By: Marilyn L. Davis
Content is only the Beginning
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” ~Collette
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette stated that most good writers are merciless in their editing. One reason for this is that first drafts are normally the jumbled thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions writers have about the topic and are not ready for publication.
Even during my draft of an article, I try to remember this excellent quote, “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss
I recently wrote about revising, which is looking at the various components of the article’s structure. Revising finds the bad passages, redundant sentences, off-topic tangents, conflicting tone, style, and syntax issues. So, if you have revised and restructured your article, it should be ready to publish, right?
It helps if you process revising as surgery and editing as cosmetic. One is drastic, and the other improves or enhances the content.
But Content is King, Isn’t It?
Too many writers depend only on their content. You have written an engaging story, given your perspective on politics or a social injustice, commented on the latest trend, or researched and linked to an interesting historical time or person. While all of those can make a good article, you will lose readers if the quality of your editing is poor. Why is that?
Because readers do not have time for poorly edited articles or typos that spell check misses. Both of those look amateurish to readers.Unfortunately, most amateurs don’t rate well, have sterling reviews, or generate revenue from their writing.
Corrected Content Respects the Reader
Simple corrections will improve your article and demonstrate that you respect your readers by doing the best job of editing that you can.
Editing and proofreading are the final changes to your revised drafts. Yes, I wrote plural – drafts. I often write in Word and will use Track Changes for early drafts. It lets me see the original and my revisions without a final decision on the article.
Since there are no deadlines for many online sites, you have time to work on your craft, and that means multiple drafts for most of us who take writing seriously. There is a simple formula – write well, edit better. For a comprehensive listing of grammar rules and guidelines, the Guide to Grammar and Writing and Principles of Composition lists over 400 easily corrected writing mistakes.
But I Use Spell Check, Isn’t that Enough?
In editing, you cannot depend on Word’s spell check to find all of the annoying problems. While it is a good beginning, it is limited. For instance, it will not catch homophones, such as:
Spelled correctly, however, they may not be the right word.
Too Familiar with the Right Words
For instance, he instead of the or she instead of he, and is instead of it or if. Those are the little, sneaky words that a spell check will not find because they are words, they are just not the right words. Or as Leah McClellan says, “Donut truss spiel chick, these words will get through just find.”
Potato/ Potahto/Tomato/Tomahto: Editing and Proofreading
Editing and Proofreading are similar concepts, regardless of which label you use. The purpose of them is synonymous. It is taking your final draft and looking for the annoying types of mistakes that make your writing look unpolished and unprofessional.
I am frustrated as a reader when there are mistakes that editing and proofreading would resolve. Knowing which errors you typically make means that your editing is specific to the types of problems you have with your writing. I like what author Jarod Kintz says about the different types of writers, “There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t.”
How many of you read the word “typo” as “type” because that would make sense? The average reader or writer fills in the logical blanks and continues reading.
1. The better reader judges this as poor writing.
2. The better writer fixes it before they publish it.
Find the Typos, Please
If you want to be an above average writer, pay attention, here is your chance to change a bad habit – not editing. Diligently look for the problem words, grammar, formatting, or other errors you did not correct in your revision. Sometimes a revision will create other issues, for instance, format issues – a too lengthy passage as an example. Editing can help you see where another sub-heading will correct that problem. Make your article as close to excellent as you can.
Print Out Your Article – With a Few Twists
We engage with paper differently than we do with a screen. Most studies conclude that we experience heightened attention when we hold the paper in our hands, actively engaging other senses into the reading experience; therefore, it makes sense to edit in print.
Change some elements before you print; it helps you see your writing differently.
Rather than print out your draft in your usual font, size or color, change some things. Modifying other elements before you edit on paper will help you see the problems. After you have made differences in font, color, or spacing, print your article and move away from the computer, so you are not tempted to edit your article as you are reading the printed version.
Edit and Publish or Start Over?
- Write your article. Take a break.
- Revise your article. Take a break.
- Edit your article. Take a break.
- Read it aloud.
Make these separate tasks. Even better? Do the tasks on separate days.
All of us who write should think more about Collette’s definition of an author – someone who is not afraid to destroy the components of their article that do not demonstrate good writing abilities, including editing.