Being an effective editor means that you encourage a writer by working collaboratively. One way to do that is to let the writer have a voice.
It is a familiar scene: A writer walks into the manager’s office to discuss a draft that the manager has edited, and the boss immediately starts listing all the flaws that need to be fixed. Eventually, the manager asks “any questions?” The writer, who wants to crawl under her desk at that point, says no and walks away glumly.
Whether you are a supervisor with assigned responsibility to manage writers or whether you are just helping out a colleague who asked you to read a draft, always let the writer have the first word when you discuss the piece of writing. Invite her to share: How does she feel about the draft? Is she struggling with anything in particular? Is there anything she thinks needs improvement? This is how you build a collaborative relationship with the writer. You listen, then respond, which reinforces the notion that the two of you are in this together.
When a manager begins the conversation by listing all the flaws, he assumes that he is providing details she is not already aware of. But sometimes the writer knows what is wrong with the draft; what she needs is help with issues that prevent her from improving it. Perhaps she can’t find certain information, she is unsure how to phrase something, she doesn’t know how to punctuate a particular situation. In addition, there might be information that the manager doesn’t know, so before criticizing, it helps to have as much information as possible.
If the discussion opens with a litany of flaws, what writer is going to want to speak up afterward? Your job as a manager is to teach, guide, encourage, and motivate, so that writers feel as if they are developing. Most writers welcome constructive criticism, but they want it delivered in a way that they feel the editor and they are on the same team.
As Chip Scanlan at the Poynter Institute emphasizes, the most valuable question an editor can ask is, how can I help?