How to Edit Your Copy in 5 Easy Steps
Those of us who aren’t professional writers may not be aware of the editing part of the writing process. If you’re an entrepreneur, or you want to be one, one of the first things you should do is write a blog. Blog entries are the best way to engage with your audience, share tips and create a tribe.
All you need to do is write an interesting, engaging, mistake-free copy. Sounds easy, right? I know, now, after decades of writing in different formats, that what uses up most of your time and requires a different frame of mind, is the editing part.
We love our own words – after all, we wrote them and presumably stand by them – and it’s a painful process to delete, change and rephrase what we already thought was perfect at the moment we wrote it. We need a certain amount of detachment.
There are editing programs that can help with this, such as:
These can help you keep track of spelling mistakes and repetitions.
Although editing programs can be useful, I prefer to edit my copy myself. Over the years I’ve devised a 5-step strategy that I’d like to share with you.
STEP # 1 – Go and Get a Cup of Coffee, or better yet, Sleep on It.
One of the problems we have to deal with when editing our own copy is that we are too close to our own material. We know what we wanted to say when we wrote it, and our mind fills in the gaps, misses the typos, and skips over the grammatical errors.
Rule of thumb – don’t start editing too soon after writing the original copy.
Before we go ahead, we need to cut the emotional thread that connects us to our own copy. Successful editing needs a certain detachment. To achieve this, go and get a cup of coffee, or go for a short walk. A few minutes should be enough to give us a clearer idea of what we have written.
If your text is more complex than a simple blog entry, the best way to deal with it is to have a complete break. Sleep on it. Come back the next day, and you’ll find looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes will help you spot most of the mistakes. This process should be repeated until you’re happy with the overall text.
STEP # 2 – Take Off your Writer’s Hat and Put On your Editor’s Hat
Being a writer is completely different from being an editor. The two are not interchangeable.
As the Cambridge Dictionary states, editing is: “the process of making changes to a text […], deciding what will be removed and what will be kept in, in order to prepare it for being printed […]”
This can be a little difficult at first. Editing means understanding what is superfluous and what is relevant to the text. To do this successfully, we need to step aside from our role as the writer and read the copy as if it had been written by somebody else. And there are certain questions we should ask ourselves while reading:
Does it make sense?
Is it interesting? (by which I mean the whole thing, not bits here and there).
Does it have all the information needed to make the piece interesting? (e.g. URL, data, location).
STEP #3 – Cut, Cut, Cut!
There’s a lot of pleasure to be found in writing – those well-turned phrases, that clearly made point, did I really write all that? – but this doesn’t automatically mean that it’s good writing. Very few writers have the ability to be verbose and interesting at the same time.
A good rule of thumb is to shorten your longer sentences to a maximum of 25 words.
If you can’t do this kind of pruning without losing clarity, try dividing the sentence in two. Try to use short words and streamlined sentences rather than long and convoluted ones. The result will be light, but interesting reading.
STEP # 4 – Check Your Grammar and Punctuation
There’s nothing worse than finding grammatical errors in a text. To instead of too, their instead of they’re can give your readers the impression that you’re not familiar with grammar, and by extension, you’re not familiar with your subject matter, either.
Correct punctuation is also very important.
A comma can change the meaning of your sentence:
Let’s eat Dorothy v. Let’s eat, Dorothy.
A misplaced hyphen can also cause some problems:
A man eating chicken is not the same as a man-eating chicken.
Semicolons can be very useful:
I’m sorry I love you v. I’m sorry; I love you.
And remember, readers like action, so avoid using passive verbs and instead use active verbs.
STEP # 5 – Printed Words should Look Nice on Paper AKA Formatting
Good writing is not only about the words, but also how those words are presented on the page.
A big black block of text can put off the more willing reader.
Add some space between the lines, paragraphs, headings, and sub-headings.
Choose a readable font, and use bold or italic only when suitable.
Use bullet points to make lists easy to read.
Check your margins and be consistent in your style
By the way, the copy you’re reading right now is not as I wrote it at the beginning. That copy went through the editing process several times, and I hope I ended up doing a good job!