How to edit

Every business writer is also an editor, whether it is to edit their own work or someone else’s. And editing is not easy. First, there is given a set of constraints to consider, including word count, prescribed style, format and expected content, which are editorial lines that can’t be crossed.

First edits are often straightforward. It’s usually clear if a paragraph is blatantly out of place, a word misspelled, or a closing quotation mark missing. What becomes harder is second (and third) round edits when an editor (or the writer themselves) must decide which facts or ideas make it into the final cut and which don’t. Here are five tips for editing content successfully:

1. Edit with an axe, not a scalpel. If you need to pare a 600-word piece down to 500, don’t try tricks like shortening every sentence by one word or other gimmicks. Simply find the least important idea and pare it out en masse, rather than damaging the integrity of the writing in the rest of the piece.

2. Be smart with language. Avoid jargon, acronyms and overused phrases such as “in the end,” “to be honest,” etc. Write in the active tense, and keep sentences short and to the point. Avoid “shoulds” and “musts”. They sound too preachy.

3. Remember the point. It’s easy for authors to get off point with an amusing anecdote or some other bit of verbiage that while entertaining, isn’t really relevant. Ask the question, “so what” after every sentence or paragraph. If you can’t answer the questions in a meaningful way, delete the content and start again. That’s what having respect for the reader is all about.

4. Get to the point. Old-school journalists called it “burying the lead.” It’s what happens when writers don’t get to the point soon enough, burying it under an introduction. And introductions are usually chock full of information everyone already knows. If an article begins, “Technology changes rapidly in today’s fast-paced world,” it’s time to hit the delete key.

5. Remember the author. There is almost always more than one right way to do something. If you gather 10 authors in a room and ask them to report on something, you’ll get 10 articles, all different, and all of which may tell the story well. Remember to keep the author’s personality alive in the piece. Just because you wouldn’t write something a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.

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