The truth about editing
It’s always easier to edit a document than start from scratch, right? Wrong. It’s often easier, yes. Starting words can be useful, but sometimes working from a draft can actually hold you back. Like most things, the trick is knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away.
When you jump straight into editing mode, you can fall into some common traps. Things like poor structure, missing content and ignoring the needs of the reader can be hard to spot when you’re focused on correcting bad spelling. In the rush to get the job done, it’s also easy to re-use jargon and lazy language that would be better off in the bin. This means the prize at the end (an engaging, user-friendly or persuasive document) can actually take you longer to write and be harder to achieve.
So what’s the answer?
When editing, I try to resist the temptation to jump in and start copyediting before I’ve run the piece through a simple checklist:
1. Who are my readers?
2. What are their needs and questions?
3. What am I asking them to do?
4. What information do they need to do this?
5. Is there a clear/engaging/persuasive/credible call to action?
Often in business writing, structure is your ace card. Get this bit right, and the writing and editing becomes much easier. Of course, structuring isn’t just about having an outline and sticking to it. Structuring takes place at every level – page, section, heading, paragraph, sentence – and needs to be checked again as part of the editing process to make sure it ‘works’.
“But what about my deadline? I haven’t got time for this #@%$!”
I hear you. Deadlines are important. But a good structure will save time in the long run by giving you confidence that you’re playing with the right cards in the first place.