By: Lisa Edwards
“No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.”
~J. Russell Lynes
Believe it or not, I genuinely enjoy editing. I really do. It allows me to take a piece of writing that has the potential to be remarkable and to help it shine.
Just by moving a few words around, adding a few words here, and taking a few words out there, I can transform a piece of writing into a masterpiece.
Because I am a writer myself, I understand how it feels to have your work edited. It’s not always easy to accept that there may be a better way of wording your ideas than the one you came had. At the same time, I know I am far from perfect, and I would never put something out there without having someone else take a look at it first. It’s almost impossible to get it 100% right the first time around. Still, it’s important to be gentle with a writer’s work.
So, you’ve been tasked with editing someone else’s work. Whether you’re getting paid to do it or you’re doing it as a favor to a colleague or friend, these tips will help you to edit both effectively and in a timely manner, and (hopefully) without hurting anyone’s feelings.
1. Read – Don’t Skim
Read the piece thoroughly from start to finish. Don’t rush. It won’t do anyone any favors. After reading the piece at least once, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the piece tell a story or educate you in some way?
- Does the writer have a clear argument or message?
- Does the piece have a clear beginning, middle and end?
- Is the piece unique or entertaining in some way?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you owe it to the writer to clarify what the idea is that they’re trying to get across before moving forward with your revisions.
2. Does the Piece Serve its Assigned Purpose?
Review the original assignment. Take a look at previous articles in the publication or on the website where the piece will be published. Consider the audience.
• Does this piece reflect what the readers were promised?
• Does the piece give them what they expected to receive?
• Will the piece be well-accepted by the audience?
If not, then you may need to have a discussion with the writer. You may be looking at an extremely well-written piece of work, but if it doesn’t answer the questions people are asking or meet the needs and expectations of the readers, then it isn’t going to serve much of a purpose for its intended audience.
Think about how the piece could better serve the audience, and make some suggestions to the writer. They will be thankful when the final piece generates a strong response.
3. Edit for Structure First
Before you look at any minor errors such as spelling and punctuation, review the overall structure of the article:
• Are there strong headings for each section?
• Are there bulleted and numbered lists where applicable?
We all know that readers skim articles, so if the piece isn’t broken into easily digestible sections, you’ll want to figure out how to break it into pieces for the writer.
Review the introduction and the conclusion, and confirm that the body supports both. If the article goes off on tangents, it will take away from the overall message of the piece. Suggest ways to connect tangents back to the main subject, or remove them altogether.
4. Grammar and Spelling
Finally! You can look at those pesky grammar and spelling errors (if you haven’t been secretly correcting them this whole time.) Now that you are looking at a well-structured, well-explained piece of writing, you can start looking at the grammar and spelling:
• Did the writer use full sentences where necessary?
• Did they use appropriate punctuation and did they use the punctuation correctly?
Once the grammar mistakes have been fixed, you can check for spelling errors. Start with the obvious ones, and then move on to words that are spelled correctly, but not used correctly, missing words, etc.
It’s important to try to leave spelling and grammar edits until the end. Otherwise, you may up editing paragraphs that don’t even make it to the final cut. What a waste of time!
5. Review the Title
Now that you’re confident in the content of the piece, it’s important to make sure that the title fits the piece. The original title may no longer fit the new piece of writing, or it may not be catchy enough. If the title isn’t attention grabbing or unique in some way, how do you expect the readers to come?
Tweak it. Trash it. Re-write it. Do whatever you have to do. Just don’t forget about the title. It may mean the difference between someone reading the piece or skipping onto the next one.
6. Final Review and Feedback
It’s important to do a final review of your work once complete. You’ll want to check for any possible formatting errors, as well as any errors you may have caused while editing. It sounds funny, but it happens all the time, and it can be embarrassing, especially for an editor.
And don’t forget to provide feedback to the writer. It’s common courtesy to let the writer see what you’ve changed before publishing his/her work. If this isn’t possible, just be sure to show the writer what changes you made and why. Be sure to tell the writer your favorite part of their piece. It’s not easy to accept criticism, but if it comes with explanations and compliments, it will be much more readily accepted.
Take pride in your task of editing. Ask questions. Listen to what the writer is trying to say. Make suggestions. Then do your thing. Make the writer’s work shine.
About Lisa Edwards
Lisa is the owner of Writer By Default, a company that provides quality writing, editing, and social media marketing consulting services to small businesses at affordable prices.