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?
Readers faced with pages of text broken only by paragraph spaces will probably feel overwhelmed and stop reading. As a nonfiction writer, you have information that you need to share with your readers. So it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for them to continue reading and to understand what you are saying.
Headings serve multiple purposes in helping your readers by
breaking the text into reader-friendly chunks
providing signposts for your readers to keep them mindful of the structure of your work
helping you promote your argument.
As a technical writer, your aim is to lead your readers to reach the same conclusion that you have. Headings provide a context for your readers – both writer and readers begin at the same place and continue along the same path, guided by the headings.
Readers need headings
to give an overall picture
to point out where they are in the discussion
to assist in making the connections between the points of the argument.
Your readers understand the details better if they have been given an overview first. Remember, it’s the headings that provide the overview.
Readers will retain those details longer when they know in advance the nature of the information they are going to receive.
The heading level indicates the degree of detail being discussed.
Advantages for readers
breaking up the text
providing overviews along the way
announcing each key point before its detailed discussion
using the location and size of each topic to indicate its importance
allowing readers to decide where they will start
allowing readers to select what parts of the document they will read
giving readers places to pause, to regroup their thoughts or to rest.
Advantages for the writer
Structuring your document is so much easier!
You can readily check the logical flow of the argument.
You can move sections to a different place in the document when you can easily see the extent of that section.
You can create sub-headings to help you check the structure, and remove the sub-headings later if your document template or format does not allow for that number of levels.
You don’t have to provide transitions between topics.
A word of warning!
If your headings feed into an automatically generated table of contents, make sure your final task before publishing is to update the table of contents.
PS If, for whatever reason, you can’t include headings, you can use them to help you structure your writing – then delete them during the reviewing process.
Headings help both the writing and reading processes.
In an earlier article, I gave you some insights into ‘clear, engaging, sharp’ writing.
Now for more, this time grouped and with suggested sharper versions.
We would like to invite you to … You’re invited to … We invite you to …
I would like to congratulate you … Congratulations …
… better than what we expected. … better than we expected.
In view of the fact that … Because …
In the event that … If …
In my personal opinion … In my opinion …
There are many people wanting an answer to that question.
Many people want an answer to that question.
Many people want that question answered.
A summary of these findings is given in Table 6.
Table 6 summarises these findings.
The implementation of these maintenance procedures should occur immediately upon putting the motor into service.
These maintenance procedures should be implemented as soon as the motor is put into service.
Management has become cognizant of the necessity of the elimination of undesirable vegetation surrounding the periphery of our facility.
Please remove the weeds around the building.
Our bottom line is preventing disruption.
Preventing disruption is our main focus.
We need to take advantage of this window of opportunity.
We need to take advantage of this opportunity.
I don’t want you to move the goalposts part way through the project. I don’t want you to change the brief part way through the project.
We need to think outside the box to solve this problem.
We need to think creatively to solve this problem.
Why not share your examples of superfluous words and clichés in the comments?
I’ll have another blog about ways you can please your readers with your clear, engaging, sharp writing.
Fiction writers work hard to develop their style and voice – we readers very quickly know if a story was really written by the author whose work we’ve read before. Long or short sentences, presence or absence of descriptive passages, how the words flow, use of familiar words (or ones that send us scurrying to the dictionary) – all indicators of their voice.
So it needs to be with nonfiction writers, especially when it comes to business writing. Your clients recognise the way you write, and it comes as a jolt when they read something that doesn’t quite line up with the style they expect. And the greater the number of writers in your organisation and the greater the number of document types you use, the greater the possibility of variations in your voice.
In business, we know the importance of our brand. We may have spent considerable dollars on getting it just right, and we’re persnickety about its use. Your voice, your writing style, is equally as important.
Before we look at the benefits of finding and recording your voice, let’s understand what I mean by ‘voice’.
Do you tend to write formally – very correctly every time – or in a chattier, friendlier way? Are your letter or email recipients addressed by their given name, or as ‘Mx Smith’?
How do you abbreviate your organisation’s name – Petersons Engineering Consultancy, PEC, Petersons? How do you refer to your organisation – ABC is … or ABC are…?
How do you format dates and times? Captions for tables, figures and illustrations? Lists? Measurements?
What specialised terms can you use without having to explain them?
Do you capitalise every word in headings? What about positions or roles in your organisation?
Are there certain text segments that need to be emphasised in a particular way?
How do you refer to a person of unknown gender?
These are just a few of the elements that make up your voice.
Your aim is to use ‘that’ voice for all written communications from your business
– regardless of the writer or the type of document.
But why? you may ask.
It’s about professionalism and credibility, and sets the writing standard expected in your organisation.
Consistency reflects, protects and enhances your corporate identity and brand.
You’ll save time and money when you have unified written communications.
If you hire an external writer or editor, they will thank you – and their service will be speedier and less expensive, because they don’t have to ask you.
New writers in your business will become productive more quickly.
Capture and record all this information in your style guide.
Make sure every writer is familiar with it – and uses it every time.
So set to work and begin to build your style guide.
Remember that I’m here to advise or to lend a hand.