The editing process — improving your writing skills

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Ideally, you have a large chunk of writing to work with before you begin the editing process. You’ve gone through all of your key points and ideas, and you’ve written everything that came to mind as you poured out words onto the page.

Then you went through your draft and added more ideas and words.

Then you took a break and came back and added more ideas and words.

Now you have to take this lump of clay that you have emitted from your mind, and you have to begin refining it to look more like the beautiful work of art you have envisioned.

The more effort and attention you give to the little details, the more beautiful the end result will be.

Before you begin refining the little details of your writing, however, you have to look at the general structure and shape of it as a whole. Identify the main ideas of your paper, and group those ideas together. Each should logically flow into the next.

After you have determined the general flow of your paper, examine each paragraph and organize the flow of those paragraphs. Each should be communicating one main idea that supports your general thesis, and each should transition smoothly into the next.

Don’t worry too much about transitions and sentence structure; in the beginning, you are largely concerned with the organization of your ideas. You want all of your writing to be sorted out into order before you can begin the detailed refining process.

As you examine your writing and paragraphs, pay attention to unity and clarity. Is each sentence related to the thesis of your paper? You may find something that you think is interesting or important, but it will do no good if it distracts the reader from the main message that you are trying to communicate.

Eliminate it.

Does each sentence/paragraph make sense? Is it easy for the reader to understand?

Scan your entire paper a few times, identifying the structure of your papers and making sure that you can read through the entire thing without feeling you’re jumbling around or reading loosely connected ideas.

After you are satisfied with the shape of your work of art, you can begin looking at the more minor details. Look at your vocabulary. Are you choosing words that sound really eloquent but don’t exactly communicate what you are trying to say?

Readers are not reading to be impressed; they are reading to understand and to be entertained.

Use a variety of effective words but avoid words that are difficult to understand. Examine your usage of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and see if you are over-using any words. This can get picked up by your audience fairly quickly and seems amateur and awkward.

How can you improve your vocabulary? First and foremost, read. The best way to gain a variety of words that you can effectively use in your writing is to read more books and to read books that challenge your thinking. Not only will you learn new words to use or be reminded of unique ones, but you will also learn how to best use them in a way that makes sense.

Other simple fun ways are to play games online such as crossword puzzles or Scrabble.

Finally, you want to check your grammar and spelling, even if you are using an editor. Some editors only check that you are spelling a word correctly, not that you are using the right word.

Sometimes, I use the word “write” instead of “right”, and vice versa. A spell-checker will not pick this up. This requires reading through your entire selection slowly and carefully. Sometimes, it is best to come back to your writing later after taking a break, so you will notice things you did not previously notice. Some mistakes will seem obvious to you that you brushed by earlier.

I should note that grammar is becoming more and more irrelevant in writing these days. It is less important to use a comma in its grammatically correct location, and more important to use a comma in a way that will best help the reader.

Everything is about the reader.

If you are deciding whether you should start your sentence with “And” or “But,” don’t think about grammar usage and think about your reader. Will it help the reader or confuse him/her? Is your grammar usage distracting?

This is never the case with spelling, however. Spelling incorrectly is always incorrect, and it will make you seem unprofessional. You can get away with bad grammar and still write a great piece. You can never get away with an article that is full of obvious spelling errors.

Editing is the tedious task of writing. It is often neglected. All too often, writers will feel like they’ve finished, that they’ve said all they’ve wanted to say and they’re ready to publish immediately. It takes discipline and patience to hold onto your article for a while longer and put that extra effort into it.

However, when you are finished, your writing will likely be ten times better than the original, and you will be ready to reap the benefits.

But the process is not done yet.

If you plan on publishing your article to your blog or on Medium, you have to worry about the aesthetics.

Headlines, images, bold, quotes, italics, whitespace, etc.

This can make or break your article.

You would never want a great product to go to waste by putting it in the display window with mediocre packaging.

You want it to be eye-catching.

This advice will be given in the next article, stay tuned!