There are two foundational steps to looking like a pro with your written copy, whether we’re talking about a professional article, a business blog post, a non-fiction book or a novel manuscript.
Have at least a decent understanding of grammar.
Be willing to edit your work.
Since I’ll admit that I don’t have a good enough grasp of grammar to teach you a lesson on what an antecedent is or to recite the mind-numbing lists of tenses (and just for the record, there’s more than past, present and future in the English language)… and since I’m really hoping you already know what a noun, verb and pronoun are, let’s just skip to the editing part.
According to Dictionary.com, the third definition of "edit" – and the one we’re referring to for the purpose of this blog post – is “to revise or correct, as [in] a manuscript.”
That certainly seems simple enough on the surface. I mean, you have a piece of written copy, you look it over, and you change whatever needs to be changed.
Except that what needs to be changed might be a lot. Here’s just a short list of what Innovative Editing looks for in any professional piece or creative manuscript that comes across its desk:
Flow – Are the sentences and paragraphs naturally tied together structurally and logically so that readers aren’t taken aback when one ends and the next one begins?
Audience Comprehension/Suitability – Does the displayed language fit with the intended audience? Are there too many “big words” or bits of technical jargon clogging up the copy so that readers are going to get frustrated?
Spelling and Grammar – Are they correct and readable?
Logic – Does the piece actually make sense? Does it support what it claims it’s going to support? And does the ending fit with the beginning?
And then there’s copy-specific areas that Innovative Editing focuses on too, depending on the project. For example, if it’s a fiction piece, like a short story or novel, then there’s also going to be a plot, setting details, characters and dialogue, all of which need to be analyzed as well.
Let’s face it. That’s kind of a lot. Plus, the complexities of those changes can be intense.
Some of the editable aspects you’ll find are so small but so off-putting that you just stare at them for minutes on end, going, “There’s something wrong here, but I have no idea what it is.” Other editorial issues might be contained within a single sentence that still manages to complicate the whole entire rest of the copy.
Basically, it can be a mess.
Fortunately, even the messiest editing jobs can, in fact, be edited. You just have to know the tricks of the trade… like the following eight potential ways to truly look like a pro with your written copy.
Editorial Tip #1 – Print It Out
Don’t ask me the science behind this first technique, though I’m sure there is some. But it’s a verifiable fact that staring at your written copy on a computer screen too long can be hazardous to your editing skills.
Maybe it’s the bright lights that make our brains shut off a little bit, or I suppose it could be our automatic over-reliance on spellcheck that sets us up for failure. But one way or the other, we humans blank out to some degree while reviewing online or onscreen information, particularly when it comes to spelling and grammar errors, or even errors of logic.
The solution to this situation is easy enough though. Print it out.
Whether it’s a 257-page novel manuscript or a two-page professional piece, it doesn’t matter. Your eyes will be open much wider to catch what you need to catch.
As a result, you might be shocked at the editorial errors you’re able to find – and clean up.
Editorial Tip #2 – Word by Word
Normally, we read an article, manuscript or any other kind of written copy line by line.
In other words, we read through a whole entire sentence – or at least a whole entire segment of a sentence – before we pause.
But what if we imagined a period after each word and made ourselves stop accordingly?
If that sounds annoying, it actually isn’t that bad. This is a standard editorial trick I’ve done over and over again. And while it definitely does take more time that way, it also definitely catches more mistakes.
One word of advice though…
If you’re a creative writer who has a whole novel or non-fiction manuscript in front of you, don’t bother with this trick. You’ll find yourself mentally glazing over before you get through the first chapter.
This editorial tactic is much better used on copy that’s three pages long or less.
Editorial Tip #2.5 – Read Innovative Editing’s Wednesday Blog Post
Today's blog post is getting a little on the long side. And since studies seriously show that few people read really long informational pieces, I’m officially going to break this post up into two parts.
If you want to know the other editorial tips on how to make your articles, pamphlets, blog posts, ad copy or manuscripts look professional, then make sure to catch “8 Ways to Look Like an Absolute Pro With Your Written Copy – Part 2” on Wednesday.