You have written the blog post of the century. The one that will be shared, retweeted and remembered as legendary. Except the spelling is appalling, your punctuation is questionable, and the conclusion should be the introduction. What to do? How will you make the world acknowledge your brilliance? The idea is good, the concept new (and a little bit controversial). But how to shine up this rough diamond? What your article needs is a good, old fashioned, edit and proofread. And here is a simple guide for you and anyone inclined to press post without reading through twice.
What exactly is editing?
Editing is the act of going through your copy for readability and clarity. There are three kinds, line editing, substantive editing and proofreading. In a perfect world with unlimited funds you would pay someone to do your editing because fresh eyes are best. But it’s not and we don’t so at the very least give yourself a break from the copy before you start.
You’re too familiar with your writing. This means you’re missing the perspective to ‘see’ your mistakes, poor spelling and bad grammar. Even glaring errors can be hidden in a document you’ve gazed at for several hours/days/weeks. So, the longer the document, the longer you should stay away (time permitting).
If you’ve been writing a blog post or a new About page, give it a few hours or even better, overnight.
If you’ve just finished your novel, the general advice is give it a few weeks if you have them to spare. In this case, I’d highly recommend a professional. (like me).
And if you don’t choose to edit? Be prepared for people to think you’re unprofessional and sloppy. You could be the most awesome writer in the world, but spelling mistakes, missed words and grammatical errors turn people off.
Plus, it shows respect to your reader to present them with an article, webpage or piece that’s schmick, readable and correct.
Here’s a quick guide to the three main types of editing. Do all of them.
A line edit involves analysing each sentence and make it as easy to understand as possible. Check your flow. Do sentences flow smoothly or are they lumpy, too long, or confusing? Break them down, don’t repeat yourself, play around with sentence length. Think smooth.
Brook McCarthy from YogaReach had this to say about this kind of editing in a recent article on business writing:
“This may be the hardest to teach because, like music, it’s a felt experience. Read your writing aloud. If it sounds clunky, jangly or thumping, smooth it over until it sounds like aged fine wine.”
A major part of book editing, substantive editing is useful for articles and pieces of any size. This editing is usually the hardest because it involves cutting and rearranging large chunks of the article.
Now just because I’m talking about web copywriting or blog posts (and not a novel) doesn’t mean substantive editing isn’t important. Go back to your original notes and check you made the point you started out to make. Did you? If not, changes (big ones) might be needed.
The idea of simply cutting out entire hard won paragraphs is a toughie. But sometimes it’s necessary for clarity overall. You might need to refocus your post or piece and make it less complex. Simplification may result in you having the makings of ANOTHER article or blog post. If so, that’s fabulous.
Proofreading is the final step, when you (or someone else) reads through your copy to check it for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Weird words and strange punctuation should all disappear in this edit. Remove adverbs, remove double adjectives and ‘soft words’ like really and very.
Present your work as professional, well written, show your audience you care about them by offering a quality read.
The last word is…Readability
Business writing has a reputation for being long winded, using long words, sentences and paragraphs. In reality, short words, snappy sentences and brief paragraphs are a far better match for most people’s attention spans.
So as a last step, run your beautifully proofread and edited article or piece through a measure such as Readability and it will give you a score. Between 60-70 is an average year 6 (12yo) student. For the web, this is good, although 70+ is better. This piece scored 66.
A score of less than 60 means your sentences are possibly too long, or your words, or both. Scale them back. Make them simple. Even though most people have been educated beyond year 6, most of us don’t want to read at university level all the time. Certainly not on the internets where our attention spans are more like toddlers than university graduates.
Editing is a non negotiable step in your writing process. When you take the time to re read and tighten up your article or blog post, you’re making it easier for your readers to engage with you. You’re showing them respect, and building your reputation as a quality writer who not only knows their stuff, but cares enough to present it well.