Editing your writing is so much more than spotting typos and grammatical slip-ups. Proofreading is super important, but editing is where the real magic happens. Here are my top seven editing tips.
I have a love hate relationship with editing and proofreading. I HATE the prospect of doing it. The perfectionist in me fears all the errors and general sloppiness I’ll find by looking too closely. But when I get into it, I LOVE it. Small changes can make a piece I feel a bit blergh about, turn into content I’m proud to author. Over the years I’ve honed how I review my writing, using these seven editing tips.
But first, let’s talk about why editing is important.
Editing v proof reading
This is my personal opinion. For me, editing and proofreading are very different stages in the review process.
In fact, I would argue that proofreading is actually a tiny part of the review process. Yes, I love accuracy, but for me there are so many more important things than a misplaced apostrophe. This is why I prefer to focus more time on editing.
What is editing?
Editing involves proactively making changes to a piece of writing. These changes will improve the overall quality of the reading experience. Not just the grammar.
Editing makes your writing read better. It makes the flow of the narrative more fluent and natural. If you want to add pace, editing is where you address sections that sound too monotone. Is excessive wordage muddying your message? Maybe restructuring paragraphs or adding in clearer subheadings could create a clearer, more persuasive story? These are changes that will make a huge impact on the reading experience.
What is proofreading?
Whereas editing forces you to dig deeper and really interrogate your writing, proofreading is a more surface level process. It’s about picking up spelling mistakes, missing punctuation and grammatical flaws. It’s about the final polish. It’s absolutely essential (particularly if you’re a professional writer), but the impact is certainly less to the general reader.
My top 7 editing tips
In the last two weeks I’ve written 11 blogs for clients. I clocked up more than 10,000 words. Researching and writing takes a lot of time. But so does editing. Here I share some of the things I look out for when I’m editing and also the tools I use to make it easier.
1. Look out for long, complex sentences. And break them up.
Long sentences can be hard to read. If you try to jam too much into a sentence, it becomes confusing. Or dull. This is particularly true if you’re writing something for an online readership.
The odd long sentence is fine (as long as it’s properly punctuated.) But lots of lengthy sentences become hard work for the reader. So, break things sentences up before they get convoluted.
2. Too much consistency makes a bland read
Are most of your sentences and paragraphs the same length? This regularity can make your writing sound monotone and repetitive. One of the easiest ways to add pace and energy to your writing, is to vary your sentence and paragraph lengths. Try throwing in a sharp, short sentence and see the difference it makes. Especially when it’s next to a nice, longer sentence that softens the tone.
3. Is the transition between paragraphs smooth?
Each paragraph is a group of sentences that together make a unified point. The movement from paragraph to paragraph builds your story. It gives a flow to your writing. Picking up any awkward transitions is an important part of giving your story an easy, natural flow. To do this, think of it as a conversation. Could a question help? Maybe a transition word – and, but, first, second, finally, consequently, for example, besides, however. There are lots of options.
4. Could you mix up the structure?
This is particularly relevant if you’re writing for online. Screen readers often like to skim before they commit to reading a page in full. There are certain features that can make your main points easier to scan. Do you have a list in a conventional paragraph that could work better in bullets? Could you break things up more with headings and subheadings? These changes in structure can all help with readability.
5. Cut out the passive voice
Why is the passive voice a problem you ask? We use passive verbs because they feel polite. And if we’re saying something slightly awkward it adds a distance between the person and an action that makes us feel more comfortable. Less exposed. But the passive voice makes things drag – it drains the life from a point. It’s boring. The active equivalent says more in fewer words and maintains the energy of the point. It makes it personal. So, for more dynamic content, still to there active voice as much as possible.
In the active voice, the subject performs the action. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.
Passive: The blog was written by me
Active: I wrote the blog
Passive: The blog was published on 15 June.
Active: I published the blog on 15 June.
Passive: The editing tips were seen as useful.
Active: Readers found my tips useful.
6. Are you talking to your reader?
A conversational tone can make your writing more natural and engaging. A few things to look out for are:
- Use contractions. So, ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’ and ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it’s.’ It takes away the formality and makes a sentence read with a more natural tone.
- Talk to your reader directly. Show them you’re interested in them. Use ‘you’ instead of ‘we.’ It’s a small change that can make your writing more engaging.
- Ask questions. They are a great way to involve the reader. To make them think. It’s what you do naturally in face- to-face conversation, but it’s easily missed when you’re writing.
7. And of course, spelling, grammar… and SEO
Know your writing foibles. We all have them. There are mistakes we make over and over again, so be aware of these. My top tips for proof-reading are:
Print it out. Mark it up. It’s amazing how many more errors you see on paper with a pen in hand.
Read it aloud. Reading your writing will amplify any awkward transitions, poor flow and jolty language. It also again highlights errors.
Use a readability tool. I like the Hemmingway app. It makes identifying overly long sentences and passive voice easy.
Do a quick SEO check if you’re writing for online. As a minimum make sure your primary keyword appears in 7 key places:
- Main heading on the page
- First 100 words
- A subheading
- The page title (off page)
- The meta description
- Image file name/description
Using a plugin, such as Yoast makes this easy. The traffic light system is a simple SEO checking tool.
Time to apply the editing tips
Taking the time to edit your writing makes a huge difference to the reading experience. Hopefully these editing tips will help you to recognise the small changes that will make a big difference.