Ten tips for editing documents
Editing text is an art not a science. Getting it right isn’t always easy. By following the ten tips below you’ll soon be able to knock those difficult texts into shape.
1. Don’t edit your own work. It’s hard to be objective about your own work. So, give the job to a colleague and return the favour when they need something edited.
2. Don’t confuse editing and proofreading. Editing is a lot more than crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s. Have some idea about the level of editing that’s required before you start. Ask yourself, ‘does the document need shortening or restructuring? Does it read logically and consecutively?’
3. Think about the reader. Consider who will be reading the document and what’s its purpose. If you don’t know, find out. Your job as editor is to be devil’s advocate for the reader, making it as easy and convenient as possible for them to read and understand.
4. Get hold of a style guide. By following a style guide you make sure that detailed spelling and grammar issues are always presented in the same way. After all, you don’t want to spell ‘organise’ in on paragraph and then ‘organize’ in the next. Most broadsheet newspapers and university publishers’ style guides are available free online.
5. Scan the document before you start editing. Read it for sense. This helps you get a feel for the structure, the tone and style of the writing, and roughly how long the job will take.
6. Use ‘track changes’ when editing so the author of the document can see exactly what you’ve done. It makes them feel in control, making them more likely to accept your advice.
7. Go through the document line by line, reading it for sense and considering whether every sentence makes sense and flows on logically from the one above. Check that paragraphs are not too long, and if necessary and appropriate insert headings to break up the text and guide readers through the document.
8. Keep sentences short and cut out unnecessary phrases. Long sentences are hard to read, so trim them back. Don’t be afraid to use more full stops! Look carefully and you’ll probably find words and phrases that don’t add any meaning. Cut them out.
9. Don’t rely on spell-checkers. Spell checkers can’t always be relied upon. If you have the slightest doubt about spelling or meaning, dig out a good dictionary. They are available in hard copy or online.
10. Read through your work. This is the opportunity to check for small but important things like whether the chapter headings and contents list match up, whether chapters and footnotes are numbered correctly and so on.