Have you ever edited a document several times, confident that you caught every typo and misplaced semicolon? But then you decide to give the piece one last go-round and you find an obvious typo that you missed? I have too!
To avoid that frustration, here are my top five editing tips:
1. Play the waiting game. I covered this topic in a previous post titled How Many Rounds of Editing are Enough, but it bears repeating: Wait as long as possible between the time you finish writing and the time you start editing. Then, wait again between each review. When you can’t remember exactly what a document says, you will pay more attention to each word and are less likely to skim. Waiting at least a day is optimal, but even ten minutes is better than nothing. And of course, fresh eyes will see things yours missed. So, ask your friend, your neighbor, or your favorite professional editor to take another look at your writing.
2. Have Fun with Color. I am a traditionalist; I wield the wicked red pen upon my own writing. If red ink gives you nightmares about your evil tenth grade English teacher, choose another non-standard color, such as green or bright purple. Avoid blues and blacks because they don’t provide adequate contrast with black printer ink. (However, if you are feeling frisky, you could print your document in red and then use a black pen. Wild times, my friends, wild times!)
When editing a client’s work, I usually rely on the font color, strikethrough, and highlight tools available in Microsoft Word, as shown in the picture above. Whenever possible, I avoid Word’s Track Changes tool because it can become very cumbersome in a heavily altered document–crazy lines and balloons going everywhere. No wonder people are leery of editors!
3. Count Your Rounds. Each time you start a new edit, write the round number on the top of the first page. The goal is to prevent yourself from slipping into an endless review cycle, otherwise known as the document death spiral–okay, I just made that up, but the description fits, right?
4. Don’t Trash the Old Edits. That rewrite you carefully crafted last night might not sound quite as sweet in the cold glare of the morning. As such, you may want to refer to any earlier version before starting anew. Maintaining each iteration of an edit can help you prevent content loss and monitor the document’s overall evolution. Just remember to give each version a distinct file name, such as Cool_ Writing_Edit 1.doc, Cool_Writing_Edit 2.doc, and Cool_Writing_Final.doc.
5. Do the Double-Space Shuffle. If you are editing on paper, double-space the document before printing. This will give you more room to write corrections and will make the whole process feel less congested. Once the edits are finalized, simply convert the document back to its original line spacing.
Now, where is that red pen…?
Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in small business content, marketing, blogs, web copy, and instructional material.