The single greatest skill a writer can have is editing. Editing has narrative benefits — shaping a story into a more complete whole — and business benefits — avoiding grammatical and factual mistakes that alienate readers and prompt lawsuits. But it requires a different skill set than writing. It can be challenging to find and correct errors, decide what to remove or change, and know when to send a piece back for further revisions.
There are, however, several practices all editors can adopt in order to edit submissions so that they convey the intended message while not distracting readers with errors.
1. Get Familiar With Guidelines
Before diving into a piece you want to edit, take a few minutes to become familiar with the writer’s guidelines. Guidelines often mention specific points that the post needs to make, as well as topics or stylistic choices to avoid. That’s in addition to directions for citing sources, appropriate tone and point of view. Anything that does not match the instructions should be revised or sent to the original author to revise.
2. Check for Substantive Content
Each word should add to the piece. On the second read-through, editors should move slowly and ask whether each point is relevant and original. Editors should be especially mindful of passages that don’t make sense or require rereads in order to comprehend. They should also mark, change or delete any passages that add nothing of value. Filler content — “fluff” — bores readers and ultimately serves no purpose in the piece.
Watch out especially for these common types of fluff:
3. Fact-Check and Check for Originality
Major claims, statistics and little-known-facts should be backed up by credible sources. On the third read-through, editors should make sure that all claims are sourced and sources should be checked to ensure the claims are correct. In addition, content should be checked against sources and run through a plagiarism checker such as Copyscape to make sure the content is completely original.
4. Do a Final Read-through
At the end of the editing process, use spell check in order to catch spelling errors and typos that might have been missed. Prior to submission, it’s vital to ensure that the spelling and grammar are perfect. Most spell checkers also check basic grammar, so editors should run the content through both the spell check and grammar check before submitting.
When editing, it’s tempting to occasionally skip steps, either because you’re feeling rushed or think it isn’t worth the time. Don’t. These best practices will only prevent errors if used collectively and consistently.