Editing is a crucial step in the writing process, but often it can feel onerous, and anti-climactic. After you’ve finished the interesting, exciting part, the writing, you now have to go back to the beginning, and edit everything? What the business?
Still, editing is one of the most important steps in the writing processes. It gives your work polish, flow, and clarity, and it helps you to catch minor errors, that a first glance would miss.
Here are a few important things to think about when editing:
#1. Verbosity: First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the word ‘verbosity.’ Isn’t it delicious?
Anyway… verbosity simply means, ‘excessive wordiness.’ If you are verbose, you use too many words. Verbosity can lead to reader frustration. Often, inexperienced writers find it difficult to capture their ideas in a concise and orderly fashion. This can lead to run-on sentences, necessarily long paragraphs, and a generally confusing and chaotic feel to the work. To avoid verbosity, examine your work again, and find a way to say what you want using the fewest words possible. If I find myself particularly frustrated by a sentence, I will sometimes go right back to the basics:
Subject (I) – Verb (Ate) – Object (Cake).
Now, obviously, ‘I ate cake’ is an extremely simple sentence, even infantile – BUT it helps to remind me what the important aspects of the sentence are – that I ate cake. From this basic starting point I can add the other important details into my sentence, and see which details actually add to my work.
#2. Grammar: Proper English grammar can be extremely difficult. The rules seem to be different in every scenario, and there often seems to be no logic to those rules. Even for native English speaker, the language can seem impossible – primarily because we don’t write the way we speak. There are a number of different resources that can help with grammar, like Grammar Girl, or classic texts on grammar, like Elements of Style, and Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Although these can be dry reads, they can really you to develop a fundamental rules of English grammar.
One of the best ways to learn proper grammar is by reading! This is a fun, enjoyable way to learn appropriate grammar and sentence structure. Just make sure you’re reading reading quality literature!
#3. Re-reading: This is one of the most important steps in editing. Re-reading your work at different times of the day, in different locations, starting to read at different places in your work, are all great tricks to ensure there are no mistakes. One of my university professors told me that when he was proof-reading his dissertation, he sat with his wife, and they read every line of his dissertation backwards, and then forwards to see if there was anything he had missed. Often, when we are very familiar with something, like our own work, it is easy to gloss over the minutia of that work, and that is how mistakes are missed. Above all, make sure somebody else reads your work. It’s best if this person can be as unbiased as possible. Hearing someone else’s opinion about your work can be difficult, but if you’re open to constructive criticism, it can greatly improve your work!
Remember – editing is the process that can take your work from good to great!
In the words of one of my favourite university professors:
“I once assigned a paper on various topics in public relations. Public without an ‘l’ is still a word. Spell check won’t catch it, and it changes the entire meaning of the paper. Edit your papers, people!”
So, what are your best tips and tricks for editing?
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