Five Editing Tips and the Document Death Spiral

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.

Word Editing Example2. 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.

Harold Washington Library Center — A Great Place to Write in Chicago

Harold Washington Library center owl

I visit the Harold Washington Library quite often, so I thought I would share a few pictures of the giant owls perched on the roof.

If you are downtown Chicago and you need a place to read, write, or just relax, consider this library. It is located on the corner of State Street and Van Buren Street. It has many well-lit, quiet places to sit, including ample table space for your laptop or other work material.

If nothing else, at least walk by to see the owls. They’re a hoot!

Harold Washington Library corner owl

Harold Washington Library

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in small business content, marketing, blogs, web copy, and instructional material.

How Many Rounds of Editing are Enough?

Editing is a technical process, but it is also an art form (to some of us, at least!) And like most creative endeavors, there is no official rule for how long editing should take or how many times it should be repeated. This freedom leaves many people wondering when they should put down the red pen.

I generally edit everything four times. I don’t have a formal explanation for this number, other than to say that by the fourth review, I am usually confident that I have thoroughly examined spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and clarity. If I am still making significant changes during the fourth round, I will perform additional edits as necessary.

But, what if you don’t feel confident regardless of the amount of time you spend with that wicked red pen? Stop editing! If you have read a document twenty times, you probably won’t see anything new on the twenty-first time because you are overly familiar with the text. Chances are, you are not truly seeing every word anymore–you are just skimming and remembering what you read before. Instead, grab a new set of eyes, such as a friend, coworker, or freelance editor.  A fresh reader will often identify issues that were previously overlooked because he or she is approaching the document from a different perspective.

In a future post, I will be discussing specific editing tips and tricks. 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in small business content, marketing, blogs, web copy, and instructional material.

Keep It Clean–Avoid the Undefined “It” Pronoun

The way we use words in everyday communication often fails within business writing. A prime example is the undefined it (technically called an unprecursed it). But, what is an undefined it,  you ask? Before we delve into the details, please see the excerpts below from the fictitious assembly manual for the Generic Chair (proudly manufactured and sold by the Generic Store):

Example A: It’s a good idea to collect all of the necessary tools before beginning assembly.

Example B: It is going to take approximately three hours for the glue to dry.

In both of these sentences, it is and it’s mean something along the lines of “in this situation” or “you should know.”  Their purpose is introduce information: the person assembling the chair needs to collect the tools and allow the glue to dry for three hours.

However, the word it is a pronoun, and pronouns stand in for nouns or noun phrases. In the above examples, it doesn’t represent  anything specific. The sentences are much more effective when we eliminate the uncertainty:

Example A Rewrite: You should collect all of the necessary tools before beginning the assembly.

Example B Rewrite:  The glue will take approximately three hours to dry.

Now, it certainly does have a place in business writing, but only when the underlying meaning is clear. For example, “The Generic Store has lost 50 percent of its customers. It will be closing ten retail locations after the holiday season.” In this situation, it represents the Generic Store.

As mentioned above, people use the undefined it all of the time–in conversation, emails, informal writing, etc. And that usage is just fine because it usually doesn’t cause confusion. Yet, many language choices that are acceptable in casual environments can create ambiguity or misunderstandings in business writing. So, keep your pronouns clean. Define it.


Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, marketing, blogs, web copy, and instructional material.