“Hire good writers…they make things easy to understand.”
As you’d expect, we like that quote from 37 Signals. But, arguably, having a good editor is even more important. Getting your ideas down on paper is one thing. Organising those ideas into a clear, coherent, and compelling article, blog or report is quite another.
Often, knowing what to leave out is as important as knowing what to include. As E B White said in his classic (if somewhat prescriptive) writing guide, The Elements of Style:
“The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clearer.”
Shaping and polishing your business communications, as well as proofreading and editing, takes time and thought: but it’s worth it. As Nathaniel Hawthorne put it:
“Easy reading is damned hard writing.”
To help make your life easier, here’s our 7-step guide to effective business editing:
- What’s the relevance? Who is your audience, why should they read what you’ve written and how do you hope they will feel at the end?
- Does it meet your objective? What are you trying to accomplish and how will you measure results? Is it clear to your readers what action you want them to take?
- Look at the big picture. Instead of editing details, look at the piece of writing as a whole – better still, read it aloud. This is where you check for structure, flow and tone of voice. Essentially, ensure the narrative makes sense: is it logical and rational, and does it fit with your brand.
- Look again – and think again. Is the content right for your audience – is it what they want to know? Are you trying to tell them too much (a common mistake) or have you missed out a crucial bit of information?
- Fight the flab. Now start cutting. Focus on removing clichés, clumsy phrasing, and vague assertions. Remember, short, simple words and crisp sentences tend to be more effective. Obscure or pretentious words won’t impress anyone and may well turn people off. But remember, there’s no need to make all your sentences and paragraphs the same length; variety can make a piece more interesting.
- Edit for correctness. This is when you check the grammar, spelling and punctuation ruthlessly. Use your grammar and spell-checker but don’t rely on it, after all: “Money spilling and grimmer chequers see northern wring with these sentence.” Also check any hyperlinks to ensure they work.
- Proofread carefully. Remember: don’t just read your piece on-screen; print it and read it aloud. If possible, ask a colleague to read it too. Your copy should sound natural to a native English speaker. If you can’t print it, try changing the typeface on screen. Sometimes just looking at your words in a different font will help you spot mistakes. Double-check for logic, flow, emphasis, tone, and computer as well as human errors.
Now post with confidence.
An Organised Mind
“Good writing indicates an organised mind capable of arranging information systematically and helping (not making) other people understand things. It spills over into code, personal communications, instant messaging, and even such ideas as professionalism and reliability.”
– Dustin J. Mitchell, developer (from Signal vs. Noise)
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Thank you for reading
This post is part of an occasional series on business, social media and communications. If you found it interesting or useful, please share it with others.
Huw and Wendy