Sarah Marriott is a highly-experienced trainer and former-journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors. Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English..
Professional organisations need to ensure that all communications going into the public domain are clear, correct and accurate. No-one is impressed when they see mistakes, waffle or repetition in reports, letters, emails or web content.
So what strategies can help you to edit more effectively?
Take a break before editing your own work
Editing your own writing can be difficult because you’re so close to it. There’s a tendency to see what you set out to write – instead of what you actually wrote. Taking a break between writing and editing can help you to read with a fresh eye.
You should try to wait at least a couple of days for anything going out to large numbers of people or anything that is long, complex, important or sensitive. But for an everyday email, you could wait just a couple of minutes.
Try to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n
Many of us skim and scan instead of reading – but editors need to examine every word, assess every paragraph and inspect every punctuation mark.
Reading aloud help you to slow down. This prevents you from skipping any words, and also helps you to check the flow and readability of your writing. If it sounds ‘clunky’ you need to fix it!
Print it out
It’s easier to spot errors on paper. But first, edit on screen because it’s easier to move, add or rewrite text on a soft copy. Then, when you’re satisfied that everything is in the right place, print it out.
Write key messages in the margin
On paper, the first step is to check that you have the right content in the best position. Write the key messages in the margin (e.g. explain project delay/list possible solutions). This helps you to check you have all the information you need (with no unnecessary repetition) in the best order for your intended readers.
Ask another person to read it
If you ask a colleague to read, give them details of your intended audience and objectives so they can understand the context.
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.