Great Editing Tips to Improve Your Written Work

These days, a lot of teachers, professors, and business people often complain that people nowadays – usually “today’s kids” – are unable to write properly. A large part of the problem, possibly the largest part, it would seem is that it is the editing aspects that people overlook.  People labour under the misapprehension that effective writing is something that flows effortlessly from the pen or keyboard and that too much editing would spoil the writer’s efforts.

Good writers know this is not true; their bibliographies, memoirs and other texts are full of tales about sentences that had to be reworked countless times, manuscripts that were halved in order to be legible, and whole lives spent modifying one work that never seemed perfect. It is little wonders that many writers say there is “no such thing” as good writing, but rather it is the rewriting that counts.  

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So, if the art of writing is not taught enough nowadays, editing is taught even less

This is a great shame because the most crucial part of writing lies in the editing. Even more so than proofreading, effective editing serves to improve the clarity of a written piece and to make it more powerful. The following are a few tips to improve your written work:  

  • Read your texts backwards: It is possible you have heard about “reverse” reading, which means reading a piece backwards one word at a time. This technique works well because it does not allow the brain to see what it wants to see and it allows you to spot any typos and/or spelling mistakes you may otherwise miss.  However, this is not effective where the meaning depends on the order of words and phrases. Therefore, you should just read a text from the end back to the beginning one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, or both, to ensure every sentence and paragraph is coherent and makes good sense by itself.  
  • Read what you have written aloud: This helps identify any awkward sentences or passages that look sensible, particularly in the eyes of the writer. 
  • Leave it overnight: Leave your texts for a night at least and longer if possible, before you begin editing. In an ideal situation, the aim is to forget what you have written. This means that your brain will only see what is there rather than what it is expecting to see. Writers often make logical mistakes that are not noticeable at the time of writing because the mind is full of topic-related thoughts, ideas, arguments, examples, and so on. However, when you approach your texts with a fresh mind, those associations vanish and all that matters is what is written down.  
  • Remove rather than add text: Writers nearly always use too many words. Although a few additional words may be needed during the editing part, you should mostly be deleting words. A text that is concisely written is generally more legible and powerful than a long text.
  • Remove any pretentious words and phrases: It is not unusual for novice writers to mimic the language of their professors and other scholars or, perhaps more precisely, the type of language they think is used in academic life. Even though you may be in the middle of your academic career, do not model your writing on what you think is acceptable in academic life. Although jargon has its place, mostly it serves to confuse and exclude the reader rather than include them. The type of language used by journalists is more appealing to the majority of readers, which means you should aim at best for the reading level of a good eighth-grade student.

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  • Get rid of unnecessary adverbs: Certain adverbs are acceptable, but they are often used purely for “padding” where this is not needed. It is unnecessary, for instance, to say, “She ran fast” since the very nature of running means it is fast. Only mention something that is unusual or out-of-the-ordinary about a person’s running (e.g. if it was slow). Take it for granted that readers know the meaning of running.  
  • Justify your work: There should be a reason for every word in your text, whether it is a statement, main point, joke, question, etc. Be ruthless about removing any words that have no purpose.
  • Eliminate redundancies and anything that is not needed: This rule should be applied at sentence level and to your entire text. In your early education, you may have been taught to say something repeatedly but this is usually a waste of readers’ time and it can be an affront to their intelligence. Indeed, it can turn readers away. Say something clearly once and move to the next point.
  • Avoid the passive voice: Be vigilant about using “to be” and variants e.g. “is,” “are,” “am,” “was” and “were.” These usually indicate passiveness in a sentence i.e. where the subject is the recipient of an action rather than the one who acts. Passive writing is often weak and unconvincing and is often indicative of trying to avoid something. For example, to say “he made a mistake” indicates that someone is responsible whereas “a mistake was made” suggests responsibility is not being allocated to anyone. Essentially, it suggests an effect rather than an action and is best avoided.

Like effective writing, effective editing is an art form, and should be considered part of the writing process. Editing requires time, patience and practice in order to become good at it. However, the effort is worthwhile because your written work will be more effective, alive, and more importantly, much more likely to get noticed.