1. Do not edit as you write.
Editing as you write creates a war in your mind — the creative versus the critical. So, why is editing on the fly so terrible?
- Great ideas may get shot down before the official editing process can begin. When writing your first draft, leave it all on the field. Allow your ideas to flow without regard to the final draft.
- Multitasking is inefficient. Constantly shifting your mind from writing mode to editing mode is more mentally taxing than we realize.
Trust that your editing skills will be even sharper you’re fully in editing mode. You’re going to have to proofread it anyways, so just hold your horses.
2. Shorten words, simplify ideas, and cut, cut, cut.
As we've mentioned before, Ernest Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his work The Old Man and the Sea. While the book is a work of genius, it doesn’t require a genius intellect to enjoy. The entire book is written on a 4th-grade reading level. The words and sentences are short. The ideas are simple. What takeaways can we learn from ol’ Ernie?
- When editing your content, use a thesaurus in the opposite the way a high school student would. Look for shorter, natural-sounding alternatives to complex, syllable-heavy words.
- Divide longer sentences into shorter ones.
- See how much cutting you can get away with. You will probably be surprised by just how many syllables, words, sentences, and even paragraphs you can remove.
4th-grade reading level? Really? Suddenly, I don’t feel so adult for reading it. Hmmph.
3. Make sure the writing has a purpose.
If you’re writing an informative article, your content should answer a question. Are you answering the question? In editing, you may discover that your writing is taking one-too-many detours on the path to providing a clear answer. If there is even a chance that the reader may get lost or confused on a “scenic route” in your writing, gauge if it is helping or hurting your point. Though it can be fun to elaborate on a concept, understand that much of it will be lost on the reader. You should, however, elaborate to your heart’s content in your first draft. Heck, go all A Beautiful Mind on some windows. Please send us pictures if you do.
4. Don’t edit out your own voice.
There is a reason why people would rather read a blog article about a scientific study than read the study itself — personality. When editing, remember that your own tone and personality help keep the piece moving. Value the role of personality and humanity in a piece. If you come to the end of editing a piece and you feel like it was written by a robot, feel free to sparingly pepper in with color where appropriate. If you don’t, realize that the robots will win and CP3PO and Johnny 5 will take our jobs. You don’t want that on your conscience, man. Just sayin’.
5. Save the nitpicky proofreading for the end.
Once you have simplified, clarified, and humanized your work, you can begin to proofread it for errors. However, one issue with proofreading is that you may be too familiar with the ideas. You may gloss over obvious mistakes because of your comfort with the piece (take it from a reformed word-leaver-outer — you will). Reading your work out loud or at least in a whisper, going word by word, is a great way to receive additional perspective. Other helpful techniques range from reading print-outs of the piece to having others read your work. Hope you have some friends!
6. Use helpful tools in a constructive way.
When you feel that you’ve edited your piece as much as you can, you can use helpful grammar and spellchecking tools.
- Grammarly is a great tool for checking the grammar and spelling of your work.
- Hemmingway is helpful in detecting passive voice as well as identifying sentences that are difficult to read.
Even though these are helpful tools, realize their limitations. Double-check their suggestions to make sure they are correct and flow with your work.
- Write first. Edit later.
- Shorten, simplify, and clarify.
- Keep the message on track.
- Don’t edit out the human element.
- Wait till the end to nitpick.
- Use tools only at the end of your edit.
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