Do you ever wish you could go back in time and edit something you said because it came out all wrong? Unfortunately, technology hasn’t advanced that far.
With writing, however, and especially writing on the web, we have plenty of opportunities to chop, rearrange, and enhance something we’ve written until it represents exactly what we mean, and delivers our message in an effective and powerful way.
Editing is a crucial step in any storytelling process. Copy editing is one of my favourite things to do because there’s almost always something you can change to make your message more powerful.
Whether you’re paranoid that your writing might be crap, or you’re a perfectionist wanting a final polish, you can use this editing cheat sheet to improve your written words and deliver your message effectively.
1.) Remove overly complicated language.
Unless you’re writing an academic paper (and even those could stand a little vocab rehab), it’s a good idea to use the simplest words possible to communicate your point. More syllables do not make your point any stronger. For example, don’t go for a word like ‘utilize’ when ‘use’ will do just fine. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it.
2.) Analyze your structure.
Having a clear beginning, middle and end makes a world of difference for effective message delivery. You should always begin with a strong introduction that alludes to your main argument, lay out your facts and supporting points, and then tie it all up with a nice conclusion that reiterates your core message.
3.) Remove what you don’t need.
A word, a sentence, a paragraph – whatever it takes. If an element of what you’ve written does not support your argument or enhance it in any way, get rid of it! It’s only cluttering your message.
4.) Pay attention to flow.
Does your piece proceed in a logical fashion? Or would it sound better if you rearranged a few sentences or paragraphs? Each idea should relate to the next, and be connected with a common thread. If a paragraph begins abruptly with no relation to the one before it, add some words that connect the dots.
5.) Make it readable.
You wouldn’t try to swallow an entire steak in one mouthful – it’s much more enjoyable in bite-sized pieces. Apply this same idea to your writing. Break it into easy-to-digest chunks and add subheadings to organize your thoughts. But don’t do go overboard. I’ve noticed a trend in copywriting where people add way too many spaces for effect.
Stop it. Unless you’re trying to be the William Shatner of copywriting.
6.) Read it out loud.
If it sounds awkward out loud, there’s a good chance it reads that way. Replace any awkward words with more natural ones. For example, using conjunctions, such as ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’ can make your writing flow more naturally.
Thankfully, most writing programs and content management systems automatically add red underlines to show when you’ve spelled something incorrectly. Some even let you know when your grammar is off. Don’t ignore these features. Use them, and learn from them!
8.) Show someone you trust.
Run it by a friend so they can look for errors or offer suggestions for better flow. A second set of eyes is another invaluable yet underused resource.
Set Your Baby Free
Editing is one of my favourite things to do, and I could probably go on forever until there’s just one word left. But if I did, nothing would ever get done. After you’ve run through this checklist, your piece of writing should be ready for the world, so hit publish and let it go, and remember that if it’s on the web, you can always go back and edit any errors you may have missed.
photo credit: Matt Hampel