Six Tips For Editing Like A Pro

You don’t have to be a grammar nazi or word nerd to know how to edit. I’ve been editing content for years now, beginning in high school when my classmates discovered I actually understood what a present participle was (you probably do, too, you just didn’t know the proper name). Now I’m a professional editor, and while I still make mistakes in my own writing (we all do), I’ve figured out a few easy ways anyone can improve his or her editing abilities.

By the way, you should edit everything you communicate — texts, emails, papers, presentations, proposals… you write it, you edit it.

Check out these seven quick edits to make you (or the copy you’re editing) sound more professional:

1. Eliminate there is/are. These words slow down your copy and can usually be easily fixed by switching a few words around.

For example, you write: “There is minimal effort required to perform this exercise.”

Rewrite as “Minimal effort is required to perform this exercise.”

2. Conduct a “which” hunt. I learned about this editing concept at a journalism conference I attended ten years ago. It stuck with me. While editing, seek out instances of “which” to determine if you’ve used the word correctly. Correct use of the word comes down to whether the information that follows is essential to the sentence or not. People misuse “which” and “that” all the time. Often, the edit is as simple as removing a comma or swapping the words.  

For example, you write: “Matt completed an excellent analysis which will provide the foundation for our report on the company.”

If the fact that the analysis provides the foundation for a report is essential to the meaning of the sentence, you should write it as:

“Matt completed an excellent analysis that will provide the foundation for our report on the company.”

If it’s not essential information, you would write:

“Matt completed an excellent analysis, which will provide the foundation for our report on the company.”

By writing the sentence this way, you indicate to your reader that the main point of the sentence is completing the analysis and the “which” phrase following is simply additional information to note.

Note: Be careful not to overuse “that” in your writing. In many cases, you can eliminate the word and your sentence will still make sense.

3. Don’t leave your noun hanging. Dangling or misplaced modifiers sounds like something only your high school English teacher would care about. That may be the case, but you still need to know what it is and why it reduces the credibility of what you write. Modifying phrases are great for providing color and description for a sentence, but you need to be aware of the location of the noun you are modifying with your phrase.

For example, you write: “After studying the information for weeks, it was obvious I was ready to take the test.”

Your modifying phrase is “after studying the information for weeks,” but who is doing the studying? The way you’ve written this sentence indicates that “it” did the studying, but you actually meant “I” did the studying.

The rewritten sentence could be: “After studying the information for weeks, I was obviously ready to take the test.”

4. Watch out for “who” versus “that. Just think of this way: if the noun refers to something with a heartbeat, use “who”. If you’re referring to an inanimate object, use “that”.

For example: “The people who removed the toilet paper from the bathrooms are in serious trouble. The facilities that everyone uses will not be available until they have been caught.”

5. Check your “-ing” words. Many times, a present participle indicates an opportunity to make the phrase stronger by using a different word.

For example, you write: “I will be giving him an option to take tomorrow off” or “She will be speaking at 11 a.m. at the conference.”

However, a tighter, less passive version could read: “I will give him an option to take tomorrow off” or “She will speak at 11 a.m. at the conference.” The first versions aren’t necessarily incorrect, but the second ones are stronger.

6. Delete “in order to”. No questions. You don’t need those words. If you’re going to edit your copy in order to make it better, you’re going to edit your copy to make it better. Period.

Many editing tips exist; you simply need to look for them if you want to improve your writing. This list merely scratches the surface, but if you’re watching out for these words and phrases, you’re on your way to editing like a pro.

What are your best editing suggestions?

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