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 many rounds of editing are enough.
This freedom leaves many people wondering when they should put down the red pen or back away from Microsoft Word’s Track Changes.
Personally, I edit long documents differently than I do short content.
Editing Long Documents
I generally edit long documents such as books, white papers, case studies, and journal articles three times.
I don’t have a formal explanation for this number. By the third round, I am usually confident that I have thoroughly examined spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, clarity, and concision.
If I am still making significant changes during the third round, I will perform additional edits as necessary.
Editing Short Content
A general rule of thumb in writing is that the shorter the document, the more important each word becomes.
Therefore, short content, such as emails, social media posts, and press releases can require many more rounds of editing than do long documents. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to edit one of my own tweets six or seven times.
Pro Tip: One of the best ways to spot writing errors and typos is to use Microsoft Word’s Read Aloud tool so you can hear each word spoken individually.
When to Stop Editing
What if you don’t feel confident regardless of the amount of time you spend with that wicked red pen or Track Changes? Stop editing!
If you have reviewed a document twenty times, you probably won’t see anything new during the twenty-first review because you have become 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 from a friend, coworker, or freelance editor. A fresh reader can identify issues previously overlooked issues because he or she is approaching the document from a different perspective.
Further Reading: Editing Checklist for Long Documents