Professional editors are often made painfully aware that not all writers are created equal. Some of the content we are asked to edit may require a complete rewrite. Other pieces of writing may need only a single change.
Because it can be tough to edit the work of writers with varying degrees of skill, I’ve created a process that helps me edit on different levels. Editing to improve the structure of an article or press release is different from editing for style and usage.
Here’s a four-step method to help you “divide and conquer” any editing task.
1. Read and read only
This may seem obvious, but it’s important 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 until you’ve finished reading the article. You should comprehend what you are reading without the distraction of catching errors or rewriting sentences.
After reading, it’s time to focus on content. This is “macro-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 and from section to section?
- Are introductory statements 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?
Macro-editing is also where I check my facts and my sources.
“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.
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 after moving paragraphs or rewriting sentences. Since 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, what editing tips would you like to share?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.