Editing Is for Everyone

by Marisa S. Corser

December 21, 2020

From social media posts to letters and books, if you want to become a better writer you need to know how to edit. Whether you’re writing for business, schoolwork, or pleasure, here are five simple editing tips you can put to good use as soon as you finish reading this post.

1. Read out loud. Move over second graders, because this tip isn’t exclusive to early readers. Reading aloud sharpens our focus on the words on the page and eliminates outside distractions, like the email or article that popped up in the right-hand corner of the screen, or the conversation drifting from the office next door. “Reading your own material aloud forces you to listen,” says Stephen Ambrose, historian and biographer. As you give audible voice to the words on the page, pay careful attention to the cadence of the writing. Are you tripping over the sentence, or does it flow? Do the words make as much sense out loud as they do in your head? Reading out loud helps us eliminate superfluous words, polish phrases, and ensure that the audience understands our writing. If you feel silly reading out loud by yourself, reach out. I’ve called Monica Bishop and Anne Deeter Gallaher hundreds of times and opened the conversation with the words, “Can I read this to you?”

2. Take a break. Been working for hours on that op-ed or social media post, or feel like your content isn’t striking quite the right tone? Time for a writing break—even if you can only spare five minutes. Take some cleansing breaths, try a short walk, or read. Just don’t read what you’re working on—that’s cheating! When you return to your writing, you’ll have a fresh perspective. Hitting send too soon results in small, simple mistakes. Don’t let silly errors cost you credibility with your audience.

3. Read backwards. I find working through text in reverse especially helpful in the final proofreading stages, such as when searching for spelling errors. Because we read from left to right and top to bottom, our brains naturally fill in gaps. We may read words differently than they appear on the page or mentally substitute what makes sense—even if it’s not there. “Going backwards forces your brain to focus on each individual word a little more since the flow of the sentences is lost,” says Reddit Editor Angelo Pappas.

4. Print it out. Who says print is dead? Not I! In an examination of over 100 studies investigating how screens affect the quality of our reading, Virginia Clinton, professor of Education, Health, and Behavior at the University of North Dakota, discovered that reading on paper led to better understanding, improved test performance, and higher recognition of how well a reader understands the text. “Screen readers often believe they understand a text better than they really do,” says Clinton. And several studies have found that people often think of paper materials as more important and serious. “If you are reading from paper, your mind thinks, ‘This is something important. I need to pay attention to it’,” Clinton says. When in doubt, print it out.

5. Ask a friend, colleague, or coworker to read your work. This is by far my favorite method. From fledgling to professional, no matter what level of writer you are, I cannot place enough emphasis on the importance of having an excellent editor. In over 20 years of professional writing, I have been fortunate to have several editors in my life, and I will never reach the end of my gratitude for the ways they have improved my writing and thickened my skin. Empowered people empower people—a great editor is firm with the red pen but won’t crush your spirit. While it’s never easy to see your work marked up, if you want to be a better writer, there’s no margin for taking constructive criticism to heart. Plus, another perspective can open your eyes to the needs of your audience.

Penning a book, drafting a social media post, sending an email to your boss, or polishing a client pitch? Try one of these simple editing tools to sharpen your copy and help you reduce mistakes. Happy writing!

Do you have a foolproof editing tip of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at MSC@DeeterGallaherGroup.com.

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