A Dull Knife Won’t Do

Editing requires a sharp knife.If you ever have tried to slice a tomato with a dull knife, you know the inevitable result: a smushed tomato and pulpy tomato innards all over the cutting board. You now have to choose whether to be content with the pulpiness or to try again. You know, though, that the results will be the same, so why try again? Doing so won’t make any impact on the flavor of the tomato, only on the presentation of the tomato.

Perhaps you will try again, but you’ll use a different knife. You’ll buy a new knife, or you’ll sharpen the current one. You’ll watch as your knife slices through the tomato. You’ll see circular slice after circular slice pile on the cutting board. You’ll have sliced tomatoes that you could serve to a king or queen. You might even try it, if you knew a king or queen.


Sometimes, editing is a dull knife. It can occur when an editor has a different idea for the work than the one the writer intended. It can occur when the editor focuses on a minuscule portion of the text and forgets to consider the work in its entirety. When it does occur, it only ruins what could have been a good piece of writing. A dull knife leaves marks everywhere but never in the right spot. It hacks haphazardly at the writing until all that remains are pulpy pages of paper on the floor or pulpy, mangled sentences all over the screen. A dull knife never gets to the heart of the matter. It can’t and doesn’t perform the function for which it was designed.

In contrast, a sharp knife does get to the heart of the matter. It finds where the central problem lies. It doesn’t hack sentences willy-nilly. The editing is done with a purpose. The editor with such a knife doesn’t get stuck in a mire of details; the editor may note them, but he or she does so while keeping the entire work in mind. The editor puts aside his or her sense of “rightness” regarding the text and works in conjunction with the writer. The editor may make suggestions about the work, but those suggestions always have the aim of slicing the writing into something admirable, something that can be served to a king or queen.

Photo: JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)


  1. Sometime the content which we edit many time doesn’t get more exposure than the content which we publish in hurry.

    • share market True, but I don’t think that means you shouldn’t take the time to proofread and edit. A well-written and well-edited post has a longer shelf life than a rushed post.

  2. I have one harsh editor and somehow their expectations differ from when the article is discussed to when I submit it. Leads to a lot of editing that makes it like a tomato splashed all over the board. Editing is required, but to make the content better, not to change the whole thing over and over again. A good, clear discussion between the editor and the writer is crucial before starting the whole thing off. Too much editing does spoil the flavor!

    • Hajra  I’ve had editors like that, too. It’s taught me what not to do when I edit other people’s work. If expectations are laid at the outset, they need to be followed – hence planning sessions or content strategy sessions or whatever you like to call them. That way everyone knows the end goal and the point behind any criticisms that are made.