I’ll let everyone in on a little secret. Like my character the Editor Brigand, I adore editing, and like many authors, I could spend an eternity tweaking and preening my text to perfection. However, I know that most people don’t have the time or desire to do this, so I’m presenting my tips for editing a variety of text (from social media postings to award applications to novels and yearly reports) to help you know what to look for to groom your text to perfection and move on.
If you don’t follow any other writing advice I give, follow this: ALWAYS read what you wrote before you send or submit it, no matter what the platform. When you re-read, read it slowly, as if you know that errors are present, and you get a prize for finding them all.
You never know who will be reading much of what you write. Emails can be forwarded. Social media can be shared and copied ad nauseum. Your professional articles may be linked to or presented to groups as wonderful advice! Hopefully publications have a copy editor on staff who will give your article a once over before going to print, but it doesn’t hurt to give even these articles a thorough review before submitting, at least to make sure that you have clearly made your point.
(Some of the following advice may not apply to fiction books and possibly a few other types of writing. Determine for yourself if it applies to what you are developing.)
When you edit, it is best to read through at least twice. The first time, read it as an entire piece. Look for clarity, flow, ambiguity, tone, style. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will my audience understand the purpose of my writing?
- Do I maintain a positive, helpful tone throughout?
- Do I answer questions that need to be addressed?
- Do I clearly complete a point before moving on to the next?
- Do I use clean transitions from one idea to the next?
- Do I jump around or repeat myself?
- Do I use the same word or phrase frequently when I could use other words to mean the same things?
- Do I transition from conversational to serious tone or make other changes to the style throughout the text?
The second time through, look for issues related to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my sentences or paragraphs too long?
- Am I concise in my explanations?
- Did I intend each word that I wrote?
- Did I inadvertently leave a word out or leave a word in after an edit?
- Is every sentence punctuated properly?
- Did I use proper grammar?
- Did I use any weak or verbose construction (“there are,” “is going to,” “I think,” etc.)?
- Did I use strong verbs (action!)?
- Are all names spelled correctly? Did I include titles for people where appropriate?
- Am I consistent in capitalization and spelling for words that do not have a standard (ex: ground water vs. groundwater)?
Bonus tip: Even if you have a form for submission on a website or social media, consider writing everything in Word first because it provides a decent spell checker. Not all email programs or web applications indicate spelling errors. However, writing in Word still doesn’t guarantee total absence of spelling errors because you might have typed one word instead of another (like “purse” for “pursue,” etc.). Re-reading with a critical eye should help you catch most of these errors. (Also, some submission forms for award applications, etc., time out if you have to put the application aside and come back to it later, so typing your submission in Word first can save valuable time anyway!)
For longer works that may be broken into different sections, pay particular attention to headings. Also, don’t forget to thoroughly review captions for images, tables, and figures, as well as any prices (no misplaced decimals!) and links to websites. Make sure that you are consistent in your labeling convention and capitalization of headings and titles.
For website links, ask:
- Does each link take me to the correct page?
- Does the link go to the specific page that I want the reader to see or just to the home page?
- Is the link to something that my audience would need a subscription or account to see?
- Is the link necessary? Does it provide additional benefit to the reader to visit that page?
Though this is an extensive list of items to consider when you are editing, it is by no means comprehensive. Only experience can truly tune your eye in to errors, and the best way to gain experience is to edit, edit, edit your work! As you are editing, make note of errors that you make repeatedly, and when you edit a new piece, hunt for those errors specifically. Soon, you will have those errors in your head and should stop making them altogether.
And with every written work, ensure that each word you write has a purpose. Make sure that you are drawing people back to you for your expertise, your compelling stories, your wit, or whatever you offer that they can’t get enough of!
Do you have any pro-level editing tips? Tell me in the comments. And contact me about any questions or future topic ideas!