Use These 3 Editing Tips to Ensure Your Writing Hits the Bull's-Eye


The first step in the writing process is to put your ideas down on paper. Once you have text to work with, the second step is to revise what you have written to make it as clear, accurate and powerful as you can. The final step is to edit your work carefully.

Editing Tip #1: Take a Break

When you have concentrated on your writing for long periods of time, there is a tendency to read what you think is there-not what you have actually written! By taking a break for a few hours (or even a few days), you will return to your work with a fresh mind and fresh eyes. Suddenly you will realize that:

  • The rhythm of your sentences and paragraphs is off; either they are too short and choppy or too convoluted and long.
  • Some of your ideas are out of place and belong in a different paragraph.
  • One of your paragraphs doesn't make any sense!
  • You forgot to address a crucial aspect of your topic.
  • Some of your data is wrong or missing.
  • You have misspelled several words and accidentally omitted others.
Editing Tip #2: Edit at Two Levels: Conceptual and Line-by-Line

Editing is conducted at two levels. First concentrate on the conceptual, or substantive, level to ensure that your ideas are strong, logical and well-organized. Once this step is complete, go through your work line-by-line to check for small details such as spelling, grammar, word choice and punctuation.

Conceptual Editing

When you begin to edit at the conceptual level, try to approach your work as though you were the intended reader instead of the author. In your role as reader, look at the introduction. Is it compelling? Do you clearly understand what the topic, major points and slant of the communication will be?

Then look at the body. Do the ideas flow well, or are they confusing? Are they presented in some kind of logical order? Do concrete details help to paint a clear picture? Are any stray ideas lurking in unrelated paragraphs?

Does this communication seem to be written for you? In other words, do you feel like you are its intended audience, or does the writer fail to explain concepts, terms and acronyms you don't understand? Is the voice of this communication appropriate? Is it too formal? Too informal? Just right?

Did the writer insult your intelligence by repeating the same ideas over and over? Or did the writer present a strong, clear, coherent argument that you understood immediately? Finally, what is your overall impression of this communication (and its writer)? Positive or negative?

This technique of reading what you have written as though you were the intended audience will help you see your communications from a different perspective. Some of what you discover may surprise you. Make any changes that are necessary and then proceed to line editing.

Line Editing

The final step in the editing process is to go through your document line-by-line to check for errors in mechanics (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation), word usage and format.

If you included tables or figures, be sure to check that the captions are correct and that you entered the data correctly. Also be sure you have expressed your ideas as succinctly as possible. If you find your sentences are filled with empty, unnecessary words, delete them.

Try This!

If you are having problems "seeing" your errors at the line level, go to the end of your document and read the last sentence. Then read the second to last sentence. Continue working from the end to the beginning until you reach your opening line! This technique keeps your brain from automatically reading what you think you wrote and helps you see what is actually on the page.

A Special Word About Homonyms

The English language has many words, called homonyms, that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. The four most common sets are: their/they're/there, too/to/two, your/you're, and its/it's.

These are FREQUENTLY used incorrectly! Even when you know the difference between them, it is easy to type the wrong word when you are concentrating on getting your ideas down on paper. Unfortunately, ordinary spell-check programs cannot distinguish between homonyms that are used correctly and those that are used incorrectly. Therefore, always pay special attention to these words when you are conducting a line edit.

Editing Tip #3: Always Spell-Check Your Work

It is amazing how often writers fail to perform this final edit--especially since it is so easy to do! I will agree that spell-check programs attached to word processing software cannot detect homonyms, that they highlight unfamiliar words that are actually spelled correctly, and that the grammar check is frequently just plain wrong.

On the other hand, they do pick up incorrect spacing between words, highlight a few grammar problems correctly, and catch most of your misspelled words. The process doesn't take very long and is easy to perform. In the end, you have nothing to lose by taking this final step and potentially much to gain!

Clarice Kyd Dankers, M.A., offers editing and coaching services to business and academic clients around the world. Her work incorporates eight years of experience in business communications with extensive experience in linguistics, publishing and university teaching. For more information about her services-or to sign up for her free monthly newsletter-go to http://www.PolishYourWriting.com


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