When should you send a document back to a writer?

One of the challenges a lot of companies, especially content agencies, deal with is the hand off between writers and editors and who is responsible for what.

Before we get into that, let’s define the difference between a writer and an editor.

  • Writers are responsible for taking a content brief and turning it into an article or other piece of content that is worthy of publishing. They are likely a subject matter expert with deep expertise in the topic and able to write authoritatively about it.
  • An editor is responsible for taking the writer’s draft, providing feedback and improvements, and ultimately getting the article finalized for publishing via copy editing and proofreading. An editor not a writer, though a managing editor (sometimes known as a content manager) may be responsible.

Common content workflow

A common content workflow looks like this:

  • Someone (managing editor or content manager/lead) creates a content brief around a topic.
  • Brief is sent to writer, with a deadline for the first draft.
  • Writer writes the article/piece and submits it back to the managing editor (ME) or content manager (CM).
  • ME or CM reviews piece for correctness of content and strength of arguments.
  • If substantive changes are needed, such as the brief wasn’t followed or there are large sections that need to be reworked or changed, it is then sent back to the writer. If changes are small, the editor makes the changes and sends it to a copy editor and proofreader.
  • Copy editor and proofreaders edits and proofread, then returns to ME or CM.
  • Content is then published or sent to the client for publishing on schedule.

When should a document be returned to the writer during editing?

The debate around when a document should go back to a writer during editing has been around for years and will continue to be around.

This is because the line between writing and editing, and who is ultimately responsible, has been blurred and varies based on the company or agency.

Some agencies use low cost writers and expect their editors to make the content usable.

Others use well compensated subject matter experts and their editors are responsible for the technical aspects and making sure that the brief was followed.

So, this article is our opinion (from years of experience) about when an article should be sent back to a writer.

When the brief wasn’t followed

The most common time an article should be returned to the writer is when the brief wasn’t followed.

This includes instances like:

  • They left out large sections that were asked for.
  • They didn’t include elements like lists, images, or similar.
  • They wrote it in a format other than what was specified.
  • The tone of voice is different from what was specified.

Here’s the rule of thumb: if the writer didn’t do their job, send it back to them.

Not sending content back to a writer when the brief wasn’t followed would be like not asking a lawn care company to come back when they only mowed half of your lawn.

You’re paying them to mow the full lawn. They should come back and finish the job.

When substantial rewriting is needed

The second most common time an article should be returned to a writer is when substantial rewriting is needed.

Substantial rewriting needed means that whole paragraphs or sections are completely wrong or phrased so awkwardly that they’re not understandable. Usually, this will be an issue through the whole article and thus the article should be sent back for revision/rewriting.

Editors do a great job of cleaning up content to make it ready to publish, but they should not be expected to rewrite subpar work.

If your writers are returning subpar copy to your editors, you need new writers.

When content was plagiarized

The third most common time an article should be returned to a writer is when it is too similar to other pieces of content online and may have been plagiarized.

If it is simply too similar to others and it won’t accomplish your goals of ranking in Google, driving traffic, and generating leads then the editor should point out areas in the piece that need to be rewritten by the writer (this falls under “substantive changes needed”).

If the editor believes the piece was actually plagiarized, that is a much larger issue. If the editor believes it was unintentional, such as forgetting to properly cite something from another site, then the writer should make that right. If the editor believes the writer was being unethical, then the company should step in and stop working with that writer while also not compensating them for that work. The company should also review other content produced by that writer to make sure they didn’t also plagiarize parts of those articles.

If you’re concerned the content returned to you may be plagiarized, we recommend Grammarly’s plagiarism checker.

When should content not be returned to a writer?

The job of an editor is to take good copy and make it ready for publishing. This includes:

  • Developmental editing, focused on the strength of the arguments made and the overall quality of writing
  • Line editing, focused on making each line as strong as it can be
  • Copy editing, making sure the content adheres to brand guidelines and is technically correct
  • Proofreading, looking for any final errors and typos before the content goes to print/publishing.

After developmental editing is the most common time that content is returned to a writer. Once developmental editing is done by a trained subject matter expert, a trained editor should take over to cover line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Content isn’t worth being returned to a writer when it only needs editing for the following:

  • Conciseness
  • Basic wording
  • Technical edits like commas and capitalization
  • Basic typos

As mentioned above, editing is what makes a good piece of content really sing and stand out from other content online.

Good editing starts with good writing, but good editing will also make a piece of content perform and accomplish its goals (traffic, leads, revenue, etc).

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Tweet us.

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