So your first draft is finished and you’ve transferred your salient points to paper or screen. You’re about to forward it to your boss or publish it to your blog. How do you polish your piece so it shines?
Setting the stage
It’s important to do your editing in a way that’s comfortable with how you process information. If you are someone who likes to print things out to have them at hand, you should print out your work and do your editing on paper. If you are comfortable working only on-screen, try to eliminate other computer distractions (email, sound alerts, etc.) so you can put your full attention to your editing. You might also find it helpful to enlarge the view of your piece during editing since this makes spacing and typographical errors easier to spot. If possible, close your door and turn off your phone. Eliminating distractions and interruptions will help your writing by improving your focus, but it’s even more critical when you are proofing your own work.
Editing pass one
Read your piece in its entirety. Have you captured all the points you want to make? Do you need to make any grammar and punctuation changes? Do your paragraphs flow? Do the pieces connect well to create more than a sum of their parts? Is there continuity?
A fresh eye
While not always possible if the clock is ticking close to your deadline, giving yourself a short break between writing and editing is helpful. Sometimes it needn’t be long — a mere ten minutes might be all you need to gain a fresher perspective. Now read your piece aloud and slowly. In addition to giving life to your piece, reading it aloud can lay bare its tone and flow and help you detect rough edges.
More fresh eyes
If it’s possible, getting a completely different perspective will also help. Think about who you ask before assigning the task. Do you need help with the content to make sure it’s complete? Are you asking them to check for grammar or spelling errors you might have missed? Would you like them to read for tone and voice? If you are looking for something specific, say so. A co-worker who is familiar with your topic might give you one set of suggestions; a neutral party something different. Make a conscious choice about the kind of help you want and seek the type of counsel that will best deliver it.
Review the feedback
Even if you disagree with some of the suggestions, they offer a glimpse into the mind of your reader and can be tremendously helpful in improving your writing in the long term. Input like this shows where you need to clarify points, reorganize your content or cut extraneous words. Evaluate your reviewer’s suggestions, then use or dismiss them as you deem appropriate.
Editing pass two – this one with your reading glasses
No, I’m not suggesting you wear glasses if you have 20/20 vision. What I am suggesting is that you don the perspective of your reader. Forget for a moment that you are the author. Think about how your intended audience will consume your piece. What are they hungry for? What will satisfy that hunger? How can you make your dish stand out? Salt and pepper your piece with this in mind.
Another quick break
Go get a glass of water or stretch your legs for five minutes. When you return, read through your piece again. Use the checklist below. Make final adjustments as needed.
You’ve now successfully edited your writing.
Extra tip – Layout, graphics and title
Good design and strong graphics pull in readers and support your communications goals. Select a readable font that fits your purpose and use white space to direct flow and keep your reader’s attention. Chunkify your content, breaking it into small pieces, so it can be digested more easily by your reader. Use subheadings, bullets and callouts to highlight key ideas. Use strong supporting graphics or photographs to illustrate and drive home key points. Finally, evaluate your title to make sure your content delivers the promise it has made. Often, the best time to title your piece is at the end, not the beginning, of your writing project.
Here is a quick checklist to help you edit and improve your writing.
- Spelling and Proper Language Usage – Is the spelling, grammar and punctuation correct?
- Completeness – Have you captured all the points you want to make?
- Language – Does your word selection match those familiar to your audience? Have you eliminated jargon?
- Tone – Is the tone appropriate to the piece? Does your choice of words match your tone?
- Engagement – Do you pull in your reader by offering compelling content matched with an understanding of your audience?
- Flow – Do your paragraphs flow well? Is there continuity? Are points of information presented in an order that makes sense?
- Brevity – Can you eliminate unnecessary words? Can you shorten some sentences?
- Credibility – Are the facts identified as such, including source data? Are your opinions supported with good arguments
- Structure – Do you start with a strong opening, include salient points and wrap up with a good close? If you chose an inverted structure, does it work?
- Graphics – Do your graphics add meaning to your words? Consider replacing or removing any graphics that don’t strengthen or support your piece.
- Appearance – Is your final copy formatted consistently? Do headings, subheadings, bullets, spacing and page numbering and the like display properly?
- Title – Does your content deliver on its title? Pithy titles are great, but accurate ones are even better.
We welcome your comments on this piece of writing. How would you say it meets the requirements outlined in the checklist? We’d love to hear from you.
We’d also like to know what ideas you can share about editing your own writing. Do you have some additions for our list?