This article also appeared in Bulldog Reporter.
Everyone needs an editor. In our world of public relations, everyone is a writer and an editor at some point. Here are some tips for being a better editor, whether you are reviewing the work of a colleague or giving your own first draft one last look:
Read it first — All of it. When you are editing someone else’s draft, always read it all the way through before you really try to edit it. Don’t try to edit sentence by sentence. Absorbing the entire piece, without stopping to edit anything, will help you understand where it is going, how it is structured, and how the transitions work (or don’t work) before you dive in to make edits. You show respect for the original author and ensure cohesion when you edit the piece as a whole.
Read it out loud. When you review something that you have written, repeatedly retooled, and refined, it’s easy to skim past phrases or whole sentences, assuming that they say what you think they say. It may seem odd at first, but try reading it aloud. This helps you see (and hear) more clearly what is actually written on the page. Saying the words gives you a feel for the flow and a sense of how transitions work. As the words flow — or stumble — from your mouth, awkward phrasing and construction become more obvious.
Change the layout. Changing how the copy looks on the page by resetting the margins or choosing a two-column layout can help you see it in a fresh way, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time on revisions. Narrow columns are easier on the eye than a wide page and can help you more readily spot errors and weaknesses.
Walk away. A short walk or a good night’s sleep can help you see the world — and your writing — in a different way. Make time to step away and come back to your copy fresh, even if time away from the screen is brief.
Read backwards. Read your article one paragraph at a time from the bottom up. This is another way to provide a fresh view after you have toiled for too long.
Listen to your gut. If something seems off, but you are not quite sure why, don’t just let it go. Stop and re-read the troubling section until you understand what triggered your gut reaction. If it is a “fact” that seems wrong, take the time to look it up or ask questions. If the language seems difficult or confusing, take the time to understand why it bothers you and fix it. Common solutions are breaking one sentence into two, removing excess words, or using simpler, more direct language.
Take time to ask questions and look at writing in new ways to make your team’s copy shine.