Editing and proofreading other people’s writing can often feel like a thankless task. It’s not easy, it’s time-consuming and few people appreciate being told their work is full of mistakes or that you’ve had to chop it in half – especially if those people are clients.
So, how’s it done?
Start by recognising that drafting, editing and proofreading are three very different disciplines.
Don’t expect the first draft to be any good. It’s not supposed to be. Its primary function is to pull everything together. If writers worry too much about making it sound good at this stage, they’ll get frustrated and struggle to write anything.
With drafting, keep telling yourself – don’t get it right; get it written!
Then leave it as long as you can before editing.
Editing is all about making the draft better – better in terms of putting paragraphs in the right order, tightening up sentences so they flow more easily, losing unnecessary words, and making sure the message is clear.
Sometimes you need to lose the flowery stuff. That could include replacing clichés with sincerity, getting rid of unnecessary adjectives, replacing jargon with simple words and deleting entire chunks of interesting but irrelevant information.
Proofreading is purely objective. It’s either right or it isn’t. Any subjective changes should be made at the editing stage.
You’re now looking for typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies such as hyphenating some compound words and not others, numbers written as words and figures, and mixing date and time styles.
Having a style guide will help overcome problems with inconsistency.
You’re less likely to hurt or offend if you give specific feedback. Rather than saying “it’s just not doing it for me”, start with the ‘big picture’ and work down to the detail.
Is the message clear? Or has it been saturated by too many points? Does it serve a purpose or is it just information for information’s sake? Is the structure right? Or does it take too long to get to the point? Or jump all over the place? Are sentences and paragraphs long and difficult to read?
Finally, don’t try to tackle all the problems at once. It’s soul-destroying to see an article you’ve slaved over come back to you covered in deletions, insertions and comments. Get the structure and the message right first then worry about the smaller details.
Find out more about Editing and proofing other people’s writing on the Big Fish Training website.