Editing is a real skill, not one to be sniffed at. And being an editor of your own work isn’t easy — it’s actually pretty difficult.
Indeed, lots of writing ‘fails’ merely because it hasn’t been very well edited: things haven’t been spotted. And I don’t just mean grammar, punctuation and typos, I mean problems of structure, tone of voice and content.
So here are 13 advanced editing tips from me, under three themes. to make your editing jobs quicker, less stressful and a lot more effective.
1.) Step into your reader’s shoes
- Imagine you are one of your target audience/readers reading your text, or a first-time reader who doesn’t know anything about the subject. Ask yourself: ‘Is the tone right? Do the headings make sense? Does it answer their questions?’ etc.
- Of each of your sentences, ask yourself, ‘So what?’ i.e. Check you have: included the essential content; explained and demonstrated things; etc.
- ‘The reader is more important than the writer.’ What matters more than your clever phrasing and elaborate sentences etc. is can your reader easily and quickly understand, and will they then do what you want them to.
- Some people find it hard to edit and see errors in their own work – in which case label your document ‘Draft 0’, OR give it someone else’s name!
- Getting the views of a document from several people at once can be constructive, e.g. at a team meeting – a way to debate the content, balance viewpoints, etc.
2.) Give editing sufficient time
- Build in sufficient time for making one or two rounds of edits.
- ‘Writing is rewriting’ – i.e. rewriting/editing is a really vital and stage (it’s like the other side of the same coin).
- The word ‘P-0-W-E-R’ highlights all the different stages of writing (Planning – Organising – Writing – Editing – Reviewing), and it shows the importance of both pre-writing stages and post-writing stages.
- Even great writers go through several drafts of their text, and it takes them years to write a book. There is nothing wrong about taking 2–3 drafts to get your text right.
3.) Be more effective when you edit
- Edit a hard copy/print out – we see and critique things much more effectively when they are in print than on a computer screen. (The same is achieved by reading them aloud, when we are likely to spot jargon, long sentences, slow pace, etc.).
- Heighten your awareness – eg by leaving your document for a while before you edit or taking an overnight break. Or print it out in a different format, edit first thing in the day, or in a different room etc. Anything so that you approach your document with a fresh eye.
- Read without a pen or pencil in your hand – that way you will concentrate on the overall state of the work, rather than homing in immediately on the fine details (which you can check over later). If you need to flag up passages for your attention later, have a pen/pencil to hand.
- It is impossible to check everything while reading, so edit longer documents in three stages. First, look through the overall document (check e.g. for consistency across chapter headings, tables, etc.); then work at a ‘page’ level (its layout, formatting, plus the headers etc.); and finally check things ‘line by line’ (the actual text).
- ‘Write with the door closed; edit with the door open.’ – i.e. We have to write on our own, but when editing, and in order to improve our work, we need to be open to change, corrections, the input of others, different ideas, etc.
- Edit with the following principle in mind: ‘One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand’ — Quintilian.