I edit many emails, web pages and print materials as part of my job – some of them for MRG Foundation, some of them for other grassroots organizations. Effective editing is not only proofing (where we correct spelling/grammar errors). We edit to make sure that the piece has the right voice and content for its intended audience.
No matter how busy you are, you still need to find time and energy for someone to edit things before they go out to your supporters.
Here are three guidelines I use when editing our writing, and I encourage you to employ before you send that email or print newsletter:
1 – Identify your main idea and who you’re writing for
Keep sentences that convey the main idea to your intended audience. Remove everything else.
Once you start writing your first draft, often the most important thing is to keep going. Capture all your ideas down in your first draft, and let it be longer than your finished piece will be.
Then, after taking a break, do some editing. Scan your draft to see where the “main idea” is strongest. Think about your intended reader – what will they get out of this piece of communication? That will help you pick out the central idea to focus on. Remove metaphors that don’t fit the main idea, or ideas that your reader won’t understand (or care about).
Your job when editing is to ensure that there is a clear focus to the piece that your reader can grasp immediately.
2 – Removing sentences you love may hurt in the short term, but it pays off in the long run
Sometimes we get emotionally attached to something we’ve written. That feeling of “but I love that phrase!” is not an indicator that it’s going to help you get your message across. The best questions to ask are, “How well does this support the main idea? Will this be clear to my intended reader?”
If you just can’t bear to let go of a particular sentence or paragraph, don’t delete it forever – put a page break in your document and place the text you’re cutting in this last section. That way, you can still pull that great sentence back in if you need to use it to make a point. But… you probably won’t need it.
3 – Less is more
Consider how long you would want a piece like this to be if you were reading it instead of writing it. When was the last time you read an entire 1,000-word email that arrived in your inbox in the middle of a workday?
Think of editing as a game in which the goal is to say as little as possible, while still saying something unique. Use the word count button! Keep cutting till the piece is as short as possible.
Some specific how-to’s on editing
These two articles aren’tt focused on social justice writing, but include tips like reading your drafts out loud, and on identifying the dreaded “passive voice.” Check them out:
Editing is your friend
Effective editing is tricky to learn, but gets easier the more you do it. Just keep focused on the main idea, be willing to cut text, and keep an eye on your word count. When you look back on your finished piece later, you may find that even you like it better!