How to Edit Like a Pro (Don't Publish Anything Before Reading This)

January 3, 2018

Whether you're writing for your fans, clients, or just trying to write the next Amazon bestseller, editing like a pro is the number one thing that will take your content the extra mile. 


In this article, Kristin Gardiner writes an article for Nadernejad Media about how you can edit like a pro! 


1. Make your writing as concise as possible.

Drop words like “very” and “really”. Why say “the food was very yummy” when you could say “the food was delicious”? Did you walk “really fast”, or did you “speed”? Most times, you can remove adverbs (-ly words) without losing the meaning if you edit the word it qualifies. Instead of “the performer loudly sang her song”, write “the performer belted her songs”.


Avoid generalities, such as “a long time ago” and “some people say”. Don’t just say “this”, because readers will ask “this what?” Specify “this article” or “this quote”. Be as specific as possible. When talking about a group of people, don’t say “people”, say “Canadians” or “teenagers”. Being specific helps build credibility; it’s harder to dismiss facts than vague ideas.


2. Print it out.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve proofread an assignment on my computer, printed it out, gone to submit it, only to catch an error with no way of fixing it. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about looking at a hard copy that makes editing a breeze. Taking a pen or highlighter to paper also satisfies me more than pressing a few keys to fix mistakes. A rough copy is a great reference point, too. It’s a way to see how you’ve improved from one draft to the next, and it’s something to go back to if you decide you like “the old way” you phrased a sentence better, or if you want to reuse an old fact or quote you removed between copies.


3. Get a program to read it to you.

Many word programs have a “text to speech” feature enabled, and if yours doesn’t, there’s websites that do it. Sometimes, the the human brain likes to skip duplicate words when skimming a text. Chances are, you didn’t notice I wrote “the” twice in that last sentence. I am by no means an auditory learner, but listening to my essay or story helps me catch these sneaky double words, misspelled words, or stray commas.


4. Give yourself enough time to edit.

When someone asks me how long it takes me to write a thousand words, I say “about two hours” - but that’s just the writing time. Sitting down with a finished piece of work ready to tear it apart and perfect it takes me around the same time. If you have two days to write something and you know you can do it in one, don’t do it all on “day two” and submit it right before your deadline just because you can. Get a chunk, even all of it, written the first day and spend the second day editing. If you don’t give yourself enough time, all you can do is a quick “does everything make sense” edit. When you give yourself time, you can afford to read it, then re-read, and re-read again, fine-tuning the work as you go along. By editing this way, you end up with a more polished and concise end result.


5. Get someone else to look at it.

When writing about a topic you’re familiar with, it’s easy to skip writing the context necessary for anyone unfamiliar with the subject to understand. It’s easy to fill your writing with undefined terms and jargon. Sure, you might understand it, but does your father? Your neighbour? Give it to them to read, ask them if it makes sense. Hearing what questions they have helps you understand what parts of your writing need clarification, defining or context. Not only will a second or third person help you with your big picture, but they can help fix the details to. After you’ve read your work once or twice, you start to skim and become less likely to catch your misspellings and grammatical errors. A friend or relative looking at your work may spot them and point them out.


6. Go back the next day.

Just like getting someone else to look at it can help you spot your mistakes, taking a break from your work and looking at it later can have the same effect. When I return to my writing after a few hours, there’s always a sentence or two that I read a few times and realize “this sounds clunky” or “I don’t even know what I was trying to say here”. The first draft is often the “shitty first draft”, as my old writing teachers like to say. For me, the original draft is unfiltered “brain to keyboard”, and it’s a victory if half of what I type makes sense the next day. A break, short or long, refreshes your brain, making you ready to fix all your old mistakes.


7. Big picture first, details later.

Before you start fixing the nitty-gritty, the grammar, or the spelling, think about your ideas. Have you said everything that you need to say? Do you have anything that doesn’t add to your work you can take out? Anything you can add that would make it better? Does everything make sense? Polishing up the big picture is often the hardest, most time-consuming part of editing. Once you get that step out of the way, the rest of the process is (comparatively speaking) smooth sailing. Fix your ideas first, then focus on making these ideas as presentable and professional as can be.


8. Remember your audience.

The tone you take and the words you use vary depending on who will read your work. A breaking news article will be short and use  as few words as possible and simple language. A university research paper will be lengthy, with introductions and conclusions and examples and more advanced language. You could say “carcinogen” if biologists are your target audience; you would say “potentially cancer-causing”, instead, if you expect your average person to read the work. When editing, don’t change a word or phrase just because you think it sounds better; change it because changing it would better suit your reader.


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