Top 4 DIY Editing Tips

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Editing a piece of writing should improve its accuracy, brevity, clarity and readability.

This post helps explain how good editing does this, using examples from a real-life project. I’m very grateful to Eagles Wings Australia, an Australian-African aid and development alliance, for allowing me to share from our recent collaboration where I edited a learning resource for schools.

4 Tips for Expert Editing

Tip 1# Accuracy: Effective writing has no spelling, punctuation, grammar or factual errors. This stage of the editing process is similar to proofreading, although proofreading generally focuses on language (spelling, punctuation, grammar) rather than content (the facts).

Tip #2 Brevity: Effective writing gets to the point without waffle. More then ever these days, readers have a very low tolerance for writing that doesn’t give them what they’re looking for. It’s said that people spend between 3 and 5 seconds on a web page before clicking away. Printed texts are also under pressure to ‘perform’.

Tip #3 Clarity: Effective writing is easy to understand and the main message is obvious. Readers are not confused by complicated vocabulary or by long and ‘crowded’ sentences that contain too many ideas. 

Tip #4 Readability: Effective writing doesn’t distract readers. The reading process should be subconscious and automatic so that readers can focus on meaning. If your readers have to re-read sentences that are awkwardly expressed, or struggle to work out an ambiguity, they’re less likely to engage fully with your message or to respond in the way you want them to.

These ‘categories’ are far from clear-cut, of course. Obviously, accurate work is more readable than inaccurate work because errors and typos can be so distracting. Brief sentences tend to be clearer than long ones, and also more readable. And inaccuracy can impede meaning, making a message far from clear. Still, accuracy, brevity, clarity and readability serve as useful criteria when you’re reviewing your work.

Any piece of writing, from a blog post or business profile to an academic thesis or advertising brochure, will be much more effective when these aspects are scrutinised and polished. So, time for some examples …

Editing – an example

Here’s the original paragraph that introduces Eagles Wings Australia and is found early in the learning resource document I edited. Before reading about my edits, you could imagine a colleague has asked you to read it and suggest improvements. What will you say?

Sample paragraph – before editing

EW Australia Ltd (EWA) is a small not for profit aid and development organisation working in a number of communities (population 20,000) on the outskirts of Ndola, Zambia. Our focus and passion is to see vulnerable children realise and reach their God given potential. We have three defining words; Hope, Generosity and Adventure that direct our mission. Our Australian directors and event coordinators work on a voluntary basis in order to maximise the donor dollar. Seeing funds directly reach the grassroots level is a clear focus and underlying value. Our partners are Eagles Wings Zambia (EWZ) who work directly with the children, families and communities within Zambia and Global Development Group who oversee all monitoring and reporting aspects in line with the Australian governments development guidelines. Our method is not simply a transaction of funds, but rather a transformed heart.

Sample paragraph – with hints

Here’s the same paragraph with the words, phrases and sentences that I changed underlined and numbered (a) to (i). Before reading about my edits, you could take this opportunity to practise your own editing skills.

EW Australia Ltd (EWA) is a small not for profit (a) aid and development organisation working in a number of communities (population 20,000) (b) on the outskirts of Ndola, Zambia. Our focus and passion is (c) to see vulnerable children realise and reach their God given (d) potential. We have three defining words; Hope, Generosity and Adventure that direct our mission (e). Our Australian directors and event coordinators work on a voluntary basis in order to maximise the donor dollar (f). Seeing funds directly reach the grassroots level is a clear focus and underlying value (g). Our partners are Eagles Wings Zambia (EWZ) who work directly with the children, families and communities within Zambia and Global Development Group who oversee all monitoring and reporting aspects in line with the Australian governments development guidelines (h). Our method is not simply a transaction of funds, but rather a transformed heart (i).

Next, the tables below allow you to directly compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of my edits. Finally, there’s a copy of the final version of the paragraph below the tables.

My edits tables – comparison & commentary

Egadnew1EgbEgcEgxEgfEggEghEgi

Sample paragraph – after editing

EW Australia Ltd (EWA) is a small not-for-profit aid and development organisation working in communities numbering 20,000 people on the outskirts of Ndola, Zambia. Our passionate focus is to see vulnerable children realise and reach their God-given potential. Our Australian directors and event coordinators work as volunteers to maximise donations. The use of funds at a grassroots level is a focus that reflects our values. Our partners are Eagles Wings Zambia (EWZ), who work directly with Zambian children, families and communities, and Global Development Group, who oversee all monitoring and reporting aspects in line with the Australian Government’s development guidelines.  Our method of fundraising is not only a transaction of funds, but also a transformation of hearts.

I hope this is helpful. The next time you’re reading a piece of writing – your own or someone else’s – use these examples to help you find improvements in terms of accuracybrevity, clarity and readability. It’s really worth the extra effort. Meanwhile, do you have any questions about editing? Or would you like a hand with an awkward-looking sentence you’re working on at the moment? Here’s a sentence that I was happy to help a friend with just yesterday:

Before: The river has importance to Aboriginal people, both before and after European settlement.

After: The river has been important for Aboriginal people since before European settlement.

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Comments

  1. Great tips, thankyou this is so timely for me xx

  2. You always share great tips! I love seeing your edits- the examples help it resonate. Thanks for sharing, Alison!

  3. I see people not proofreading ALL the time. Especially on their business blogs it’s like WHY won’t you do this?! It annoys me and makes me kind of think they are not serious about their work. These are great tips.

    • Thank you for commenting, Kamila. I agree that it’s surprising that some people don’t proofread the writing that’s representing them as professionals. I’m glad you like my tips.

  4. All great tips and they’re equally important. I strive to be clear, concise and conversational.

  5. Another useful and Easy to use article. Thanx Allison 🙂

  6. Great article! I need to work on my brevity and your tips will help me do that. Thank you!

  7. Great post! Editing is the hardest part of writing and the part I most often overlook. It is nice to have a “simple” process for editing.

    • Hi Emma, thanks for your feedback. Hopefully you can start to use a few of these tips regularly and it’ll become a bit less of a struggle to edit. You’re not alone!

  8. These are some fantastic tips and the article is very comprehensive – awesome, thank you!!

  9. Great post! Short, simple, sweet. Good examples, too! Examples always help me see the differences and adjustments. I like how you broke it down sentence by sentence then provided the final paragraph. Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah, thank you for such constructive feedback. It’s great to know what works for my readers. I’m delighted that you found something helpful. You’re most welcome to sign up for weekly posts about language and all aspects of good writing.

  10. Great tips! Especially brevity, as I don’t like to have to wade through waffle to find the info I was promised! xx

  11. Great tips! Sometimes I’m so excited about hitting the post button I forget the importance of editing. I really don’t have anyone to read through every post I make, so I do my editing on my own. I rarely have spelling or punctuation errors, but I do have many ramble on sentences (an paragraphs) that could be more concise. I will be putting a better effort into my editing in the future. Thank you for the wonderful advice!

    • Hi Krystal, it’s great to hear that you’ve found this post useful. Knowing what you have to work on – brevity – is half the battle, so you’re sure to benefit from some editing time. Let me know how it goes!

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