The Basics of Editing

Aug 15, 2013

The Basics of Editing

Aug 15, 2013


From the newsroom

Sangeeta Cavale


Editing made simple

“When I took a creative writing class in college I heard some bad news.  On the first day, our professor informed us that 90% of all good writing is (gasp!) re-writing!   I did not want to believe him at the time. But, hard experience has taught me the truth of this statement.” says Tracey McBride, book author and blogger.

So, you have finally written that article you have been planning and now all that is left is to go through it and edit it. Sounds like a bigger task than writing a piece? Don’t let it overwhelm you. Putting some distance between you and your blog as soon as you have written it, helps a great deal. In general, most writers do not edit as soon as you have written the piece since they are likely to gloss over even glaring mistakes. The trick is to let it sit a while; then go back and read it. They will see almost immediately that there are things which need changing.

When you write for a newspaper or magazine,  there’s a full-fledged editing desk on hand to check and proofread and even rewrite copy if need be. Web writers and bloggers are on their own. They usually write, edit and re-edit every piece. Often, there is no time to send it across to someone, so a quick glance through is what most do. But editing can be done at a simple level too…

The basics of editing can be classified into a few easy steps:

Read your copy once from top to bottom and use the comments feature if you are using Word etc, to make change suggestions. If you have written in a book, make notes. Once you have done that, edit para by para for spelling mistakes, grammar, sentence framing, facts and readability and then move on. Once you are done with all the paras read to see if the flow of the piece makes sense. In the first edit, resist the urge to change everything. Correct obvious mistakes. Then check each line one by one. Rewrite long, winding sentences, check if subjects and verbs agree.

For eg: Does the sentence convey what it is meant to? Use active verbs more than passive ones as far as possible. Check paragraphs or sections, does one flow into the next logically? Is there a sense of continuity? Is one para too long and one far too brief?

In my experience, I have found that sometimes, reading your piece out loud helps you figure out whether all is well with it. Run a computer spell check but do not depend on it entirely. Make sure you have the correct names of people and their designation, correct spellings of places etc.Then put it aside for a while. Come back for the final round of editing, spell checking etc before you send it off or post it online.

Remove emphasis unless you really mean it. Avoid words like ‘very’ and exclamation marks. This is one good editing tip that I have followed over the years.

When you write something yourself, it’s easy to overlook errors. But the second set of eyes can help. if that is not possible, train yourself to be a better editor by helping others edit their work. This practice will prove useful and hone your skills as an editor and writer. Ask someone you know and trust to go through your writing. Once you practice this a few times, you will know your weak spots – are you weak at spelling, at grammar, at sentence structure and fact checking? Re-read your piece keeping your reader in mind and then edit it. Double check the beginning and the conclusion.

“Sometimes it helps to read copy backwards, sentence by sentence. The reasoning for this is that it breaks the flow, so that you pay more attention to the words rather than the ideas,” says James Glen Stovall, journalist and professor of journalism as well as the author of several books on journalism.

Look for patterns in errors and try to correct them.   A common mistake we make is with it’s and its, for example. I personally have ruthlessly cut out entire paragraphs of a reporter’s piece on an election rally which describes the moon, the sky and the weather in the first para itself! He was simply trying to give this piece a ‘classic literature feel’ perhaps which simply won’t do for a hard news article in a newspaper.

Some of the finest journalists in the world submit ‘clean’ copy. This means that their article is hardly ever edited or cut or rewritten. This speaks volumes for their professionalism and editing and writing skills and style. Any writer worth their name would rather edit and rewrite their own copy before submitting it to the editor to get it changed by the Desk.

Careful editing is needed to make your piece fair and balanced. Make sure you don’t appear to be taking sides. I have followed this advice myself for over 20 years that I have been in the field of writing and reporting news and views.

Keep a dictionary and thesaurus next to you at all times. it really helps to refer to it often. Even well-experienced scribes would not hesitate to use them. A little humility goes a long way. I hate getting people’s names wrong so would never hesitate to ask for their visiting card or request them to spell it out for me slowly.

Get used to rewriting, revising, editing. It will take you far!

A book I’d recommend: Contemporary Editing by Cecilia Friend, Don Challenger and Katherine C McAdams

Other books on Editing,

Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies Suzanne Gila

Editing Made Easy – Simple Rules for Effective Writing Bruce Kaplan

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