4 offbeat ways to improve your editing

Consider these inventive tips to help tighten, brighten and enlighten whatever prose is under your nose.

Offbeat editing tips

Do you remember playing in the backyard as a kid, pretending to be a famous, swashbuckling editor?

Editing is a fine and noble profession, albeit one that not many aspire to. It’s often a job people “end up in.” There’s not really a traditional path or pipeline that trains young folks on how to “edit the right way” from a young age.

There are guardrails, guidelines and ground rules, but learning our craft is not like going to tech school to memorize Frigidaire parts.

As we wrote previously on how to edit like a pro:

Unfortunately, there’s no comprehensive manual providing universal instructions for editors. Our work is neither math nor science. Much of what we do boils down to personal preference, stylistic nitpickery and the measured guidance of the Associated Press. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be analytical, intentional, strategic and precise in our approach.

It also doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be flexible and inventive in the quest to become better editors. Try these four offbeat ways to improve your editing:

1. Edit text in a different language. Learning a new language improves cognition, and it even alters your brain structure.

Editing Spanish text made me slow down and be more meticulous, which has helped me become a better editor. The practice forces you to consider the precise meaning and weight of each word, and it gives you the brain benefits of learning a new language. (Fluency’s not required.)

2. Edit in bursts. Taking a page from the Pomodoro technique, editing in chunks of 10, 15 or 30 minutes (whatever amount of time floats your proverbial boat) can heighten your efficiency and effectiveness. Regular breaks will keep your eyes fresh, which will help you catch clunky sentences, tricky typos and sloppy syntax.

You can also try tackling smaller bits of text. For instance, instead of editing a 2,000-word piece all in one shot, slice it into tidy 200-word portions.

3. Search and destroy. If you’re struggling to get it in gear, start with a simple “find and replace” exercise. Search for junky words such as “that,” “basically,” “impactful” or “literally,” and hunt down clunky phrases such as “due to the fact that,” “it’s no secret that,” “at the end of the day” or “the fact of the matter is.”

That’s an easy way to cut 100 words right off the bat.

(To further de-gunk copy, here’s a selection of adjectives you can probably delete.)

4. Start at the end. With all due respect to Rodgers and Hammerstein, the end is also a very good place to start.

Reading a story or blog post backward might be awkward, uncomfortable and a slow plod—which is good. Starting at the end frees you from worrying about flow, transitions and other big-picture nitpicks. The idea is to focus squarely on the sentence you’re reading and assess it.

Which techniques do you use to improve your editing? How do you stay fresh and sharp? Please share your tips in the comments below.


3 Responses to “4 offbeat ways to improve your editing”

    Michael Weinstein says:

    This statement sounds good but is false. “Unfortunately, there’s no comprehensive manual providing universal instructions for editors.”

    I’ll offer two excellent comprehensive editing manuals, following the quote.

    Coaching Writers: The Essential Guide for Editors and Reporters: https://www.amazon.com/Coaching-Writers-Essential-Editors-Reporters/dp/0312068425

    And The Effective Editor: https://www.amazon.com/Effective-Editor-Foster-Davis/dp/1566251427

    Bill Spaniel says:

    Another suggestion is to blow it up. Nope, don’t destroy the copy; simply enlarge it–say to 48pt–in Word. This gives the copy a different “look” and “feel,” enabling the editor to focus on individual words.

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