Editing is best done in layers to achieve clean and great copy.
By Shelley Widhalm
Editing isn’t a quick fix of reading over an article, story or novel, making a couple of changes and hitting Publish.
It takes at least a couple of rounds of evaluating the overall content, checking for transitions and gaps in flow, and fixing paragraphs and sentences. It takes looking at the whole and the individual lines to make sure the result is a clean, easy read.
With my own work, I used to edit randomly, reading the text from start to finish over and over, but I found editing involves multiple layers of analysis. My original approach was time consuming and I missed things both at the line level (I’d reread the same things) and in the structure of the beginning, middle and end.
Simplifying the Editing Process
To make the process easier, I compiled an editing checklist to make sure I address the levels of editing, while also breaking the task into smaller parts so it doesn’t seem overwhelming and tiresome. After going through the list, the task is completed, and it’s time to do some more writing.
Editing can be done in any order, but it is best to include a read-through for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.
As you edit, ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Also review the entire document for structure, consistency in approach (using the same types of bullets for example) and intended messaging. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.
While editing through the various layers, there are more specific things to check, and here is where the editing checklist is great to have on hand.
7 Things to Look for While Editing
- Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
- Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
- Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
- Use the active voice whenever you can.
- Get rid of inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
- Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
- Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.
Writing without editing is a rough draft and work that is incomplete. Editing helps get the writing to the core and essential components of what you want to say.