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17 Smart Editing Techniques

Brian Austin
Brian Austin Authors

A document can be a complex "animal." There can be "a lot going on" in the thought processes that go to form your story, article, report, web page, presentation, or other document. A considerable amount of time and effort can be invested in creating the finished version. So how can we help prevent embarrassing mistakes from getting through to publication?

Even with access to wonderful tools like computers and tablet devices, that we may have available to help make the task easier, we can still - easily - make simple yet embarrassing mistakes - sometimes repeatedly!

Yet, as writers and web publishers, we're expected to be "above doubt" and perfect in the craft we have chosen. Even though we know we're only human like anyone else, once the spotlight falls on our shoulders, society judges us on what we do and don't do! So we try harder.

Key tip: today, sophisticated search engines can "measure" spelling, grammar and even contextual mistakes that we may make within web pages. Any resulting rating assigned to a page can affect ranking of web pages. Yet another reason why those who choose to perfect how to edit well can benefit in a variety of ways.

For some folks - myself included - writing is essentially a thought transfer process. The tools with which we use to transcribe our thoughts, can, perhaps actually hinder the writing process!

How so? Sometimes, the currents word "streams" can flow so fast that even the keyboard may not be sufficiently responsive to capture our initial thought stream quickly enough; we fear losing the idea or concept forever.

Such events have happened to me repeatedly. Frustratingly, I have lost material in this way. Though sometimes, it resurfaces too. Perhaps stronger ideas find a way through. 

Nevertheless, even words, grammar, spelling and writing conventions, can also sometimes just interfere with the formation of an idea or creation of a thought stream.

Yet we must deal with the mundane and appreciate that routine building blocks when put together as a whole, can indeed create an impressive finished product. So I freely admit, I'm particularly prone to this "affliction".

So ho help minimize errors, we need a great plan, a list of guidelines or a checklist to which we can refer. Therefore consider the following steps:

  • First and foremost, understand that apart from making basic checks, as the "source" writer, you're probably the worst possible choice to check your own work! Therefore, one remedy if possible, at least once during your checking / editing process, is to ask someone else to look over your draft in detail. Why bring in another party? When you've been working on a document for some time, you can become "too close" to your work, in such a way that you can check for a type of error several times, even if you're using a disciplined, structured method, yet still miss a glaring mistake. Whereas, someone with a fresh perspective and only average concentration may detect the same error in seconds within the first check loop.
  • Make a list of all the different types of editing checks you want to perform. Example: spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, typography, logical flow, does the document make sense, and so on. Then, to minimize re-work, arrange your list into an order that makes sense and save as a file on your computer for next time.
  • When checking final drafts, don't check your work on a computer screen. Instead, consider printing a draft copy and check your work from your printed copy, ideally using strong, natural lighting. Update note: at the time of writing, some users have discovered that the increased high resolution quality "Retina display" found in the latest Apple tablet and Mac computers is so good as to remove the need to print pages.
  • Note that when we attempt to spell-check directly on a PC, we can simply overlook errors. One study from Customer Service Advantage suggests that a computer-based spell-check can fail to spot 7 out of 10 mistakes. Therefore, after running a PC spell-check and correcting any identified faults, you may still prefer to print a copy of your publication. Then, working backwards, carefully examine your printed copy manually. Look at each word starting with the last word of your publication and ending with the first word. Why? When we may have already scanned a document several times, we can become over familiar with the document therefore start to skip words. The "reverse check" technique however forces us to look afresh at each word and therefore help spot any remaining errors that may have slipped through.
  • Mark errors and corrections in a different color to that of your printed text color and paper color.
  • As you refer to your checklist, check only for only one type of error at a time while working through your document steadily. Example: while checking for spelling errors, resist the urge to look for and correct any punctuation errors - you can check punctuation in a later cycle. Why? You can focus on one aspect at a time.
  • Don't even consider evaluating your work when you're tired or tense. If you're not alert and responsive, any efforts you make can be wasted.
  • Ideally, if you sleep at night, start checking your document early in the morning (or vice versa if you sleep during the day time). Why: you're most likely to be more alert after you're rested.
  • Find a quiet area to reduce distractions.
  • Tell other members or your family or work colleagues what you're doing and explain why you're seeking not to be interrupted.
  • If using a computer, regularly look away from your work and ideally focus on a distant object. Why: to help reduce eyestrain and give your eyes contrasting focal patterns.
  • Every hour, take at least two breaks away from the document you're checking. Purposely move away from your desk or computer and do something else to provide an activity contrast. Ideally, take a 10-minute walk outside.
  • Keep backups. Before making the latest changes and corrections to your electronic copy that you or your editing partner have identified on your printed copy, make sure you have at least two recent back-up copies of the original file. Why: simple insurance.
  • If you're working on web page content and you have a website design that easily allows text size to be increased, set the text size to maximum and scan your web page again. Why? Larger text size can help you spot errors more easily. We provide user text size change buttons here on InternetTIPS.com. You can also change text size using your web browser text size adjustment commands.
  • If you use a web Content Management System like Joomla, WordPress, or Drupal to create web pages, when working with your WYSIWYG editor, you can use the same technique as outlined above: certainly while evaluating your web page, increase the size of text using your web browser command. The text size displayed in your WYSIWYG editor will then also increase in size to allow for more accurate examination of the page. If you're using a static website blog creator like Publii, you may find writing is easier, better, allowing you to spot any errors more easily, reliably.
  • During your checking process, at times to be determined by you, perhaps do something ridiculous - just for fun. Why? Checking the basics is not the most life-affirming way to spend a morning. So you can benefit from contrast and humor. Why not "let off steam"- it's a writer's choice to celebrate being illogical if the occasion demands.
  • When all of your editing checks are complete, give yourself a special reward for performing such a boring yet essential series of tasks with focus and commitment. If you've found many errors, understand that this outcome is a big plus and not something over which to chastise or mentally beat yourself up about.