Six Editing Secrets to Improve Your Writing
Updated: Mar 7
Editing is a matter of tweaking. Like tuning a guitar to pitch, the editing process refines and brings each word, sentence, and paragraph to the point of making sense and flowing as one.
I coach writers to break their writing and editing process into two distinct steps. This works for either fiction or non-fiction writing and even taking notes while interviewing subjects for an article or book manuscript. The first step is straight writing—a brain dump of transferring your ideas from mind to paper or computer screen. You don’t worry about syntax, grammar, continuity of thought, or run-on sentences during the writing process.
Once you have said all you have to say, then it is time for step two, editing, which has its own procedures. Today, I want to help you by sharing
The six steps I use to edit
articles, book manuscripts,
and everything else.
1 – Basic edit: My first step is doing a quick spelling and grammar check, using Word’s Editor feature, which is in the latest edition of Microsoft 365. It is a nice basic editor that will fix spelling and grammar errors. It also helps fine-tune your document with simple suggestions on improving clarity, punctuation, conciseness, and vocabulary. While these are helpful, I know I’m going to be doing more intensive editing, so I just use these as a starting point.
2- Hard Copy Edit – I am old school: I like to print and edit hard copy instead of editing on the computer screen, at least during this step. I also double-space everything on the computer screen, which gives me more room to edit the printed copy. After finishing step one, I begin editing my hard copy. I use red or green ink, so my changes stand out. At this editing stage, I am looking for awkward phrasing, sentences out of context that need to be moved elsewhere, and grammatical and spelling errors that Word skipped. Such as, when you used a valid word, but it is not correct for the context. Most of my rewriting happens during this stage, as I think of concise ways to communicate or clarify what I’ve written. By the way, you should NEVER fear or become discouraged by rewriting (often countless times) because it makes you a better writer.
3- Read Out Loud Edit – This is an old trick I learned during my radio career that helps you catch things you miss when reading silently. You see, your brain is smart and will subconsciously fill in missing or misspelled words. However, when reading aloud, you catch these errors and awkward phrasing, or repeated words used too frequently within the same sentence or paragraph. Many times, during my radio career, pre-reading copy out loud saved me from sharing something inappropriate, poorly written, or containing some error and embarrassing myself to my listeners. I remember hearing a news announcer on a small-market station reading a local newspaper story. He had obviously NOT pre-read it out loud because he read the words “see photo” on the air because it was in the story. He embarrassed himself and gained the nickname “see photo” because of his blunder. And, in case you’re wondering, it was NOT me, but a former colleague.
My methodology for this step varies from reprinting my corrected copy to reading it out loud and editing directly from the computer screen. I still lean toward the hard copy approach. Call me old-fashioned.
4- Grammarly – My next stage of editing is running my corrected copy from the out loud edits through Grammarly. While the free version of the program catches a lot, I use the premium version, which flags awkward phrasing, repeated words, and clumsy or long sentences. If you are a serious writer, it is well worth the investment. For lengthy manuscripts or articles, I’ve learned to run each page individually through Grammarly, rather than the entire chapter or article. It can be disheartening to see 53 corrections for a whole chapter instead of 12-13 for one page. It is psychological more than anything else. Also, make sure you correct your computer copy BEFORE changing the Grammarly suggestions. Otherwise, you may forget to fix the original (Guilty!)
5- Second Set of Eyes – My business is writing and editing for other people. So, depending on the project, I will often utilize another set of eyes to look over my much corrected and rewritten copy. It amazes me what I miss despite looking at the same sentence multiple times. That is where a second set of eyes comes in handy. I suggest someone who will be honest with you and tell you if a sentence or paragraph needs major reworking. My wife fills that void for me, and I am a better writer because of her. 😊
6 - Send to Client – This is often the I’m-holding-my-breath-I-hope-you-like-it phase of writing. Especially with a new client. Will they like what I have penned on their behalf? Is it in their voice and not my own? Will they want to keep me on their project or find someone else? Yes, it is unnerving to send a project (which, in my case, is typically a completed book chapter) to the client. They may want you to rewrite portions of it. Early on in my business, I had one client who would return my printed copy (yes, he wanted hard copy, too), edited in red pen. He edited my edits. Was it a bruise to my ego? Yes! Did I get over it? Yes! Remember, he or she is the client and has the last word on what their project looks like. Even if you’re a fiction writer, your readers are the ultimate client/customer, and you will have to please them with your work.
These six suggestions are by no means an exhaustive list or the only process you can use to improve your writing. But these are the ones I use, modified, and tweaked over the years as new refinements surface. They are the template I have employed in ghostwriting multiple books and editing hundreds of articles, blogs, and papers. Try them, refine them, take what you like and leave the rest, and let me know how they work for you.
Dave Ficere is an Author, Editor, and Ghostwriter with over 30 years of experience in broadcasting and writing. When Dave is not writing and editing manuscripts for clients, you can typically find him narrating and producing audiobooks.
To learn more about Dave, visit his website or find him on LinkedIn.
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