People are in a hurry and, as a result, sometimes steps are left out toward completing a finished, polished written piece – be it a book, news story, report, blog or letter.
Editing, the final polishing of a written piece, is one of those steps that often is dismissed as less important. It is actually a crucial final step to creating a story or article that conveys important information. For lack of editing, many things can happen:
- Embarrassment because of wrong words. In a story included in the newspaper for which I wrote, my use of the phrase “public administrator,” or a variation thereof, had the “L” in public omitted. Uh-oh. With five uses of the word “public,” only one left out that important letter. That one omission was enough to create embarrassment. I’ve since been told that another newspaper had the same five-letter word on the front page of their paper – in a HEADLINE!
- Using spell check will not pick up mistakes such as public without the “l” – since the substitution word is a word. Reread your writing from a distance – of time. Get someone else to review your work. Edit!
- Without editing, the most important information can be buried beneath an avalanche of extraneous material. After you’ve been pouring words on a page, sometimes you just look at what you’ve accomplished and think you’re done. Now that the words are there, you’re finally ready for the important part – giving your words the brilliance, organization and clarity they should have. Edit, eliminate!
- Without editing, your brain will see what you want it to see. You may have words missing. I’m noticing missing words now regularly in books and other materials. If we leave words, (see, I left out “out”), our brain may fill in the missing word, but the message may become distorted. That pulls us out of the spell the write is creating and the magic is lost! If we’ve used a plural verb when we have a singular subject, we may miss the mistake. And many more problems in that vein.
- We can – sometimes hilariously – write something without realizing that we are not conveying what we mean or not expressing a complete thought. For instance, I was surveying what attendees to my child development workshops thought about the session they had just attended. I asked them first: Do you have children and, if so, what are their ages? The next question I posed, thinking I was asking them whether they liked the session they’d just attended, was: Would you like more? (I meant more child development sessions NOT children, but since it was right after the question on their children, that’s what they thought I meant.) The responses to the question included: NO, no way, never, I’ve been neutered, I’ve been spayed. Being precise – editing – reviewing – would have given the answer I was seeking – would they like another child development session? I didn’t, as training director, really care to pry into their child rearing plans! It was really very funny – but I was more careful to say what I meant after that experience.
Clarity – precision – even poetry can come from editing. Rarely have any of even the most successful writers written perfectly on their first draft. Keep going to get the best work of which you are capable. Put it away – overnight, or even a few hours – and you’ll be amazed how editing can polish your piece. Then, if you can, give your major work to an editor who will challenge your writing to be even better.