Editing & Revising Tips

Writers always need encouragement. But so do the rest of us. Today I'm hosting Sandra Miller. As you can see by her bio at the end, she's a short story writer and journalist and she's offering tips for editing and revising. I'm in the revision stage right now for my novel so these are great. But these tips are great if you're posting on Facebook, writing to a friend or checking over your sophomore's latest essay. Some, like "Measure twice, cut once" is a tip for good living. So is not guessing about a fact or two. For example, I've been wondering what a "firkin" is. It's an item that my character had to buy back when all her household effects were sold in 1854. It's listed as part of a probate record. Not in the dictionary...I found it in a book about Pacific Northwest Cheese A History by Tami Parr(OSU Press). A firkin is a small wooden barrel for transporting cheese. Very cool to discover as it affirms what I'd imagined...that Letitia (my character) made cheese. She must have if she had firkins. Looking for the answer fits in to Sandra's tip "Editing Doesn't Mean Guessing." I hope you enjoy Sandra Miller's contribution to Editing and Revising in your writing...and life!

Editing and Revising Tips

When someone asks you to edit or review a document, you may think that the job will be a piece of cake… until you start reading it and find yourself in a situation of not knowing what to change and what to leave intact. Developing some editing and revising skills can be very useful. Maybe your boss will ask you to finish or edit a report started by one of your colleagues, or his own work that he doesn’t have the time to finish. This is a challenging task because you can leave the other person unhappy with the changes you make. If you implement the tips from this article and practice your editing skills, it will be much easier for you to stand up to the challenge as a real professional. 


Measure twice, cut once!

I’m sure you’ve heard of this old adage. It can be implemented in any activity in life, and it’s very useful from the editing aspect. You should plan the changes before you make them, otherwise you will end up changing too much in the document. The most important thing you should do is to read the manuscript before you start editing it. This way, you will identify the voice and tone of the writer, and you will learn something about the subject of the document. After that, you will be able to make the necessary changes without disturbing the logical flow of the text.

Before you start editing, you should ask the writer what he expects you to do. Maybe he is only asking for proofreading, so you should just check if everything is spelled properly; but maybe he wants you to check the facts and make sure that all information provided in the document is correct. 

Be careful with homonyms!

Homonyms are among the most common errors in documents. Typos are easily detected by the Spelling and Grammar check tool, but homonyms usually fall through the cracks. For example, the writer may have used ‘bad bugs’ instead of ‘bed bugs’. If you are a diligent editor, you will easily spot and correct these errors. 

About style corrections

Style corrections are where the editing job gets difficult. For example, the Associated Press stylebook prefers writing email instead of e-mail, but the New York Times has its own style guide that still prefers writing e-mail. These types of corrections are a matter of style choice. You should ask the writer of the document if they have a preferred style guide that is used at their company or in their industry. If the writer leaves the decision of style on you, then you can use the version you prefer, but be careful to make it consistent throughout the entire document. 

Editing doesn’t mean guessing

Sometimes you may come across obvious errors, but you cannot repair those parts of the document without digging for some more information. For instance, let’s say that your employer has asked you to work on a quarterly report and provides you with figures that indicate strong sales for the new toothpaste in February, but you are more than sure that the toothpaste didn’t hit the market until April. You are sure that there is an obvious mistake and you mustn’t leave it unedited, because wrong information would be embarrassing for your company and your boss.

The proper correction of such mistakes can be figured out according to the context of the document. However, you mustn’t make guesses; you need to be absolutely sure that your editing is correct. The best way to deal this kind of situation is to ask the writer what the right information is. 

Your preference doesn’t come first!

As an editor, you will frequently find yourself wanting to change the entire document and make it “better” according to your preference. You should understand that your job is to make sure the information is correct (if the writer asks for that), and clean up the messy grammar and spelling errors. Your job doesn’t include changing the meaning of the writer’s sentences.
You should know what to leave alone and what to change. Let’s take the example with your boss again: if he is particularly proud of his report writing skills, you would offend him by making unnecessary changes.

The writer’s voice and tone should always be left intact. You should be able to defend any change you make within the document. “I preferred it this way” would be an inappropriate answer if the writer asks you “Why did you change this?”

Sandra Miller is freelance short story author and graduate of Literature from the NYU, where she wrote for the students journal and tutored students in writing. She recommends authors use professional editing services Help.Plagtracker. Now she is writing her first YA novel.

Photo credit of Scissors & Measuring tape: Photo credit: bookgrl / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND