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And with editor I mean reader, like the person who does the proofreading before something goes out into public.
Why is this work an important work?
Well, first things first.
We are social beings and our interaction with one another relies on communication, be it verbal or non-verbal. “We can not not communicate” as Paul Watzlawick said.
And of course we know that there are different purposes or intentions why we communicate, or at least this is what you’re taught when you study language and literature.
I don’t necessarily want to go into the details of Friedemann Schulz von Thun’s model of “the four sides of a message”, where he says a message has an informative content, an appeal/plea, self-revelation and says something about the relationship between the speaker and their interlocutor. If you’re interested in further details, you can check them here.
But for the sake of the argument let’s stick with this:
A message can be informative, appellative, persuasive or convincing.
So, when talking about business communication, say you want to sell a product or a service, but also in private communication, say you want to convince someone of your argument, I think we can agree that all these channels of communication have one thing in common: a purpose.
But what is this purpose?
When your message is informative, it’s the simple purpose that you want to pass this information, you want to feed us this information.
When your message is appellative, you want us to react upon that appeal, right?
When your message is persuasive or convincing, you want us to agree with you.
What all of these have in common now is not only that they have a purpose, but that they actually have the same purpose: You want to generate a RESPONSE in us.
But what happens if your communication fails?
Well, in the best case: nothing.
In the worst case you generate a response in us that is not the one you wanted, so you feed us information that we either don’t need or can’t handle or that we’re either incapable or unwilling to swallow.
Or your appeal was set out to generate a verbal (“say something!”) or a non-verbal (“do something!”) reaction in us. If your communication fails, we neither say something nor do we do something, in the best case. In the worst case we say what you don’t want to hear and we do exactly the opposite of what you were aiming at.
Or your persuasive or convincing communication fails and we disagree with you.
So, basically in all cases you’re getting a “no” where you actually wanted to get a “yes”, to keep it simple.
Well, nice talk Miss Laventura, but what does this have to do with editors?!
Editors – in the best case – are language lovers. Or at least they know their tools and how to use them. Their tools? Words.
Now, next lesson:
You might tend to think that the way we think determines the way we speak, so that our way of thinking influences our language, right?
Correct. But this works vice versa, and that is a point that many people unfortunately miss.
Let me give you some examples: The Inuit apparently have round about two hundred – 200 !!! – different words for “snow”. How many do you have? But why? Probably because their surrounding is essential for their survival and it is crucial for them to know what kind of snow there is in order to survive.
The Hopi Indians don’t use tenses as we’re used to using them. In the example given in our classes they tried to convert it into English, which ends up being a picture of a man who stands at a wall and in all cases says “He ran”. So, same position, same posture, always “he ran”. What is your natural reaction to that? Exactly, most probably “WTF? Did he run, does he run or will he run?!”, because these are the categories we distinguish time frames and time lines by, right? It just doesn’t get into our system of thinking. Because our language also had an influence and partly determined this system of thinking.
Of course there are easier and more popular examples like the fact that the English language doesn’t know a word for “Fernweh” – the longing for a far away place – or that simply spoken often there are some words that do exist in one language but bear no equivalent in another.
Back to the editors. As said before, they are language lovers or at least know how to use their tools.
And I don’t necessarily mean the manipulative and persuasive use of language that you often find in advertising, that is a topic of its own, although I’d say it plays similar keys on the piano.
But it’s about using stylistic devices (yes, the nasty ones you learned at school, alliteration, personification, etc.). For what? Yeah, now you got it, my friends: for the purpose! In order to get the message across, to generate a response (and when it comes to business or advertising, of course aiming at generating not only a response, but a specific one).
Language can resonate with us, it can move us, hurt us, maybe even heal us.
What I mean is this:
“The categorisation that takes place in emotional amorous relationships serves as a destructive force to the true meaning of the emotion itself.”
“Love becomes a lost lullaby when we label it like lipstick.”
Which one sticks better with you?
Why are we to blind to see
that a little poetry
moves so easy
from mouth to ear
so we listen, so we hear
with a smile or with a tear
what somebody has to tell?
That’s poetry’s magic spell.
(yes, just created that within a minute, wasn’t planned for this post, but hey, that’s life, response and stuff)
Okay, well Miss, now you have shown that an editor should know their tools, fine, but the title claims to give an answer to the question why editors matter.
You’re right, sorry, I’m drifting off sometimes, lovely topic of language, broad topic, amazing, love it.
Okay, I owe you an answer.
Look at the picture that accompanies this post. It’s German, I know.
The first one says “You will stay in our heart fo ever” and the second says something like “always loved and never forgtetn.”
Yes, exactly that was my reaction as well!
These hearts were sold before All Hallow’s Day, supposed to be stuck into graves.
Would you buy them? Would you put them onto a grave of one of your beloved ones?
Yeah, thought so.
But why is this a fail?
It’s not just the fact that there are spelling mistakes in it, but it bears a deeper level.
Let’s analyse it: You wanted to sell this product. You wanted us to buy this product. You offered a product and you wanted to generate a positive response, a “yes” in us, manifested in a non-verbal reaction by buying this product.
So, these products actually ending up in store and offered for purchase show different things:
First, apparently the person putting the letters on it didn’t check it. Apparently there was no editor who double-checked. Apparently there was no final check before you put the products into boxes and delivered them to the store.
But you know what the response is? No.
And do you know why the response is “no”?
Because the lack of proofreading, the lack of double-checking carries a message of its own.
And this message is that you don’t care.
That you don’t care about us, that you don’t care about our response because apparently you believe that we’re still going to buy it.
And you know what accompanies this “no”? Repulsion. Because deep down inside and subconsciously it shows a trace of disrespect and arrogance and maybe even a little insult to your potential customers.
This is just one example. Feel free to apply it to other fields.
If your website is full of spelling mistakes or you switch tenses or use wrong words, it always transports the impression that you don’t care about your readers/customers.
Moreover, you might give false information. And I think we can agree that there is a difference between “I’ve worked hard” and “I’ve hardly worked”, right?
And with that you work against yourself as by using wrong words or being careless about proofreading, you generate a response in us that is counter productive to your actual purpose and intention.
In the worst case, we will remember you as someone who doesn’t care and stop buying your products, stop reading your newspaper, not buy your book, not book the services offered on your website.
Nowadays the half-life period of a message is so short that it renders many people careless, because “nah, who cares, tomorrow this piece of information will be old and forgotten”, “nah, it’s alright, they’re gonna understand” is the mentality that we tend to live by.
It’s just language, right? And it’s just on a language level that you don’t care for us customers, right?
In person you care for us like a true nanny, it’s just the language level that lacks your attention, right?
It’s just language, eh?
Is it really?
Think about what we discussed beforehand, how language also reflects on our system of thinking. Therefore, it has an impact on our behaviour, doesn’t it?
Even if the argument “a careless behaviour concerning language shows careless behaviour in general” might be a bit too far fetched, it somehow does indicate it to a certain extent, doesn’t it? Deep down and subconsciously?
Don’t get me wrong, please, don’t take it as an offence.
I’m not saying that you don’t care about your readers or customers.
I’m just saying that this might be the subliminal message you’re transporting, the impression your readers/customers get.
And okay, not every reader or customer pays detailed attention to it, to some it doesn’t matter, but there might be potential readers/customers who will always stay exactly that: potential.
Because their reaction might be “if they care as much about me as they do about their grammar, I’m not gonna go there”.
And THAT, my friends, is why editors matter.
Because they can help prevent those scenarios depicted above from happening, because they know you, your message and your interlocutor and they find the right approach to the right channel to get it across, they can help you when all the other work concerning your project has rendered you stuck in a rut and you just want to get it done.
Because they are language lovers or at least they know their tools and how to use them.
Their tools? Words.
PS: Yes, I am cross with myself each and every single time I find spelling mistakes in one of my blog posts, although I don’t earn any money with my blog.
PPS: Yes, “love becomes a lost lullaby when we label it like lipstick” was taken from my book Labelled Love, although normally I find it strange when people quote their own works.
PPPS: Yes, well guessed, I am an editor 😉