Editing Steps

A staircase with old stone steps in a park, among thick green vegetation consisting of small plants, bushes and trees.

Are editing and proofing different? I think so. I see editing as sharpening our content through means such as reorganizing, elaborating, cutting, and rephrasing. I see proofing as rooting out errors in usage, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and facts. And although these two tasks are quite different, most of us perform them simultaneously.

Many of my posts have spotlighted common writing errors we would hope to catch while proofing, but I haven’t said a lot about editing – and there’s a reason for that. Proofing is more tangible, right? We realize we should have written “is” instead of “are” and that we omitted a comma, and now we move on to the next paragraph.

But editing isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about goals like clarity and style and impact. And to meet those goals it helps to think about our editing approach – about steps we can take to edit our work more effectively.

Eavesdropping on one of my workshops

A few days ago I devoted the concluding part of a writing program to editing tips. Here are several of the editing steps I recommended – with more coming next week.

Be the reader. Identifying with the reader is a cornerstone of successful writing and editing. As we review our document, we need to drop our agenda, our baggage, and our need to impress the reader with extensive background or dazzling style. The more we can truly “be the reader,” the better our decisions about adding, subtracting, and revising.

Devote particular scrutiny to the opening. Does our reader know right away why we’re writing? Do the initial sentences of an idea we’re proposing entice the recipient to keep reading? When our most important point is buried in the third paragraph, we need to reorganize the message.

Emphasize solutions and opportunities. Sure, sometimes the point of our email, letter, or report is to illuminate a problem, but we should try to accentuate the positive. Belaboring bad news can mean our message won’t be well read. Suggesting solutions makes our writing more inviting while demonstrating our ingenuity and helpfulness.

Assess the tone. We need to make sure we’re not coming across as too formal, chummy, or flip. Editing gives us another chance to make sure we won’t distract the reader with inappropriate tone – especially one that is condescending or emotional.

Prefer specifics. The editing stage gives us an opportunity to make copy more compelling or informative by eliminating generalities. This could be as simple as getting rid of “a while ago” and substituting “last March” or using an apt detail, such as changing “the program was highly successful” to “the program drew 30 more participants this year.”

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.

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