Designing and Editing Publications: 6 Ways to Avoid the Editing Vortex


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The definition of vortex is a spiral motion of fluid or air that sucks everything near it toward its center. All marketing and communications professionals have been sucked into an editing vortex like a dust bunny into a power vacuum at some point during their careers. It's a rite of passage.

Here's the scenario: You're working on a new, exciting project. It's an annual report. You have all the players in place: copywriter, designer, photographer, editor, your supervisor (or board member or company president) and you, the communications director/project manager. You discuss the project's direction, the schedule and the parameters. Everyone is clear. The copywriter outlines the project and you get initial approval from your supervisor. The photographs are taken. The copywriter writes copy, you get copy approval from your supervisor and approve the design direction. The designer then lays out the report. You get the First proof and it looks great.

You leave it with your supervisor to review. A few days later your supervisor hands you a stack of annual reports. Somehow your proof has reproduced itself. There are now four of them. There's red ink everywhere as if each cloned proof is bleeding out. You take a deep breath and face the daunting task of assembling the edits on the only clean copy you have. The task is like trying to make sense of four babbling toddlers. You ask the copywriter for rewrites and then hand it back to the designer for edits.

You receive the next proof from the designer and present it to your supervisor. Two days produces four more copies. It's like black magic. Try as you may, compiling the edits becomes impossible. Editor A completely disagrees with Editor B, Editor C may as well be reviewing the report for the First time, and Editor D could really use a grammatical intervention and rehab. You bring a new proof to your supervisor and discuss the problem, but it is too late. You're stuck in the editing vortex. Your supervisor admits that she didn't really have time to review the report so she passed it off to several board members and the accounting director. She's tells you the new proof will only be seen by her eyes. Great. Her eyes have never read the report in the first place so the edited proof she returns is, once again, bleeding out. By now the copywriter and designer are talking at a bar about you behind your back and getting closer to needing an intervention and rehab themselves. The quality of their work declines, the edits reduce in number but you still don't see the finish line. You're past deadline and over budget.

This may sound extreme, but it's not. It actually happened. The more seasoned a professional you are, the easier it is to steer clear of the editing vortex, but sometimes you just get sucked in. The problem with the editing vortex is that it leads to an inferior outcome. It is exhausting. By the end no one cares about the quality of the project anymore, they just want it to go away. It stops being a priority for everyone involved. A well-organized project can be completed in three rounds of edits with the final round simply being a once-over before the project goes to press or is published online. Here are six tips to help avoid the editing vortex.

Get everyone involved from the beginning.

You know there will be a copywriter and a designer. Who will you have to answer to? Make sure your supervisor is involved at the first meeting you schedule. Ask your supervisor if he will have to show the report to anyone. If yes, make sure that person is at the meeting. Tell that person to bring her kids if she plans to ask them for input. Anyone with any say needs to be at the initial meeting. That will get everyone headed in the same direction from the start. If it is not possible to get everyone at the first meeting, reschedule the meeting. If you show a proof to someone who is not familiar with the agreed direction of the project, they will make changes according to their own assumptions and often their own ego.

Limit the number of people involved.

If you have any power to do so, limit the number of editors to just you (or you and your supervisor). If you need to show the copy to several department heads, avoid showing them copy in layout, and only give them one chance to review the copy. Also, if you require input on the design direction, make sure that everyone you ask understands that they have input, but not final say. You have final say. That's your job. That way, the copywriter can rework the text without being concerned if it will fit in layout, and the designer can finalize a design direction that is not tied to keeping copy in place. After that initial round of eyeballs, only one or two people should be responsible for editing.

Create a schedule and budget and stick to it.

Projects that continue on and on become boring, stale and expensive. Create a schedule at your initial meeting and stick to it. Solidify the budget.

Approve copy before layout.

Reading a Word file is different from seeing copy in layout. The black and white words have no personality. This is the time to change it. Once the copy goes into layout, even adding a sentence can have a domino effect on the rest of the layout. There will always be minor changes at layout, but any major rewrites should occur before the designer even sees the copy.

Let the professionals do their jobs.

Hire people who are good at what they do and appropriate for your project. Create a collection of copywriters, designers and photographers who you can call when you need work done. Trust their judgment. You will have a much more pleasant experience working with creative professionals who you like and trust. They will listen to you and do their job, leaving you to do yours.

Hire a professional editor for the final proof.

At the end of a project, give an outside copy editor your final proof. Copy editors do not change content, they simply cross all your T's and dot all your I's. They are obsessive compulsives who take pride in their almost alien ability to find the slightest deviation from perfect grammar and formatting. They refine and polish the world of communications.

You may need to become a bit of a tyrant to get a project to run smoothly and avoid the editing vortex, but I guarantee that your next project will run more smoothly and give you better results if you take control of the process from the beginning.

Audrey Nezer is an award-winning graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. Her company, Artifex Design, creates playful, edgy and effective marketing and communication materials for companies and organizations throughout the United States. Visit to learn more (and win a prize!)


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