You can read every editorial manual and style guide in the world, but if none of them exactly meet your client’s requirements, they’re not going to provide you with all the answers you need.
Of course, you will find clients who tell you to “follow AP Style requirements” or “use APA referencing,” and that’s great, because you have extensive, objective instructions that will allow you to determine what your client wants.
However, sometimes it’s not quite that simple. You’ll find that sometimes you need to adapt your approach to editing to accommodate your client’s preferences, whether they relate to the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading or to softer skills like your commenting approach or whether or not you make judgment calls.
Launch the microlearning below to learn about the different ways you might need to tailor your approach to editing to meet your client’s expectations and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.
Be Flexible, but …
You’ll often find yourself needing to be flexible to accommodate your client’s preferences. This might take the form of, for example:
- Using your client’s preferred term (for example, the client might want you to use “every three months” when you would normally prefer to say “on a quarterly basis”)
- Using a non-standard form of capitalization (you might hate the idea of capitalizing job titles, but your client may want you to do so)
Your client’s preferences might extend into wider editorial issues, such as the level of commenting or whether or not you make the changes directly to the text.
Obviously, it’s a good thing to be able to accommodate your client’s preferences. It’s their content, and it’s their right to express themselves in the way that they wish (and your responsibility to ensure that they achieve this).
There are, however, certain situations where you might need to push back, either at the stage of writing the brief or style guide, or once you start working on the content.
You might want to question the client’s preferences:
- If something is inconsistent (for example, if they have asked you to capitalize all job titles except for the word “assistant”)
- If something goes against another stated preference (for example, if they’ve asked for AP Style but then told you not to put any spaces around ellipses)
- If something is offensive, derogatory, or libelous
- If something is awkward, anachronistic, or inappropriate (for example, the overuse of exclamation marks)
- If something is factually incorrect (i.e., just plain wrong)
- If something will affect the speed or accuracy of your editing (for example, if your client wants you to make all your changes as comments)
But how should you handle such disagreements when they occur? Typically, the best response is to politely note when a choice or preference could pose a problem and explain how you would resolve it.
If the client then queries this feedback, you can expand on your initial reasoning, following which the client is free to make an informed decision about whether or not to make a change. If they choose not to take your advice, that is their prerogative. Remember that your role is to help the author or client achieve their goals, not to impose your favored style on a document.
However, if you have questioned your client’s preferences because you feel that their way of doing something is offensive or potentially libelous, you should make sure that your objections and reasoning are recorded in writing. Remember that you can always refuse to work on a piece of content if it goes against your personal ethics or beliefs.
Finally, if you are questioning the client’s preferences because it will impact the speed or accuracy of your editing, you should make it clear to them that this will affect the pricing and/or the effectiveness of your work.
Making Judgment Calls
Sometimes a client will require that you use your professional and reasonable judgment to make decisions about their content without involving them. That means leaving no comments, offering no alternative options – just producing the final version of the document as you believe the client wants it to be.
This, of course, goes against all standard editorial practice of presenting your changes to your client and commenting when you’re not sure on something. And most clients who want to make minimal post-editorial changes will have a very comprehensive brief or recognize that there may be instances where the need for their input is unavoidable.
If you need to make a judgment call:
- Choose the most easily replicable option and/or the one that resonates with the client’s existing preferences
- Make sure that you are consistent throughout the client’s document(s)
- Liaise with any other editors working on that client’s content to ensure that you’re all doing the same thing
- If appropriate/applicable, add the issue (and your chosen approach) to that client’s style guide
Be Sensible and Don’t Overcomplicate Things
Whenever you’re making changes to a document, you should consider what the client is hoping to get out of commissioning your service.
This means applying any stylistic or mechanical changes appropriately and sensitively, with the client’s style guide and the content’s intended purpose in mind.
As an obvious example, if the piece of content is a lifestyle blog that directly quotes someone else, it’s unlikely that the client will want you to flag that it needs to be cited in proper academic style. However, you are likely to be expected to note that the client should mention the source of that quote and link to the original if appropriate.
You can generally expect that, if there is no specific style guide or customary usage to direct you, the best approach you can take is a simple, sensible one. However tempting it is, don’t try to overcompensate by making your edits more elaborate and complicated than they need to be – no-one will thank you for it, least of all your client.
Similarly, don’t always feel that you need to follow your client’s instructions to the extreme. If doing something seems like it would result in a suboptimal or even ridiculous outcome, consider whether you need to check in with them (or make a judgment call, if this is what your client expects you to do). At all times, however, you should aim to “be sensible and don’t overcomplicate things.”
When to Flag an Issue
Even when your client expects you to work reasonably autonomously (i.e., without their input during or post-edit), there may be times when you do need to flag an issue to them. Knowing when to do so is part of your professional skills as an editor.
The instances when you need to flag an issue are pretty much the same as those that will require you to question a client’s preferences. Put simply: if something is going to make the client’s work incorrect, inconsistent, or offensive, then you may well need to flag it with them if you are unable or do not have the authority to make the changes directly.
In addition, whether you need to flag an issue can be affected by the work itself. That is, you are more likely to need to flag an issue if:
- The issue impacts the work throughout
- The issue affects the work of other editors
- The issue affects a large project or important document
- The document or project has a very quick turnaround time
Again, however, everything depends on your client’s requirements and expectations and on the service they have commissioned you to provide.