Any writer knows the importance of editing copy, but editing your own writing can be very difficult. The first thing to focus on is reading. Here are 5 reading tips to consider before you even start editing.
The very first thing your should do is step away from your writing. Leave it for a few hours or even a day or two. You’ll see your work in a whole new light when you return to it to start editing copy.
But don’t go into edit mode straightaway. It’s also important to resist the temptation to dive in and start chopping, pruning etc. Some people find it useful to print off a hard copy of the piece, so try that and see if it gives you a new or different perspective. Whether that’s useful or not, you must now put yourself in the shoes of the reader, by being a reader. Before editing copy, look at the entire piece without touching anything. If thoughts occur to you, jot these down in a separate document.
Now it’s time for closer reading:
1. Read for sentence length. Are your sentence too long and complicated? Do they kind of trip over themselves? There’s nothing wrong with long sentences per se – they can help add rhythm to your writing – as long as the reader doesn’t get lost in them. Conversely, nothing but short sentences can make writing appear simplistic and banal. And while we’re talking about sentences try to write in active rather than passive voice. So, subject – verb – object, not object – verb- subject. The dog chased the ball, rather than the ball was chased by the dog.
2. Read for nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Focus on each in turn. Look at the nouns you’re using and have a thesaurus handy to give the reader a break from repetitive nouns. Go easy on adjectives in favour of verbs. Cut adverbs where possible; if you’re not careful, they can make your writing ‘waffly’ or over flowery. And another point which may seem obvious – make sure you know the meaning of all the words you use.
3. Read for tone of voice. How formal or informal is your writing? How serious or light-hearted? Is the tone consistent? Is humour used appropriately or is it out of place? Is there a sense of persona or personality in your writing? If not, why is that?
4. Read for structure. Is there a logical flow to the ideas in your writing? Or do the ideas jump backwards and forwards? Could paragraphs be rearranged to improve the flow? Does the headline intrigue and does the intro copy draw the reader into the rest of the piece? Is there are powerful conclusion with an appropriate call to action?
5. Read aloud. If you’re on a bus this might be hard, but even if you can’t do it aloud, hear how the piece might sound as you read it in your head. This will definitely help you improve the balance and rhythm in your writing. If it sounds stilted or boring, think about sentence length and vocabulary.
After following these five steps and making appropriate notes, you’ll be ready to start editing your copy – which is the subject of my next piece.