Publishing: getting the word right


Tips on how to edit your writing to make it the best you possibly can before your editor starts their work.

An insight into how your editor works with you to turn your writing into the story that your readers will enjoy.

Source: Publishing: getting the word right



So what am I supposed to check?

You’ve finished writing, you understand how to edit your work…
but just what do you need to check?

Now while it’s easy to think you can do a complete edit in one pass, believe me, concentrating on more than one element at a time is hard going.

Three elements for you to consider: content, writing mechanics, and visuals.


  • Does it flow logically?
  • Is all the information relevant to your message? … and your readers?
  • Are there any trivial or tedious details?
  • Have you included everything that needs to be there?
  • Have you included anything that doesn’t need to be there?
  • Do your pictures, graphs, tables, etc need captions?
  • Are the table of contents, table of figures, referencing complete and updated?

Writing mechanics

  • spelling, grammar, punctuation
  • phrases or sentences that sound awkward
  • repetition of words in close proximity – e.g. investigate, investigation; owns his own business
  • cliches and stereotypes – best to avoid.
  • saying the same thing twice – e.g. combine together, 5 pm in the afternoon, new innovations, free gift, added bonus
  • waffle – unnecessary words that don’t contribute to the clarity of the writing or the argument


  • How does the text sit on the page?
  • Is the document broken up into reader-friendly chunks?
  • Have you used techniques like bold or colour to highlight key words or concepts?
  • Could any of the information be presented as a table, graphic, image, footnote?
  • Are non-text elements appropriately placed within the text?
  • Is there sufficient space between text and graphics?
  • Is there enough white space? Does the page look crowded?


Proofreading symbols
Edit… proofread… review

Yes, editing takes time… but it is definitely worth it.

Your final questions:

How easy will it be for my readers to understand what I’ve written?
How easy will it be for my readers to respond to my message?



Edit, proofread, review…

Brisbane editor and proofreader, Desolie Page, Accredited Editor

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?


Focused nonfiction writing
Editing is vital!



Notes on DL brochures

How words sit on the page is so important in these haven’t-got-time-to-deal-with-hard-to-read-stuff days.
The Feisty Empire copywriter and editor, Paul Hassing, shares his thoughts.

Practical Copywriting Tips

An easy way so see DL. An easy way so see DL.

A client asked me to edit a brochure and suggest a format.

Once I saw what the brochure was for (promoting a course to time-poor execs) I suggested ‘DL’ format.

So what the hell is DL? Swim Communications puts it very well.

In short, DL is a third the size of A4 (the size you stick in your printer).

My client, who had imagined an A4 format, asked why I preferred DL.

So I said:

‘DL is easier and cheaper to post to many prospects.

Also, I feel it looks more businesslike.

If you go flat A4, you’ll either have to post it folded anyway, or add cardboard to stop it getting mangled en route.

But if you hit a non-A4 letterbox, it’ll get mangled anyway.

Not a good look for your brand.

Folded DLs are also easier to hand out at events,

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What is the Value of an Editor?

Thanks to some fellow editors who introduced me to Molly McCowan’s blog, I want to share this with you, to encourage you to really consider just how much a good editor can add to your writing.

Enjoy – and remember to leave a comment.

Molly McCowan - Inkbot Editing

(Via Boston Public Library on Flickr) “Women in Quiet Study,” 1850–1920 (approximate). Courtesy of Boston Public Library on Flickr.

About a year ago, I was at a networking event when I was approached by a middle-aged man wearing a black sport coat over a lightweight periwinkle sweater. He was holding a glass of red wine in one hand, and the word “author” was written in blue Sharpie underneath the neatly printed name on his name tag. My name tag didn’t sport the word “editor,” so for the moment I was free to learn more about him before divulging my career.

We shook hands and exchanged small talk for a moment before I asked him what he was currently writing. He responded, “Oh, I’ve been working on my second novel. It’s part of a fantasy trilogy that I’ve been writing for the last few years.” I asked him about his first book and discovered that he had…

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Learning more than editing at an editors conference

Institute of Professional Editors (Australia) conference, April 2013

Living in Queensland all my life, I’d not been to Fremantle (Western Australia) before this conference. And what a beautiful place it is – definitely a place to revisit and explore.

This is the report I wrote for Offpress, the Queensland Society of Editors’ newsletter.

As I reflected on my conference experience, it wasn’t so much the content of the sessions that stood out. Rather it was a deepening of my respect for our profession, our editing elders, our language.

I had the privilege of listening to and speaking with some of those who have contributed so much to IPEd over so many years. Despite their long years of volunteering to create IPEd and the accreditation program, they remain committed to our profession, its growth, its future, its promotion. As a member of the Accreditation Board, I want to respect and honour them by making sure we give editors the best way to grow professionally – and by ensuring that we’re not undoing any of our predecessors’ wise decisions.

Keynote speakers, Roly Sussex, Nury Vittachi and Don Watson so brilliantly and entertainingly reminded us of how language is changing, and challenged us, as editors, to remain the ‘guardians of our language’. As Don Watson said, ‘Our brains are suffocated by today’s careless language’, so we need to help writers achieve clear writing.

Carmen Lawrence, in her keynote address, and Bev Port-Lewis, in her welcome to country speech, highlighted our connection to and respect for place. Whether that be a geographical place or an intellectual place, our sense of wholeness and our ability to move forward are damaged when we lose those contacts.

I felt almost discombobulated as I listened to those who spoke about the future of digital publishing, and who, implicitly, honoured the pioneers of the medium. And declared that there are still many opportunities for pioneers and innovators.

As for this ‘digital (r)evolution’, as Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya so elegantly describes these times of ever-changing computer technologies, just what did I learn? While I will always love reading the traditional way, and will always cherish my experiences with hold-in-my-hand books, I am excited about the possibilities offered by digital publishing.

Selena Hanet-Hutchins described the journey of ‘the book’ from marks on the ground to tell stories, to boxing stories up in a book; and how a communal exercise became a solitary activity. And now the digital age, with its possibilities for community to once again participate in story-telling.

She contends that traditional publishing focuses on retail results, where the reader is largely overlooked. Digital publishing considers readers, and welcomes feedback and interactivity. Traditional publishing plans the workflow, from the author’s concept to publication, as a straight line, with little input from readers. However, the relationships and workflows in the digital arena are far more convoluted.

Readers will increasingly become part of the workflow – and more than just Kindle or Kobo comments. We can expect to see interactions between publisher, writer, reader, marketing and social media.  ‘Just like we “mash up” music, so we will “mash up” books’, Selena suggested, and described The People’s E-book software, where you can drag and drop pages to your art book.

As editors, our role in these emerging formats will include coaching writers, helping them keep their expectations realistic, and rebriefing them throughout the process. We will learn to value individuals above processes and tools. As serialisation and subscription models evolve, we will find ourselves having to edit ‘chunks’ of text, rather than the full manuscript.

Dr Angelo Loukakis, from Australian Society of Authors, asked ‘How will the rise of digital and self-publishing affect the quality of publications and reading ability?’ What a big question! Angelo assured us that ASA promotes editing as a vital part of their process, and described two of their services: manuscript development and editor-driven mentorships.

His statement that ‘editing is a craft and a human service’ is a great reminder of our editorial role.

Jasmine Leong, editor of CSIRO’s Double Helix publications, described some of the challenges she and her team meet as they bring science and maths to young people. How do you speak to children without patronising them, yet without presenting concepts that are too complex? How do they enthuse children about science topics other than animals and space? She reminded us that, although the publications are for children, the readership is much broader – parents enjoy the magazines, and teachers value the professional currency of the information.

For me, her question, ‘How can content be repurposed (making information available on many platforms)?’ raised further questions about how we, as editors, need to adapt to the requirements of these differing platforms, and how we need to help writers understand and modify their approach or style.

Staying within the digital flavour, (not surprisingly) I attended Dr Katy Mc Devitt’s session about editors who blog. Katy recommended The Proofreaders Parlour  and Chapter 3 of Yahoo! style guide: defining and developing your voice, and reminded us that we need to give our readers a reason to contact us. I was quite chuffed that Katy shared my comment that ‘not all editors are cardigan-wearing, tea-sipping, introverted pedants’, especially when it did the Twitter rounds.

As I’d been unable to attend the freelancers’ workshops, I enjoyed the Q&A session that replaced a session whose speaker was unable to speak. Some interesting questions were raised: what do I call myself? (‘editorial consultant’ as Sarah Fletcher prefers), and what does my email signature say about me? (Patrick Horneman encouraged us to use an international phone number – OK, I don’t have overseas clients just yet, but what’s wrong with suggesting that is a possibility?) Panel members reminded us of the necessity of dealing with the decision maker when setting up a project. Patrick spoke briefly about income protection and public liability insurance – yes, we should have them.

Pam Peters highlighted the importance of editors being able to ‘edit for readers anywhere and everywhere, without disengaging them’.  We need to consider geographical, stylistic, age and gender preferences, as well as variations in spelling, capitalisation, word and sentence punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and collocation. She recommended the Macquarie–Australian Broadcasting Commission project Australian Word Map as an essential reference.

Our profession is alive and well, an exciting one, full of potential (regardless of the publishing mechanisms), one that will always add that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the written word.

Are we ready?

 editor at work

editor at work