There’s no Such Thing as Pre-Editing

Last week I got my first request to “pre-edit” a continuing education article. I wasn’t sure what that meant. “The author has written a draft; I need you to tell me if it hangs together,” my customer explained. RED FLAG.

My spidey senses were spot on. The draft was basically a brain dump—not organized, not referenced, not even on track with the topic in spots. I asked if the person had written an outline prior to starting the draft. Yes.

The outline was everything the draft wasn’t—the outline logically led the reader through the steps of selecting, maintaining and using this particular medical device. So what happened?

The author ignored the outline.

He thought he knew his subject so well that he thought he could wing it. He treated the outline as just an academic exercise. And it showed.

My customer wanted my feedback within 24 hours. (See me laughing?)

I explained as kindly as possible that, if the author had followed his outline, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about pre-editing. It’s one thing to edit—or even substantively edit—a decent manuscript draft. But being asked to “pre-edit” means the author blew through his task, hoping someone else would pick up the pieces to magically make them fit together.

That wasn’t my job or my customer’s wish, so I inserted placeholders in his draft where information SHOULD go—based on the outline. I wrote a new introduction to point him in the right direction, corrected some of the most heinous grammar and editorializing problems, and suggested that he needed to make the whole thing hang together better with transitional sentences to “lead” the reader from one concept to the next.

Fortunately, my customer held the author’s toes to the fire and asked him to rewrite the materials per the outline.

Yesterday I got the manuscript back—this time with a request to EDIT it.

I still have a train wreck of a manuscript to work on.

Why? The author didn’t rewrite any content; he just shuffled it as he saw fit. (Like anyone gets it “right” with the first draft. Be real.) Example: under the heading “Reasons to use [this medical device],” there’s no list—or content that could be made into a list. Sigh.

But, hey—that’s why I have a job. And that’s why they call it work.

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