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The basics of good editing

Editing a document

Editing is not something I learned formally; I have no qualification hanging on my wall. But after many years of working as a writer and journalist, I've picked up enough to make me qualified to pass on a few tips to those who are starting out on the writing path, or need some advice about editing their own blogs, websites and copy. Disclaimer: this is not the same as editing someone else's work.

While many people seem to be focused on simply slapping up any old content on their websites or platforms, it's worth remembering it's the editing that will make your writing polished and professional. There is nothing worse than reading something riddled with errors. Not only will it make you look like an amateur, it will make your copy harder to read.

Before I launch into some tips, let me start off by saying that editing your own work is extremely tricky. It's difficult for people to spot an error they made once before, or to figure out which sentence is unclear to a reader. It's always worth getting someone else to check your copy, especially if it's important. For instance, are you writing the 'About' section of your website? In that case, make sure to at least get the input of one friend before publishing, hopefully the one friend who has very good grammar.

That said, these are some general rules of thumb I follow when editing and proofreading:

  1. Always read your copy back. Better yet, read it out loud. Does anything make you pause and read the sentence again? If it does, it's likely it needs clarification. Copy should flow smoothly. If it jars or makes you go back to the beginning, then that's a big clue it can be improved.

  2. Make it simple. Edit for clarity. Don't use long sentences and complicated phrases. If a reader struggles through a paragraph, they are unlikely to want to read on.

  3. There is such a thing as overusing punctuation. The flip side to this is not using punctuation at all. Both are to be avoided. Remember, punctuation is about clarity and pacing.

  4. Yes it's obvious, but use a spellcheck. Typos happen. Take every precaution to make sure they don't.

  5. Assume the reader knows nothing. When looking at your copy, always think about what you are trying to communicate to someone who has never heard about it before. People often make the mistake of assuming their audience can read their minds.

  6. Can it be said in fewer words? If it can, trim it. Don't use 500 words to say something when 350 will do the job just as well.

Editing is a skill. It's something that improves with time, but some people will naturally be better at it than others. However, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

My takeaway is this: be as clear as possible with anything you communicate; use simple sentences; when in doubt, go back and trim it. Better yet, get someone else to read it over before you hit the publish button.

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