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Editing Beyond the Red Pen: A Beginner's Guide to AI

Picture this: You’re sitting at your desk, polishing pages of text with only a few keystrokes. With each tap of your fingertips, sentences tighten, grammar errors vanish, and punctuation falls perfectly into place. By the time you reach the bottom of your first cup of coffee, you've finished a project that once would've taken all morning.


This isn’t science fiction. It’s what work can be like right now when you know how to use AI tools like ChatGPT and Claude. This technology is an evolution in how editors work—like the shift from editing using pen and paper to the word processor. Editors who lean into the AI revolution will be able to edit faster and better (yes, better) plus have job security in an increasingly AI-enhanced workforce.


If you haven’t started exploring AI, the time is now. Go ahead and dive in. Here are six essential tips to help you get started.


Editing Beyond the Red Pen: A Beginner's Guide to AI. Image shows a futuristic red pen.

 

1. Be Specific

The number one idea to keep in mind about AI is this:


AI does what you tell it to do, not necessarily what you want it to do.


Clarity is key. Provide the AI with specific instructions so you get the results you want. Instead of prompting it vaguely to “Edit this,” instruct it to “Copyedit this corporate report to improve clarity and to correct errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Follow Associated Press style.”


For editing and writing tasks, consider including the following elements to make your prompts specific:


Task (copyedit, rewrite)

Format (blog post, checklist, email)

Audience (grade level, profession)

Tone (casual, friendly, professional)


Example: Instead of "Improve this web page text," try "Please revise this web page text by improving SEO, incorporating keywords related to urban chicken keeping, and making the language suitable for a general audience with a seventh-grade reading level."





2. Ask Follow-Up Prompts

Think of the initial response ChatGPT or Claude gives you as the first draft of a work in progress. To help it revise, use follow-up prompts. These are instructions you send after your first prompt that allow you to tailor the AI's output to your specific requirements.


Often, follow-up prompts include more details about the format, audience, and tone.


Example: After receiving the AI’s initial edit, you might realize the tone isn't quite right for the target audience. To refine the text, you could use a follow-up prompt like "Please rewrite this to have a more conversational tone."

 

3. Think Shorter

Many popular AI tools don’t yet have the capability to reliably work with large pieces of text. You can technically upload a 100-page document, but it can’t give you a thorough and quality analysis of it yet.


When content editing, think at the level of chapter and article. When copyediting, think about page and paragraph. This method of chunking content helps tools like ChatGPT to give you focused and precise results.


Know more capability is coming. Learn these techniques now, and you’ll be ready when it’s here.


Example: Instead of uploading the entire manuscript of a novel and asking for a developmental edit, paste a section from a chapter and use a prompt, such as, “Here is the opening of the novel’s chapter 7. Please suggest improvements to better incorporate the setting into the scene.”

 

4. Consider the Whole Workflow

To make the most out of AI in editing, consider how you can use it throughout your entire editorial workflow, not just with the actual editing part. As you go about your daily work, ask yourself: How can AI save me time?


Here are some other ways to incorporate AI:


Drafting Emails: Quickly generate professional and well-structured emails. Have it make templates for routine emails (like proposal submissions and testimonial requests) and help you find the right words when you have to send awkward and tricky emails (like late-payment requests).


Creating Marketing Material: From catchy taglines to compelling copy, ChatGPT and Claude can help you brainstorm and craft marketing content. To be really efficient, think how you can use AI to repurpose content. Within minutes, it can write the first draft of a blog post and then convert it into a promotional email and social media posts. Now that it has a built-in image generator, it can even create an image to go along with the text.


Researching and Fact-Checking: Perplexity is an AI-powered search engine that's like the Google we always wanted. Enter a simple search query, and it quickly composes an encyclopedic summary entry on the topic and cites its sources so you can double-check. Rather than scrolling through pages of unusable links, Perplexity gives you high-quality sources you can trust, making your researching and fact-checking a breeze.


Making Custom Word Macros: ChatGPT can build macros for Microsoft Word that you can use with every project or specific, single-use macros that will save you time with one project.




 

5. Invest in ChatGPT's Paid Version

The editors who dismiss ChatGPT’s capabilities often have not experimented with the paid version. The free version can give you only a fraction of a glimpse into what the paid version can do. It’s like comparing a rowboat with a rocket ship.


The paid version offers quicker response times, vastly improved output, increased accuracy, and priority access to new features. ChatGPT can save you days of work every month and is worth the monthly $20 subscription. You can register for a paid plan here: https://openai.com/

 

6. You Still Have to Do Your Job

AI is not a replacement for human editors. Editors bring a depth of understanding, emotional intelligence, and cultural awareness that AI cannot replicate. It can conduct basic editing with accuracy and offer helpful content-editing suggestions, but it can't fully grasp the nuance or make the context-specific judgment calls that professional editors can. And, just like human editors, it sometimes makes mistakes.

 

Using these skills will allow AI to augment your capabilities. This will free up time so you can focus on the parts of editing that require your unique human skills. Remember, AI is a powerful tool, but the true artistry of editing still lies in the hands of skilled editorial professionals, human ones.

 



Erin Servais is a white woman with long, brown hair. She wears glasses. She is wearing a blue suit.

Erin Servais helps editors upskill through AI. Her AI for Editors course is known worldwide as the #1 AI course for editors of all types, including medical editors, finance editors, education editors, corporate communications editors, and book editors.


Erin serves on the board of directors for ACES: The Society for Editing and has presented about editing, entrepreneurship, and Artificial Intelligence for the Professional Editors Network, Editors Canada, the Northwest Editors Guild, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and ACES.


A version of this article first appeared in the Editorial Freelancers Association's newsletter, where Erin is writing a series about AI and editing.


 

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