What is Editing, Exactly?

I recently finished reading Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business. The book felt a bit outdated (the sections on technology were frumpy in a really charming way) but it cemented a few ideas for me worth sharing.

I enjoyed this concise list on what editing actually is. We all know that we should edit the stuff we write, but what does that really mean?

Maybe this will help:

“Nothing you write will be born smooth […]. Edit to scrape off roughness. Edit to:

  • Shorten
  • Sharpen and clarify
  • Simplify
  • Check for accuracy and precision
  • Improve order and logic
  • Make sure nothing is left out
  • Review tone
  • Improve appearance
  • Examine everything from the reader’s point of view”

There, isn’t that nice? It’s a tidy checklist to help you edit your next article (or email, or Github README). It’s nice to have around when you’re asked to review others' writing, too.

I’m always able to write more freely when I know there’s an editing process coming up next. The first pass can just be a brain dump. The second and third passes are cleanup and organization. The last pass is for tightening grammar and double-checking spelling.

The same chapter on editing lists “two simple editing tips”:

  1. Let time elapse between drafts
  2. Solicit the opinion of other people

I can attest to these! Writing—even personal writing—doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Most of the writing I do at work is peer-reviewed, and I can’t emphasize strongly enough the impact this has made on my quality of writing.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t approach my own writing with an impartial eye. Peer review almost always reveals some detail I missed, or shows that some piece of my writing is unclear.

And that point about letting time pass between drafts? That’s dead simple, and just plain good advice. Go to bed, and reread your post tomorrow morning before you click the “Publish” button.

Here’s the book on Amazon. I recommend it!