You’ve got to the end of the writing and refining. You’ve read it a thousand times and you’re certain you’ve caught every last typo. You’re almost certain. You’re fairly certain. The truth is you don’t know anymore and you’re probably the last person to make that decision.
Here’s a thought before we get into editing. Writing and editing are two different skills. Writing is creative; editing is analytical. That means you should not try to edit as you write. Just get the words down.
When the writing stage draws to end, it’s time to review, edit, proofread … whatever you want to call it. Here are my tips to help you correct, tidy, refine, move and hone your work and have your readers saying, ‘Wow! That was easy to read!’
Before we look more closely at some techniques, here’s a question.
Not proofreading can very quickly diminish your credibility and professionalism.
Proofreading gives you the confidence that your writing achieves its purpose.
Proofreading ensures that you’ve actually written what you meant to write.
Proofreading ensures your message / call to action is clearly expressed.
Did you know that professional writers spend more time editing and reviewing than they do actually writing?
But where to start? The editing process requires you to take off your writer’s hat and don your editor’s hat; to be objective about how you’ve presented your information.
Give your brain some space.
Once you’ve done all you feel you can with your writing, put your work to one side. Take up another task.
Don’t be like a terrier worrying over a bone.
It’s important to give your amazing brain time and space to ‘think’, re-order, come up with better words or constructions—all without your conscious help.
If you find ideas popping into your thoughts, try to capture them. We’ve all experienced coming up with that perfect rewording, and then lost it because we didn’t record it.
Incorporate those new ideas into your writing – and refine the sentences around it.
Trick your brain into thinking it’s never seen this before.
Print your document. Without all those spell- and grammar-check squiggles, you’ll actually see what is there. You’ll pick up that you’ve really written ‘out’ when you meant ‘our’; spell-check would not recognise it as a mistake.
Show it differently on your screen. Change to Read Mode or Multiple Pages (View menu); change the Page Colour (Design menu); change to a different font or font size (Home menu). And remember to change back to the original when you’ve finished.
See it. Hear it.
By using both auditory and visual senses, you’ll hear those awkward constructions, or realise that you’ve actually written ‘is’ rather than ‘it’. It helps you to see what is really there, not what you think you’ve written.
You’ll be more aware of its logical flow, the transitions between paragraphs or topics, and its rhythm.
And if you need to take a breath before you reach the end of a sentence, it would probably benefit from being turned into two shorter sentences.
Listen to an outsider’s comments.
Ask a trusted colleague (preferably one that’s not been involved in the writing) or outsider. They will be able to tell you if they can understand what you’ve written, and how easy it is to read.
Tip: Ask them to tell you what it’s about, what you want them to do.
Call in the pros.
No matter the size of your document, we editors and proofreaders love to bring out the very best in your writing – and it will still sound like you.
Remember: small mistakes, such as misplaced apostrophes, can have a disproportionate effect on your readers’ impression of your work.
Next up – What do you look for when you’re editing?