I’m always looking for useful analogies to convey how good editing can improve advertising copy, web features, white papers, and other written communications. This morning I was reading an article about medicine and it hit me that what editors do when revising a piece of written work is analogous to what doctors do when diagnosing a patient’s symptoms.
Like a living organism, written copy is a complex system of interactive elements that can be rendered “unhealthy” by the presence of errors in spelling, grammar, or logic. A good editor, like a good doctor, knows how to read the symptoms — for example, “this doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know why” — and can suggest corrections that will restore the piece to optimum health.
Let’s take a look at how you can apply the four cornerstones of diagnostic medicine to make your writing all better.
Now, I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), so after I came up with the analogy I had to hit the Web to find out about how doctors diagnose patients, to see if the analogy held up. I began with what Wikipedia had to say about medical diagnostics, then double-checked that against other sources. From my quick self-guided tour, I learned that doctors consider four factors when performing a diagnosis: anatomy, physiology, pathology, and psychology. It was not surprising to me that each element has an editorial analogue:
- Anatomy: The structure of the piece. Are the spelling and grammar correct?
- Physiology: The mechanics of the piece. Is it following an internal logic?
- Pathology: The problems with the piece’s structure and the mechanics. Does it bury the lede?
- Psychology: The “behavior” of the piece. Are the tone and mood conveying the right message?
Good editors are like expert diagnosticians; they know what healthy writing should read like, they can identify what’s ailing a piece, and they know what to do to bring it back to health.
Why not let an editor give your writing a second opinion?