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As companies produce and publish content online, they’re often faced with the challenges of figuring out the constitution of their content team. A proper content team involves both writers and editors as well as strategists, but we see many companies collapse a few of the roles into one and then wonder why their content isn’t as good as it could be. This is because there are differences between writers and editors.
When in-house teams do this, it leads to overwork.
When agencies do it, it leads to clients being unhappy with subpar work, as they should be.
So what is the difference between a writer and an editor, and what does each do?
That is what we’ll cover in this article.
What is a writer?
A writer is responsible for taking a content brief and creating the piece of content assigned. Whether it is a white paper, a blog post, or an in-depth guide, they follow the content brief and return a clean piece of copy that keeps to that brief.
In the business world, writers are often subject matter experts or interview subject matter experts to leverage their expertise to write content that does the topic justice and that people want to read.
Many writers are also freelancers in 2023, but larger companies will employ full-time writers to create content. When I worked at Zillow, for example, they employed a whole team of writers and editors who create content for SEO and marketing purposes.
The managing editor would work with the strategists to define what was being produced. Writers would then take those briefs and write, then the editors would edit before the content went back to the team who requested it or was published.
What is an editor?
An editor is different from a writer, in that the editor takes what a writer has written and does a number of things. An editor focuses on content quality, consistency, and correctness.
First, the editor makes sure the content brief was followed and the writer wrote what they were supposed to write. They take into account grammar style (MLA, AP, etc), tone of voice, and any other guidelines given.
Second, the editor does substantive edits to make sure the content is correct and well-written, according to the brief. If there are a lot of revisions needed, they will send it back to the writer. If not, the editor will make the edits themselves and then either move to the next step of editing or send it on to another editor such as a line editor or copy editor.
An editor will then line edit, copy edit, and proofread the article to make sure it is as concise and clear as can be (line edits), grammatically and stylistically correct according to the prescribed style (copy edits), and is clear of spelling and grammatical errors before it goes to print or publication (proofreading).
How do writers and editors work together?
It is important to note that writers and editors should not operate under an “editor vs writer” paradigm.
Writers and editors are members of the same team, and their being at odds would be like a point guard and a center not recognizing each other’s role on a basketball team.
Editors exist to support a writer in making the writer’s copy as good as it can be. A writer that cares about their craft should love working with an editor because they learn and their work is improved.
Without writers, an editor’s job doesn’t exist. Therefore, editors should appreciate what a writer does and help them improve. When a writer improves and returns better copy, an editor’s job is easier and everyone wins. When bad copy is returned, both roles then have more work to do to get the piece ready for publication or return to the client.
- A managing editor or content manager will create a content brief and send it to a writer
- The writer will write that article or piece of content and return it to the editor
- The editor will do substantive edits and decide if it needs to go back to the writer or not
- Then line editing, copy editing, and proofreading occur
- Finally, the written work is published or sent back to the client.
What about managing editors, and what do they do?
One role that a lot of companies have that has not yet caught on within smaller companies and agencies is the role of a Managing Editor (ME).
A Managing Editor comes from a more traditional newsroom or similar setup and is ultimately responsible for all of the work going out from that department.
Managing Editors work with and recruit writers, ensure that content briefs are created and followed, and that work comes back on time and is edited before publishing.
In many content agencies, a Content Manager often plays this role with their specific clients. In larger agencies, a Head of Content is essentially the Managing Editor and acts in that capacity.
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