Ten Tips to Edit Like an Editor

by Stephen Kotowych, Partner

“To write is human, to edit is divine” – Stephen King.  

As a copywriter and editor who spends the better part of his days writing, re-writing and red-lining documents, I can safely say that no matter what the project, the goal is always the same – to improve the quality of the written word.

Even if you are not a writer or copy editor by trade, the ability to write clear and error-free copy is an important part of any career.

For those of you seeking to develop and fine-tune your editing skills, I’ve compiled a list of my top-ten editing tips:

  1. Read It Out-Loud: Treating your work as a script and reading it out loud lets you understand the role each word plays in a sentence, and it helps highlight any missing words. If at any point you find yourself reading a sentence twice because you don’t understand it the first time or can’t make it through without stumbling – well, something probably needs an edit.

  2. Rely on the Experts: A dictionary knows best. If you are unsure on the meaning of a word – check it! Also keep a style guide handy. While grammar and punctuation rules vary among style guides, you will be better off by choosing one style and sticking to it.

  3. Typo and Spell-Check: Spell-check is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t catch everything. Read and re-read your work in order to catch spelling errors, missing conjunctions or additional words. Nothing says unprofessional like an email with spelling mistakes.

  4. Cut Your Sentence in Half: While many long sentences are grammatically correct, they usually contain several ideas that can lose the reader’s focus. If you find that your document is comma heavy, consider giving each idea its own sentence.

  5. Simplicity is Best: Jargon does not make a writer sound smart it simply confuses or distracts the reader. Use words that people are familiar with or find a shorter, simpler word than the fancy one you chose from the thesaurus.

  6. Avoid Mix-Ups: Don’t undermine your credibility at work by using “your” when you really meant to write “you’re” or “complement” when you meant to write “compliment.” Double check that you haven’t used a word with the wrong meaning.

  7. Take a Break: Establish some distance between writing and editing, to give your eyes and brain a break. If you don’t have the luxury of time, try re-reading your work in a different room or at a different desk. A new environment can help you see things differently.

  8. Don’t Overuse Punctuation: An occasional hyphen or semicolon can really hammer home a point. But don’t overuse punctuation —– too many hyphens — can mean that a piece of writing doesn’t – flow well.

  9. People Are Not Things: Refer to people as “who” not “that.”

  10. Very Obsessed: Is the “very” really necessary to your sentence? Is it helping you get your point across? Or is it an excessive word? Double-check that you haven’t used “very” where it’s really not necessary.

photo credit: homegets.com homegets.com via photopin (license)

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