Master chefs transform humble ingredients like onions, tomatoes and carrots
into dazzling culinary creations.
All proficient chefs do some version of that, though there is something
deliciously satisfying about the notion of repurposing barely palatable
foodstuffs into vibrant, surprising feasts.
As editors, we are like chefs: We take pride in turning words into
something more substantial, stirring, sumptuous and, dare we say,
There are plenty of similarities between the two professions; here are five
ways editing parallels the work of chefs:
1. We strive for the most pleasing recipe. Just like
chefs, editors core, score, slice and dice, testing the contents of the
vessel and adjusting accordingly. We use skill and imagination to tinker
with word recipes until the concoction is clear, concise and compelling.
Portions (word counts), flavors (voice and tone), variety, balance,
timeliness and the tastes of our audience all factor into the winning
2. We make do with the ingredients on hand. Generally,
writers are purveyors of fine (and ideally fresh) ingredients, working with
editors to create the best result possible. Other times, they are like
unscrupulous fishmongers who plop a crate of fetid catfish on your stoop
Editors find a way to make it work—even when the content cupboards are bare
or they’re faced with a “Chopped”-style challenge of cobbling together a
coherent creation from marshmallows, gefilte fish, relish, goat cheese and
vegemite. Or just a bundle of kale.
3. We must adhere to high, consistent standards. If you’ve
seen “Master Chef,” you’ve no doubt heard Gordon Ramsay yell, “Where are
your standards?” or words to that effect.
If your standards are low, as an editor or a chef, you’ll probably sicken
people. Whatever style you abide by—be it Chicago, MLA, APA, or AP—set a
high bar to please the palates of your patrons. Inconsistency is bad for
[Free download: 10 punctuation essentials]
Skillful butchering is essential.
Perhaps the most painful portion of any cooking show is watching amateurs
mangle a beautiful piece of fish or ineptly slash away at a prime cut.
Skillful editing, however, is more akin to precise butchering—nothing
useful is wasted, yet all the extraneous matter is discarded.
Editors must nimbly wield linguistic paring knives (rather than hacking
away with cleavers) to methodically trim out fat, bone and gristle.
5. Attention to detail is everything. Great restaurateurs
are keenly aware of their surroundings. They know what everyone else is
working on, when the toilet seats need to be replaced, when the linens get
washed and how often the salt shakers are refilled. They know success
begins long before food hits the plate. Any slight annoyance, such as a
wobbly table, can affect a diner’s experience.
Editors share this big-picture burden of having to be on top of everything. It’s our job to polish and present words in the
clearest, most pleasing way possible to ensure an excellent experience.
Just one typo, wonky font, extra space, punctuation mistake or misplaced
image can spoil an otherwise great story. However, inserting a clever
headline, scintillating teaser, punchy paragraph or timely joke into the
mix can turn an otherwise plain piece into ambrosia.
So, editors, here’s to you and all the hard, often overlooked work you do
to make those onion-skin, carrot-top, muffin-stump words into beautiful,
meaningful prose. May your writing colleagues be of the premium, organic
ingredient type, as opposed to the sketchy fishmonger ilk.
We may not receive compliments the way writers and chefs do, but we are the
hand that stirs the sauce.