4-step guide to improve your editing chops

The author shares her method for improving copy from writers of varying skill.


Not all writers are created equal. I’ve spent most of my career editing the work of writers with varying degrees of skill. Some articles that cross my desk need a complete rewrite; others don’t require a single change.

Through the years I’ve created a process that helps me edit on different levels. Editing to improve the structure of an article is different from editing for style and usage. Here’s a four-step method to my madness:

1. Read, and read only

This may seem obvious, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the article before making any changes. Keep your fingers off the keyboard (or put your pen down), and just read.

I know it’s tempting; you see a typo or a sentence that can be broken into two, and you want to change it immediately. Wait, though, until you’ve finished reading the article. You need to comprehend what you are reading without the distraction of catching errors or rewriting sentences.

2. Macro-editing

After reading the article, it’s time to focus on its content. This is “macro-editing,” a term I first heard when taking workshops from the American Medical Writers Association. Think of it as editing at the paragraph level.

Macro-editing deals with the article’s overall structure. For instance:

• Does the structure make sense?
• Does the article flow from paragraph to paragraph or from section to section?
• Are statements made in the introduction supported by the rest of the article?
• Do you need to move the background information to the end of the article and the explanatory quotes to the beginning?
• Is the article complete?
• Are there unanswered questions?

Marco-editing is also where check my facts and my sources.

3. Micro-editing

“Micro-editing” is done at the sentence level. It typically deals with the technical aspects of the article: sentence structure, style, usage, spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization.

Most often, the micro-editing stage is where I tend to get bogged down; separating it from structural editing helps me focus on the nuts and bolts of the writing.

4. Proofreading

This fourth step may seem redundant, but I find that it helps to proofread the article after I’ve completed my macro-editing and micro-editing. I need one last sanity check of the article after moving paragraphs or rewriting sentences. Because I’ve completed the rewriting tasks, I can focus on catching typos.

This four-step process may not apply universally, but I find it helps me balance all the tasks that go along with improving someone else’s written work.

Readers, care to share your editing process?

Laura Hale Brockway writes about writing at impertinentremarks.com.

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