An Author’s Guide to Working with Editors

A scene from Genius, a 2016 biographical drama based on the career of Maxwell Perkins.

Are you an author considering working with an editor for your project? Or are you from a publishing agency or research institute that works with both authors and editors? Whether you’re new to the editing game or not, there are several things you could do to ensure that you and your text are ready for editors. Streamlining the editing process not only saves time and resources for everyone involved, but it also produces better results. Also, beginning an editor–author relationship on the right note is always a plus! 

To get this started, we’ve compiled some tips and guidelines that your editor is sure to appreciate you following. You may not be able to do all of them, but doing even a few will go a long way.

Do a simple clean-up of the file

When basic errors and inconsistencies are taken care of, editors can focus their attention on deeper issues like language, style, logic, and accuracy. It’s also likely to reduce the turnaround time on the project. Here are some ways to clean your file:

  • Use MS Word’s spelling and grammar suggestions. Fixing simple errors such as repeated words and formatting errors is helpful. 
  • Format the file by applying a consistent font, font size, and alignment. It doesn’t have to be particularly fancy—even pressing Control + A to select the entire text and applying Times New Roman, 12 pt, 1.5 line spacing is useful. A visually clean file is easier to edit. 
  • Use the Find and Replace function to easily fix spelling inconsistencies. For instance, find common misspellings and UK or US English spellings (whichever isn’t being used) of the commonly used words in your file.
  • The Find function can also be used to match citations in the references section with in-text citations. While the editor will check for these, they are likely to simply flag the discrepancies for you to fix later.

Provide a stylesheet

A stylesheet serves as the editor’s guide and is a constant source of reference. Without one, there are likely to be misunderstandings, repeated queries, and successive editing requirements.

  • If you’re following an established style, such as MLA, CMoS, or APA, the editor will have access to several resources to refer to. However, make sure that any exceptions to the style (such as the type of English used) are mentioned. 
  • If you’re not following a conventional style, create a custom stylesheet that specifies the preferred citation style, use of UK or US English, and other requirements. Ideally, confer with your publisher, PhD guide, or university about this. Some useful points to specify are—if serial commas, closed em dashes or spaced en dashes, and single or double quotes are used; how tables and figures should be formatted; how punctuation in quotations should be treated; and how recurring words in the file are spelled (including capitalisations and hyphenations). If possible, provide a sample paper that has been published by your publisher or university to the editor for them to follow. 
  • Highlight at the outset any special requirements, problem areas, and project-specific guidelines that you may have. For example, you may need a plagiarism check or for research findings to be formatted in a specific way, or there may be guidelines about abstract length or a requirement to provide a glossary or keywords. If a previous editor, guide, or professor has pointed out some errors you are prone to making or, perhaps, you’re aware of some grammar rules that are recurring problem areas, you could ask the editor to watch out for them. 

Establish a timeline

Ideally, you wouldn’t want your editor rushing through your text to meet the deadline. Editing requires great attention to detail, patience, and usually more than one round of proofreading. To ensure that you get the most out of the editing service, set a realistic timeline that accounts for editing and proofreading, possible queries and delays, your incorporation of the changes, and a potential successive edit once changes have been made. This will, of course, also depend on the editor’s availability and speed, so it’s best to keep some buffer time to accommodate these factors.

However, many a time this isn’t feasible, and projects have tighter deadlines. Don’t worry—experienced editors will tell you what level of edits are possible within your timeframe. Ensure that you communicate your expectations and set some tentative deadlines at the outset. Sometimes, it may be beneficial (for both parties) to split a project into instalments for better time management and to allow room for feedback. 

Accept track changes 

Once you receive the edited file back from the editor, carefully review the edits. If you’re working with Microsoft Word, the editor would have probably marked their changes using Track Changes. If there are any edits that you disagree with, right-click on the change, and select “Reject Change” from the drop-down menu. Make sure that you read through the text again to ensure that no errors have been introduced in this process.

Once you are satisfied, you can accept the remaining edits. This is a simple step on MS Word that will instantly declutter your file—once you have approved the edits, select Accept All Changes in the Review tab of MS Word. It’s also a good way to see what the file looks like after all the edits have been made and to check that it’s ready for publication. This is particularly useful to determine whether a second round of edits is required, and if so, which problems remain unresolved. 

Clarify ambiguous edits or comments

Keep the conversation between you and the editor open; if you don’t understand why they made a certain edit or comment, simply ask them! Sometimes, editors fail to communicate what their intentions are, but they are obliged to justify every change they make or explain what their comments mean. If you aren’t sure about a suggestion, most editors would be happy to discuss an alternative, time permitting. Dismissing an edit could potentially hurt your project, whereas clarifying allows for a dialogue and possible learning for both parties. 


Like authors, editors also value feedback on their work. While you review the edits that have been made and approve them, make note of which ones were particularly useful and which weren’t. As editors, we tend to make several suggestions just in case they are helpful, but specific feedback on what works will only help us improve. It will serve as a guide as to what edits to prioritise on certain types of projects. Providing feedback will also benefit you when working with the editor on future projects.