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How to become an editor (of your own work)

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 1st February , 2022 in The Write Fit
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This is an excerpt from the 60th edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.

 

Behind every great writer, is a good editor. The best writers I know welcome the opportunity to have someone help make their words sing. It’s a chance to have someone completely objective – but with your best interests at heart – partner with you to improve your work.

Sometimes editing is a matter of giving a piece a light edit to tighten the prose.

Other times, it can amount to fixing structural issues and shoring up the foundation of your work. That includes editing for length and removing inconsistencies.

An editor can lighten the tone, refocus on the audience, or ensure your work is optimised for SEO. Editors also answer a cry for help when you know something is wrong, but you can’t see a way to fix it.

In many cases, the editor may not change a thing but give you a list of notes for areas that need improvement.

Far too many content creators are faced with publishing without the benefit of anyone passing a critical eye over their writing. If you’re working alone, don’t have the internal talent in your office, or your budget doesn’t stretch to hiring a freelance editor, this guide is for you.

Tip: Don’t start editing until you’ve completed a first draft. Make writing and editing two separate activities. You don’t want to interrupt a writing flow by being self-critical during the creative process.

Remove emotion

Once you have a first draft, it’s time to get clinical about the job at hand. Editing is a destructive activity that helps your writing flourish. Be objective and think about the piece from the perspective of someone in your target audience. Keep in mind people are more likely to read than skim so getting emotionally attached to anything on the page is about as useful as a back pocket on a t-shirt.

Reduce, reduce, reduce

The fastest way to better copy is to remove any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that’s not contributing to the piece. This can be painful if you’ve laboured over your work, but more words never make a better product.

  1. Start at the paragraph level. Can you remove any of them without detracting from your piece? It might sound absurd but it’s not uncommon for writers to waffle on when trying to get started. Paragraphs one through three are usually good candidates for dismissal.
  2. Within each paragraph, can you remove any sentences? Keep in mind a good paragraph should only have 2-4 sentences to keep the modern reader interested.
  3. Can you break up longer paragraphs into two shorter paragraphs?
  4. Can you substitute a sentence for a sub-heading or label? Is a sentence in a section the same as the sub-heading? If it is, get rid of it.
  5. Have you used the same words or phrases repeatedly? Rephrase those sentences to put variety in your text. Try not to repeat the same word in a paragraph, if possible.

 

Getting down to the nitty gritty

Once you’ve examined the bigger chunks of your writing, it’s time to get down to more detailed editing. Start at the beginning and review your copy for buzzwords, cliches, jargon and ‘business speak’. State your ideas in the simplest terms possible. The goal of written content is to communicate your ideas and that happens best in uncluttered language.

Words to banish – because you’re not Charlotte Bronte

  • Forthwith
  • Hitherto
  • Hereby
  • Furthermore
  • Therefore.

Phrases to ditch – because they have an element of menace

  • As a consequence
  • With all due respect
  • Show of good faith
  • At the risk of being crude
  • No offence, but (see the Super Grammar example),

Cliches to dump – because they add a thick layer of drab to your writing

  • At the end of the day
  • All things being equal
  • Think outside the box
  • Avoid it like the plague
  • Tip of the iceberg.

Gobbledygook to avoid – because it no longer means anything – to anybody

  • Best of breed
  • World class
  • Unprecedented (new entry!)
  • Unique
  • Cutting edge
  • Leading
  • Dynamic
  • Seamless
  • Extensive
  • Significant.

More words to banish – because they’re not words

  • Incentivise
  • Agreeance
  • Conversating
  • Irregardless
  • Alot.

Finishing up

Make sure your ending circles back to the beginning. Have you met your reader’s expectations?

  1. If you’ve meandered to a different place than you introduced in the beginning, it’s a sign you need a new opening or a new closing. (It’s also a sign you can cut some of the writing.)
  2. Do you need a call to action? Tell your reader what you want them to do. They may not know if you don’t spell it out for them.
  3. Read your piece out loud, in full voice, to discover clutter you missed while editing.

Before you publish, get someone to proofread your work. If you don’t have the luxury of a proofreader, wait at least a day before you publish. Taking a rest will help you see areas for improvement you might have missed before.

What are your editing hacks? Reply to this email and share them with Dan and me.

Sarah Mitchell
1 February 2022

Did you enjoy The Write Fit?

The above is just one small part of our fortnightly newsletter. It’s jam-packed with excellent advice, tips and news for anyone who writes for their business. Get your own copy here:

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