Editing helps you to organise and enhance written material – to make information clear, engaging and easy to read. It’s a process to check that what you’ve intended to say is well conveyed. This is especially pertinent when you have multiple authors, complex information or challenging ideas.
I see editing as the pathway to clarity and coherence; it’s a method to articulate the core narrative, select the most vital bits and cull the fluff. You might feel like you have to include everything. But for your reader, less is often more.
Parts of editing are methodical. But there’s a strong element of creativity too. Good editing will develop structure and foundation, weave conceptual threads together and ensure that your words connect with the target audience.
And while some folks baulk at the ‘grammar police’, there is something to be said about making an effort to polish your performance, show respect for readers and demonstrate professionalism.
Types of editing
There are a few ways to clean up your act:
Substantive: the big picture editing job; a structural overhaul to develop logic and flow, weave in concepts and bring coherence to the many voices and ideas
Copyediting: clean up the copy and convert it to human speak; check that style aligns, correct grammar and punctuation, and enhance the language clarity
Proofreading: the final fresh-eyed review before you publish or hit send; check formatting and look out for layout mishaps or previously missed issues.
5 editing tips
Professionals can help. But there are also some simple editing practices that anyone can use to optimise written words.
1. GET FRESH EYES
The material you’re so deeply immersed in might be new and confusing for others. There’s also a good chance you’re desensitised to jargon or have lost project enthusiasm. Get feedback from an outsider. Check if what you’ve written is engaging and actually makes sense to another human.
2. TAKE A BREAK
It’s easy to be blinded by familiarity with the material. The brain reads ahead to assume what’s on the page rather than doing the methodical job of editing. You can also miss things when you’re in a hurry. Press pause. Leave the project for a day. Or at least go for a walk. Distance brings perspective.
3. READ OUT LOUD
This is another way to slow down and take notice, rather than anticipate the words. But it’s also a useful tool for checking cadence; to see how the words make music together. We need rhythm in language. Boring, repetitive sentence styles make text a chore to read.
4. RED PEN + RULER
Yep, old school and analogue (which is probably why I love it). It’s oh so helpful to print your documents. A tactile editing process like this slows you down to review line by line; often more carefully than onscreen. Shredded drafts can feed the worms and carbonise the compost.
5. EDIT BY SECTION
You need to make sure that the entire body of information is coherent, but it can also help to review by section – especially when proofreading, checking styles or cross referencing against previous drafts. You could batch check all of the headings or captions, for example. It saves time.
Editing is an important stage of any writing project, and a vital tool of improvement. Along the way, I reckon it’s also helpful to check your standards of perfectionism and habits of procrastination. Don’t let editing become an excuse for holding back. At some stage, you just have to put your words out into the world.