Books Magazine

What Your Editor’s Notes Really Mean

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

If you’ve ever worked with an editor, you know that receiving a colorful track-changes-filled document back isn’t uncommon.

Some editors are straight to the point. Others can be a little too friendly and encouraging when tough love might work better.

In both cases, editors have their own little language with accompanying symbols. So it helps if you can interpret what they’re ACTUALLY saying and read between the lines. Having been brutally edited more times than I’d like to admit, I’m well-versed in editor speak.

So here’s my little guide to interpret what your editor actually means:

“Awkward, rephrase”

I’ve been a professional editor for [insert large number] years, and even I can’t fix this.

“It’s a good start, but…”

I liked the first word. Everything else sucked.


Come up with more than one original thought, please.

“Word choice?”

Read a dictionary, you half-wit illiterate.

“Are you sure about this?”

You can’t possibly have an opinion this stupid.

“Transpose these sentences.”

Did you mean for this article to be published in Hebrew?

“Do you have a source on this?”

Or do you just make crap up?

“Not following.”

You should try and connect two coherent thoughts together. It’s fun.

“I reworded this for you.”

I fix things that are broken, like your writing.


This next paragraph looks long and, based on your previous paragraphs, I don’t feel like reading it.

“Break this paragraph up.”

Walls of text were acceptable in 3rd grade.

“Pay attention to [insert grammatical error here].”

I’ve fixed this same mistake 58 times last week. You better not be ACCEPTING ALL CHANGES without looking over them.

“Let’s get together to talk about this article.”

Find another editor. I can’t even…


Editors are your friends, I promise. And with this little guide, you now know how to interpret these unusual creatures.

Next time you see “awkward, rephrase,” you’ll know exactly what it means!

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