How to Edit Copy Like a Pro
It’s true that the more you write, the better you get at it. It is equally true, however, that no matter how talented you are, most copy is edited multiple times before it is ever...
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It’s true that the more you write, the better you get at it. It is equally true, however, that no matter how talented you are, most copy is edited multiple times before it is ever published. Even experienced authors, PR pros, bloggers, and journalists rarely write the final product on the first try. What’s more, the best of the best usually have professional editors to help them out.
Obviously, not all of us are fortunate enough to have an expert pair of eyes on our work, but I’ll let you in on a secret: you need only follow some easy tips — included below for your convenience — to tighten up your copy like a Wall Street Journal editor.
Making long sentences shorter is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of copy editing. Long sentences contribute to a lower readability score. Translation? Fewer people can appreciate what you have to say because they’re stuck reading complicated prose. The “Flesch Reading Ease” test recommends sentences with 20 words or fewer. A few long sentences here or there to add variety won’t hurt, but there’s no need for every sentence to be a short story.
There are simply long sentences, and then there are run-on sentences. All run-on sentences should be eliminated. Period. There’s just no reason, except for specific stylistic situations, a writer should use a run-on sentence. The best approach to eliminating a run-on? Try splitting it up. Short of that, you can try to remove some prepositions or just start the sentence from scratch and get it right.
“Really” or “very” are words that should only be used conversationally, not in your writing. They rarely help you get your point across any better. For example, I could have said “words like ‘really’ or ‘very’ are really unnecessary,” but it would not change the point or meaning of the sentence. If you need to emphasize something, there’s often a more descriptive adjective for it. And, because adjectives are either single or hyphenated words, they will not add unnecessary length to your sentences.
Redundancies are surprisingly easy to stumble into because there’s so many of them. There are the obvious ones, like “first and foremost,” “same exact,” “each and every,” and “completely destroyed.” But redundancies come in all shapes and sizes. It is important to look out for the not-so-obvious redundancies that are still all too common, like “careful scrutiny,” “lift/hoist/jump up,” and “proposed plan.” I recommend skimming through ThoughtCo’s list of the most common redundancies before editing.
While industry-specific terminology can sometimes make you look smarter, it can also confuse those who are not in that industry. Assuming you want your copy read (and understood!) by a wide range of people, it’s best to keep it simple. Exceptions to this rule are if you are writing for a specific audience, or if a definition follows the jargon.
Think about it: when you read your copy in your head, you’re just skimming the page. Your mind thinks it already knows you have written the sentence perfectly but I’ve found this is rarely never the case. Almost every time I read my work aloud I find a mistake I didn’t see before. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and actually read every word on the page. Not only will you find more mistakes, but hearing it out loud will help you figure out if it sounds good or needs rewording.
Even with all these tips, I know that writing and editing still won’t be for everyone. Maybe you’re too busy, or maybe you simply just don’t like it. Either way, you can always reach out to the experts at Swyft for more help with your content editing woes.
About Weslie Oeftering: Weslie is a student at The University of Texas at Austin and Swyft’s resident PR and marketing intern. She supports clients with social media, blogging, and tech PR activities. Swyft is a top PR agency in Houston, Austin, Denver, and Antwerp that provides PR services and trade show PR support for tech companies around the world. Some of their services include media relations, content and inbound marketing, website design, CPC campaigns, and marketing automation consulting.