Much of my time in the PR biz has consisted of people giving me their written thoughts, ideas and streams of consciousness for me to turn into clear and accessible articles, books and presentations before they get to their final editor or publisher. It wasn’t until explaining my process to a real-live book editor and she said, “Oh, you’re doing Developmental Editing” that I knew it had a name.
I’m fortunate to have been working with people who have 20 years or more experience in their particular field, and when they decide to write down their expertise, often all 20 years comes spilling out onto the page! It’s fascinating, but it can also be very long, with the same VERY IMPORTANT POINT being made multiple times in multiple ways. My job as Developmental Editor is to go through the raw material to pull out the VERY IMPORTANT POINTS then reformat sentences and paragraphs to make sure those VIPs stand out while their context is easy to understand.
Often I have to print out a chapter and lay the whole thing out on my table and start making editing marks on sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the passive voice to active and sometimes it’s, “Move paragraph A to section 2, move opening sentence to end. Reduce the number of ‘ands.’”
It’s important to keep the writer’s voice throughout the stories, especially when correcting sentence structure. Sometimes they just write a certain way, and I have to make sure I don’t “clarify” their special nuances right out of the thing.
If you’ve ever done any writing for communications or marketing yourself wherein someone handed you a bunch of verbiage describing how something works or how something was made that you then had to go in and explain so that lay people like myself could understand it, then congratulations: you are a Developmental Editor.