Great Editing Tips

Great Editing Tips to Improve Your Written Work

It is likely you often hear tutors, business leaders, and many other people complaining that today’s “kids” are very poor writers. However, many experts blame this phenomenon on editing. Quite simply, people are not generally very good at editing. Many believe that a great written piece is something that flows effortlessly from the writer’s fingers or pen, and that the work will be “killed” by excessive editing.   

Of course, the most skillful writers know better. Their biographies, memoirs and manuals are full of stories about books that were reduced by half in order to be legible, about sentences that had to be reworked over weeks or perhaps months to get them exactly right, and whole lives that were spent modifying just one text that never seemed “exactly” right. To rephrase a popular writers’ adage “great writing does not exist, there is only great rewriting.”  

Yet, if the way writing is taught nowadays is too inadequate or too infrequent, editing is given even less attention. This is a great shame because the real effort put into writing is only evident in how well a work is edited. More so than mere proofreading, effective editing reinforces the message of a written piece and improves its clarity. The following are a few tips to improve your written work:

  • Read aloud: Reading aloud helps identify incorrect or awkward-sounding sentences that seem acceptable to the naked eye (of the author).
  • Read backwards: You have probably heard about reverse reading as a proofreading technique, going backwards reading each word in turn. This is effective because it bypasses the brain’s trick of seeing what is expected. This method allows you to spot any spelling mistakes that you might otherwise overlook. However, this does not work with content where the meaning is generated not from the order of words but from phases. Rather, you should read from the back to the front, going through each sentence or paragraph, or both, one by one to ensure each one reads sensibly by itself.
  • Leave it overnight: Leave your text aside for a night at least, or longer preferably, before beginning to edit. In an ideal situation, it is best to forget all that you previously wrote so that your eyes or brain does not see what is expected but what is really written down. People often make obvious errors that seem sensible at the time because their minds are full of topic-related ideas, arguments and examples. However, when you approach a written piece with a fresh mind, these mental blocks vanish and it is only what you have really written that matters.
  • Remove text rather than add it: Virtually everyone uses too many words. Even though one or two words may need to be added during the editing process, mostly your aim should be to remove words. A concise written piece has a lot more power than a long one, and reading it is much easier.
  • Look for justification in your work: There needs to be a reason for every statement, point, question, piece of humor and even each individual word in your paper. If a good reason does not exist, remove the word/phrase/sentence. Be ruthless. Get rid of any text that is not value-added.
  • Identify and remove any pretentiousness from your work: This means looking out for any unnecessarily elaborate words and phrases and removing them. New writers are prone to mimicking the language of academic writers or, more precisely, the language they think academic writers use. Even if you are a student, avoid using academic language in model form. Even though jargon has its place and uses, this mostly excludes readers rather than including them. The majority of readers prefer the language and style of journalists, which involves aiming your writing at the reading capacity of a bright eight-grade student.
  • Rid your text of redundancy and unnecessary words/phrases: This is applicable at both sentence level and to an entire work. You might have been taught to keep repeating yourself while you were in high school, but this equates to time wasting for the majority of readers and insults their intelligence. Ultimately, they will tune out on you. Say what you have to say once. Say it clearly and move to the next point.
  • Remove unnecessary adverbs: There is no doubt that adverbs are sometimes useful, but they are often used as unnecessary padding. For example, it is unnecessary to say someone ran “quickly” since, by its very nature, running is usually done quickly. If, however, there was something out of the ordinary about the running – e.g. if it was “slow” - then it may be worth mentioning. If there is not, then just say someone “ran” and assume your readers know what is meant by running.
  • Avoid passive sentences: Be careful about using terms like “to be,” “am,” “are,” “is,” “were” and “was.” These often indicate a passive sentence where the subject is not the one doing the action but is the one the action is being done to. Passiveness can make a written piece seem weak and unconvincing. It can even be an indication that the writer is trying to pass the buck. For example, to say that “I baked a cake” instead of “a cake was baked” shows you are accepting responsibility. Passivity conveys the effect rather than the action so is best avoided.

Like effective writing, effective editing is a type of art that requires time, patience and practice. However, it is worthwhile in the end because your writing will be better and livelier! Furthermore, your work is more likely to get the attention it deserves. After all, that is what matters – that your intended audience reads your work and, equally importantly, that they understand it.          

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