Q&A: Editing in the corporate world

Chris Hoerter is a copy editor at SAS, a software company based in Cary, N.C. In this Q&A, conducted by e-mail, Hoerter discusses what editing is like in the corporate world.

Q. Describe your job. What it is it like to edit at a software company?

A. Like newspaper editing, the turnaround time is fast — less than a day for most jobs. Most days we also get a few rush jobs that require immediate action.

The documents we’re looking at are relatively short — 75 percent of what we get consists of marketing e-mails, Web pages, signs and short mailers. Medium-length pieces make up most of the rest, things like press releases, success stories and magazine articles. And then every few days we’ll get something massive, like a 4,000-word white paper.

Paradoxically, we have to really take our time with short, prominent jobs, such as large trade show signs. A mistake on one of these is easy to see and makes us look especially unprofessional.

We’re also the front line for trademark enforcement, and make sure that dozens of trademarks and product names are used correctly.

Q. The business world has lots of jargon. How do you balance the urge of writers to use jargon with an editor’s urge to translate that into everday English?

A. It depends a great deal on the audience. Because SAS markets software to many different industries, writers and editors have to put themselves in a lot of different shoes. In general, we encourage plain English by working with our writers to identify unnecessary jargon, much of which we capture in an online style guide.

Other times we work with the writer to identify possible jargon and come up with alternatives. This often requires some research.

Q. You come from a background in creative writing. How has that influenced your editing?

A. It’s been challenging in some ways and helpful in others. I don’t think of myself as a naturally detail-oriented person, so I’ve had to approach copy editing in a very mindful way.

For example, I look at most pieces three times. First, I read from beginning to end. Next, I bump up the text size to 150 percent and read backwards, paragraph by paragraph. Last, I review all my edits, making sure that there’s a good reason for each one.

I feel my creative writing background pays off most when I’m working with our copy writers and graphic designers, who are wonderfully creative people. I feel like I can identify with what they’re trying to achieve, and I get a lot of satisfaction from suggesting a different way to write something that improves the delivery.

Q. Some copy editors for newspapers and magazines may look into getting a job like yours. What advice would you have for them?

A. The next best thing to knowing the person who is making the hiring decision is knowing the company. Do your homework. Read the collateral, check out the Web site, and think about it from an editing perspective. What is the company doing well? What kinds of mistakes is it making? How could you help?

And I wouldn’t be scared off if you’re not seeing official corporate editing positions. I’m lucky to work at a company that values consistent, professional business communications. But judging from what I see elsewhere, many companies don’t choose to make that effort — or they make it inconsistently.

If you think there’s a need and you’ve got something to offer, you may have a strong case for a creating a new position or at least getting some freelance work. And that’s a situation that’s good for everybody.

3 thoughts on “Q&A: Editing in the corporate world

  1. As someone who has also worked in corporate copy editing, I agree with what Chris says, though I bet this year is not a good year to try to propose that a company add a copy editing position.

  2. Really interesting Q&A. I’m a sub editor (copy editor) and this is a direction I’ve never thought of going in before. I knew there was a market for freelance work, but permanent positions – that’s opened my eyes.

  3. Our company leads grammar and writing skills training courses for corporations, and I’m always amazed at how badly the training is needed and often shocked at the documents they’ve been sending out. It’s nice to see that there are companies that care enough about image to have a position to protect them from written mistakes that could be embarrassing for employees and the company.

    Our CEO, Dianna Booher, just published “Booher’s Rules of Business Grammar: 101 Fast and Easy Ways to Correct the Most Common Errors” to help out professionals that may not have the luxury of a copy editor on staff. The short chapters, memory tips, and light-hearted style help those that don’t enjoy the subject learn it without much effort.

    All the best,
    Rachel Randolph

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