just the words. This cannot be done if the text isn’t analyzed and approached critically, which a good translation editor knows.
Critical thinking & the project itself
While an average editor will only look at the language and the grammar, a good one will make sure the article actually fits the topic it’s supposed to. Sometimes, writers can get confused about the topic and end up writing something good but that has nothing to do with what they are actually supposed to create.
This can happen for a variety of reasons, the most common being that the topic wasn’t formulated well or that the writer simply misread the title. When it happens with just one article, it’s not too big of a problem. However, when it happens to a batch of articles, the whole project comes into jeopardy.
This is why the role of the editor is crucial. By carefully assessing every article they correct against the article’s title and the nature of the website it’s appearing on, they’re ensuring the article stays highly relevant to the topic at hand. Of course, approaching the project critically and to a high standard can also make the editor stand out, earn them better jobs, and even promotions in some cases.
Critical thinking & technology
Integrated editing software and online tools are becoming more and more advanced. Not only has the spellcheck and grammar functionality improved in these applications, but they no longer just correct mistakes. Some tools are now able to suggest better words according to different contexts, suggest adjustments to tone according to a specified purpose, and advise on how engaging or clear a text is. With this in mind, an editor might be tempted to let the program have the final word. However, to achieve a high standard of work, that isn’t the right approach to take.
Even though machines are extraordinarily smart today, we have to remember that they’re still just machines. That means that they can often misread the context and give suggestions that simply don’t make sense, regardless of whether we’re talking about the grammar, a suggestion about word choice, or how “well” the text is reading.
Critical thinking is an essential part of editing, as this kind of decision-making can’t be outsourced to a machine. While technology can learn patterns and build expectations that inform a machine’s suggestions, the pitfalls of misunderstood context (grammatically or thematically) mean that the program doesn’t truly “know” whether it’s correct in its assumptions. There’s also the fact that machines can miss things, too, in much the same way that humans can miss things.
For this reason, it’s important that not only does an editor need to be the final person to approve an article or translation, an editor also needs to review the whole document with the same critical eye as had a machine not scanned the text at all.
Critical thinking & the client
Just like the editor needs to communicate with the translators and writers, they sometimes need to communicate with the clients themselves. Sometimes the creator of the client’s project will notice inconsistencies and mistakes themselves and note them to the editor.
From here, it is the editor’s job to inform their employer and the client. The editor should work on their arguments, critically analyze the project, and make a note of all the logical fallacies, inconsistencies, and things that are simply impossible to achieve. Often, the client doesn’t have a realistic picture of what the company can accomplish, so it’s important to build your case. It’s best if the employer communicates with the client with the editor’s notes by their side.
However, sometimes, clients simply aren’t a good match, and any company that values coherent, consistent, and quality projects should simply take that fact as a given.
The role of critical thinking in editing is crucial for many reasons. It’s irreplaceable at any stage of the editing process, regardless of the subject matter or who the editor is communicating with. If an editor remembers this, they will excel at their job every time. Of course, there will be companies and clients that simply do not recognize the dedication and care of an editor, and that will insist that critical thinking isn’t a crucial factor.
However, this does not mean a good editor should compromise on their skills. Instead, they should take it as a sign that they’re not compatible with that particular employer or client and take their talents to someone who shares their values and appreciates their skillsets.