7 Editing Rules to polish your writing
- Make every word and sentence count
Does every word and sentence of your text advance your idea/plot or deepen the understanding of the subject or character? If it doesn’t, remove it. Replace heavy jargon with simple words. Eliminate words that are repetitive or convey the same meaning as another word. Ask the bigger question — What is this about? What am I trying to say? What is the deeper meaning here?
2. Remove qualifiers
We are used to writing as we speak, which works well to make you sound personable. But the qualifiers we tend to use in oral communication end up trivializing and weakening your content. They can even invalidate it. So think twice before using the below:
Eliminate or use sparingly:
- You know
- Words ending with ‘ly’
- Just, a bit
- I think
- in my opinion
- actually, basically, virtually, currently, and other redundant adverbs
- very, really
- due to the fact that
- in order to
- start to
- at the present time.
- Usually, only
3. Write in active voice
An active voice is an assertive voice. Passive voice sounds dull and weak. Replace any weak adverbs with strong verbs and nouns. Be vivid in your descriptions and confident in your expression.
“The entire house was cleaned by Shelby.” Passive
“Shelby cleaned the entire house.” Active
“The boy ran very quickly up the hill.” Weak.
“The boy shot up the hill.” Much better.
4. Evaluate your content structure — As a general rule, communication in any form works well with a beginning, middle, and end — following a natural flow as it moves from one key point to the next. Elements like headlines, sub-headlines, introduction, bullet points, communicating one idea per paragraph, and ending it all with a conclusion making it easier for the reader to process and remember your message takeaways.
5. Punctuation and grammar — The right punctuation can steer your reader in the right direction by introducing a pause or signaling the end of thought. On the other hand, confusing syntax, misplaced punctuation, and errors can distort or invalidate the main idea.
6. Spelling & grammar checks — Grammarly is a good option for quickly checking grammatical errors, typos, and suggesting corrections. It comes as a free online text editor and a free browser extension for Chrome and Safari. If you want to be doubly sure, then the paid version of Grammarly goes one step higher to include more sophisticated grammar and even plagiarism checks.
7. Read it aloud loudly — Language like music has a certain cadence. Our mind is attracted to the sounds the words make, the rhythms set in flow with a certain combination of words, the emotion unleashed by a juicy word. You can check the rhythm of your prose by listening to it aloud. With practice, you will pick our pick out parts that sound jarring, confusing, or awkward, or feeble words that weaken or slow the pace of thought. Grammatical errors will be easier to spot as well.
The final test is to evaluate if the picture in your mind is translated as clearly as it can be on the page.