Whenever possible, hire an editor. You’ll benefit from a critical first-reader perspective, support in making your ideas accessible, and feedback that helps you improve as a writer for next time.
The reality of freelancing, however, means it’s often impossible to involve an editor or proofreader before writing goes live. I’m an editor and can’t always hire an editor either, so I understand the reality of deadlines, budget constraints, and other barriers to building your dream team of consultants.
Next time you find yourself staring down a deadline, but you’re wracked with doubt about whether your writing is finished, take a deep breath. Once you have enough words on the page, switch roles from writer to self-editor, and follow these guidelines to prepare your writing for optimal performance.
1. Replace pronouns.
When a vague word stands in for a larger concept, this is a prime opportunity to clarify your point and ensure readers don’t get lost. Look for pronouns like “it,” “this,” and “that.” You can also expand on common verbs that don’t hold much weight, such as “is” and “should.”
Perform a read-through just to seek out these words. When you’re reading fast, is it easy to tell what the pronouns refer to? Replace vague words with a specific phrase, and you won’t leave your readers guessing.
2. Assess the space.
On one read, you’ll want to take a look at the micro level: punctuation, spelling, and word choice. While that’s necessary to ensure clean copy, it’s not how anyone else is going to read your writing. To mimic a realistic reader, scan quickly. What is it easy for you to blow by, and are there any key points hiding in those sections?
It also helps to review how the main ideas can be supported by formatting. Where are there big blocks of text? Adding line breaks between paragraphs or between items on a list can make your writing more inviting.
If there’s a must-read sentence, allow it to break free from a paragraph and call attention on a single line instead.
3. Save fancy sentences for creative writing.
Well-crafted sentences might make you sound poetic, but when in doubt, choose the simplest option. Short sentences are easier for your audience to read. And no-nonsense writing is easier to edit.
Look for sentences that have a lot of commas or take up multiple lines. Is there a way to break one sentence into two? You’ll add clarity, and sometimes you’ll also discover an opportunity to expand an important idea or cut the word count.
4. Read it aloud.
This is the best way to catch missing, extra, and misspelled words that our brains easily skip past. Worried you’ll look silly? This is an old-school editing trick, so chances are most people will catch on to what you’re doing.
Whisper quietly if you have to, or even mouth the words at the screen if you’re in a busy café or coworking space. No matter how you approach it, reading your writing back to yourself will help you slow down and review your words on another level.
5. Know when to ask for help – and what help to ask for.
Worried that a sentence might be tangled or otherwise confusing? If you’re having a hard time fleshing out ideas, chances are you’re having a hard time articulating them too.
Feeling uncertain about phrasing is a common hurdle when communicating innovative concepts. And that gut feeling is a sign that involving a second person will be the quickest path forward to your final draft. Luckily, overcoming this stage in the creative process doesn’t require a lot of time.
Pinpoint two to three areas that you’re tripping over, and then reach out for help. It’s faster to call in that favor than to have a friend or colleague read the whole thing.
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The perfect draft doesn’t exist.
Knowing that there’s no “right” way to write, it becomes a little less stressful to make your way from the blank page to a final draft that you feel proud to share – whether it’s a social media post, blog, or website. Keep it simple, but not vague, and remember to use formatting as a way to make your main ideas stand out.
And if you’re really hard up for answers about how to edit, do what the professional editors do – research.