In my last post, I spotlighted items to consider when proofreading your own work. This included addressing issues with first person, repeated words, pet words, sentence length, and passive voice. Today, we’ll dive into some practical ways for making it easier to edit your work.
You don’t have to follow a style guide exactly. Of course, these resources are designed as tools to help, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong to choose your own approach. What’s more important is that you have a style that stays the same throughout your written material.
If you’re using an Oxford (or serial) comma in the first chapter, that style should remain the same in every one following, through to the last. Have you decided you only want to spell out numbers one through nine in your book? Purists might squawk but most will deem that fine so long as you stick with it.
If you’re responding with an article to a freelance assignment, follow AP. Many magazines also have their own style guide. This can include items that differ from traditional approaches and/or may not be covered due to the industry specific nature of the content. It’s a good idea to ask if there’s a publication-specific style guide before you submit a story.
Do you choose British spelling for certain words and US traditions for others? That’s OK in most cases, but don’t switch out grey for gray midway through your text.
While this pertains more to fiction, it comes up a lot in non-fiction when authors are protecting the names of clients or making up stories for illustrative purposes. Check to ensure you haven’t changed names. If Suzie is the gal who didn’t have any passwords to joint accounts when her husband died in chapter one, make sure you don’t change her name to Betty in chapter five when you illustrate how you helped her find a solution.
Use idioms & cliches with care
I’m losing the battle on this one, but still caution writers to use idioms sparingly with increasingly international audiences. What’s most important is that you recognize when they’re surfacing in your writing. Many authors don’t. When you fail to realize your word choice is a colloquialism, you won’t know where there’s a likelihood for misunderstanding.
Cliches are overused, by definition. Filling your text with these phrases is lazy writing. Consider, instead, painting a picture with your own words. Reach for effective visual language that helps illustrate your point so that even non-native English speakers can understand.
Proofread your work
It’s amazing how many people fail to read what they wrote before they pass it off to readers. This includes everything from social media posts and email correspondences to blog posts and books. If you can’t take the time to confirm that what you’re sharing makes sense, why should anyone else invest extra time and effort to decipher your message?
If it’s a quick note or online reply, check that your fingers agree with your mind and eyes. It’s not only polite to take a few moments to proofread your message, but also good business sense. Sure, people understand and forgive an occasional typo, but if your email messages require a cypher to understand, that’s not good. That holds true for social media sharing too.
Take a break between writing and editing time
Blog posts, newsletters, promotional messages, and books require set-aside time for a decent review. Give it at least a day if you can before you try to proof something you’re sending out to your list. If it’s a book you’re reviewing, give yourself a few weeks or more between writing and proofing time.
Often the easiest way to do this is to write in batches. You use different parts of your brain to write and edit. Writing is creative. Editing is analytical. That means you’ll be faster and better if you write multiple pieces in the same sitting. Then, block off time for editing several different documents together.
There’s no shame in asking for help
No matter how skilled you view yourself as a writer or editor, it’s easy to miss errors in material you create. Spelling has always been a challenge for me. Ironic, I know. So, don’t feel bad for needing assistance to catch errors.
Before I learned a work-around for my likely learning disability deficit, I’d pay someone to proofread everything I created. This included letters, proposals, marketing copy, and even emails. Of course, spell check now helps a lot, but it misses a lot too.
The great news about engaging the help of a talented editor or proofreader is it becomes a learning and growth experience for you. The more you see suggested edits, the more correct and compelling your writing will become. It’s a wonderful feeling when that document comes back good to go after months of “track changes” remarks.
If you, like me, can appreciate the benefits a good editor can provide, I’ve created an affordable introductory offer to make it easy to get started. Have questions or issues you want to explore? I’m happy to schedule a 1/2 hour free consult so you can determine if we might be a good fit.