Whatever you’re writing, you want to come across as authoritative, and your content should interest and engage your readers. To do this effectively, you need to work on your editing skills. Following are some tips to turn your rough drafts into well-received works.
- Finish your first draft. This is obvious, and includes incorporating all your ideas and research, and organizing your text in some logical order.
- Distance yourself. Unless you’re fighting a deadline, take a break; this can be for as short as a day or as long as several weeks. Don’t think about it “while you’re gone”. When you come back to your work, you’ll see it with a fresh pair of eyes.
- Change hats. Let go of your ego attachment as the writer Consciously put on an Editor hat (you might actually make one). This will allow you to evaluate your content, and rewrite, delete, or add text as appropriate. This step is not done to criticize your own work, but to improve or polish it. Get rid of the rough edges.
- Do a first readthrough. Do a superficial skim-reading of your content, just to get a quick idea of the text readability. You’ll want subsequent readthroughs to be more detailed.
- As you read through your content, write side-notes in either a printed margin or in something like Microsoft Word© Track Changes. This will allow you to get an overall idea of what you might add, change, or delete—without altering the actually text. Ask yourself how the words match your goal for writing this work.
- Avoid compulsive editing. Editing requires careful scrutiny, for both word-flow and grammatical or spelling errors. Getting tired or bored during the process will mean allowing weak text or content to escape your “red pen”. The solution depends on the length of your work. If the piece is short, maybe you can get all the editing done in one session. If the work is longer (e.g., a book), set a regular editing session for a certain time and duration. The idea is to avoid editing fatigue.
- Remember your audience. For every sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, and yes, the whole work, ask yourself whether that content adds something of value to the work—value to the reader, that is.
- Incorporate those side-notes. As you go through the work in more detail, look at the notes you made in Step 4, and decide whether and how to change the text accordingly.
- Check for clarity. As you read through your work as an editor, do you find places where a non-author reader might get lost or misunderstand something that the author takes for granted. This is a case of the forest and trees, and is your chance to fix these. It’s also a good chance to look for repeated words. Many authors (and speakers) have favorite words, and they tend to get used over and over. If you find yourself doing this, replace appropriate instances with synonyms.
- When you think that you’ve done enough editing, it’s time to proofread—a different skill. This is typically done by someone just before a work “goes to press”. It’s not time for skim-reading. Read slowly; read every word as if you’ve never seen it before. Make sure that every word fits its sentence effectively. Likewise with every sentence, etc. This process will often allow you to see typos that you glossed over in skim-reading. It’s also the time to make sure that every punctuation mark is appropriate—and appropriately placed. Check that all personal, business, and organization names are spelled and written correctly. Likewise with any foreign words, terms, and locations.
- Measure and mark your proofreading progress. Once you think a section is as good as you can get it, stop working on that section. One way to keep track of your proofreading is to highlight “perfected” text in green. Then go to another section that requires proofreading. If you can’t get through that section in the current session, highlight it in yellow. That way, you’ll know what to work on in your next session. If a particular section looks like it needs a lot of attention, including re-writing and further editing, highlight it in red. When all the text is green, read through your content one more time—out loud. Some people even read it backwards. If you can read it without making any further changes, you’re finished. Yay!
When you’re conversing with someone, you can read the others’ body language and re-phrase a thought to create effective communication. However, when it comes to writing, you don’t have that option. If the reader doesn’t get something, he or she may try to understand, or may simply set down the work—not a good option. Editing and proofreading your content improves the likelihood that your audience will appreciate the effort you put in, in ways you may not imagine. But your message will have been delivered as effectively as possible.
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