the ethics of editing writing samples

My cousin gave me pause today when he asked me to edit the writing sample he’s sending to a prospective employer.

I know, of course, that job applicants — the good ones — get their materials edited by other people all the time. It’s part of showing due diligence in making sure you don’t have typos, etc. But somehow writing samples feel different, and as a manager, I felt obligated to say: No! Do not do this. Your writing sample should reflect your writing, not writing that has been edited by others. Otherwise a hiring manager can’t make a good decision about whether your writing is the right fit for the job (and ultimately, even though you want to get the job, it’s more important to get a job that you’re the right fit for).

But as his cousin, I want him to get the job. So ultimately I said the above to him, and then sent him my edits.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. The Engineer*

    All writing can stronger with the review of good editor. All writers should have a good editor. All good writers have a good editor. An editor who writes instead of editing is called a ghost writer (whether the writer admits it or not). A good editor knows how not to become a ghost writer. An inexperienced editor is likely to become a ghost writer (likely without intent).

    I suspect your concerns kept from wandering into the ghost writer realm.

  2. Server Admin*

    As someone who used to work as a technical writer and editor, I’ll add my two cents….

    If you want to see what kind of first draft you are going to get from someone, you need to have them write at the interview. Even this is not really very representative, but it is as close as you are going to get prior to them working for you. I would never write an important document without doing a self edit – preferably the next day.

    There are in general 3 kinds of editing that are likely to be needed in business writing: technical, style, and copy. Technical is the content – does it acurately reflect the facts? Style is the clarity and use of voice. Copyediting is the use of grammer and punctuation. Depending on the purpose of the document and the role of the employee, one of these may be more important than the others.

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