Seven Secrets To Great Editing

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.
Photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.

For some writers, editing is the most excruciating part of the writing process. Yet, it's the most important.

So, what makes good editing? You've done the research. You've got the interviews. You've written the story. Now, it's time for the edit.

UM News Editor Julie Dwyer and UM News Multimedia Joey Butler know a thing or two about editing. We've got a roundup of their top tips to help you perfect your writing.

Don't try to edit as you go. Write it. Put it away. Come back to it.
"Walk away from your writing, let yourself breathe and come back to it," says Butler. "This gives you perspective and allows you to see things you may not have seen in the moment." 

Pay attention to detail. Make sure names are spelled correctly, and make certain dates are correct. "I always double-check EVERYTHING, even if I am confident that I've got it right," says Dwyer. "Sometimes, everything may look exactly right to me, and I think it's correct, but I'll do a double-check it and realize that 'whoops, I was wrong!'"

Dwyer says this is especially important if you are reporting news, saying, "Simple mistakes impact your credibility, and credibility is everything, so you definitely want to get your facts straight."

Let someone else read it.
Sometimes it's hard to edit your own work because you see it as being complete, so letting someone else read it to edit it can help. "If you can run your story by two or three people, do it," says Butler. "Sometimes different people see things that need to be changed or edited down that you never see."

"Even if you don't have a trained writer to lean on, let another person read it," says Dwyer. "Someone who's not fully engrained in the story may find a mistake you glanced over or see something that isn't completely clear."

Be concise, and then cut it!
"Sadly, our attention spans get shorter and shorter all the time," says Butler. "So, write it all down. Use all the details you think you need and then go back to see what you can take out and still tell the story with integrity. Figure out how to get the point across in as few words as possible. If you can tell your story in 500 words, don't use 800."

Read it out loud.
"A lot of times, you will catch something that you may not have caught if you read it out loud," says Dwyer. "Sometimes, on my last time reading through something, I will read it out loud and find something I missed. This also helps with sentence structure. If you stumble on a sentence while reading it aloud, chances are your reader will, too, so that will signal you need a possible rewrite. I think this is a great editing technique that can help you catch little mistakes."

Spell things out, don't use abbreviations or acronyms.
When writing for a local church or organization, you may think it's ok to abbreviate and use acronyms, but Dwyer says this is a mistake. "You never know what your reader's level of knowledge with your church or organization is," says Dwyer. "At United Methodist News, we spell everything out, even using "The United Methodist Church" instead of UMC. Avoid what we call the alphabet soup; just spell it out."

Butler says: "Even if you think you can get away with it and your audience will know what it is, don't do it. It just reads better without all the acronyms and abbreviations."

Make sure research information and facts are attributed.
"If you use research, you have to share where you got the information," says Dwyer. "Make sure people are quoted correctly. If you've pulled any information, you want to make sure to give credit and link to the original information. This is a fairly basic thing, but it's very important. If you are editing a piece and you are missing that, make sure to get it."

There are great resources to use online to help you in the editing process as well. Here are a few that Dwyer and Butler shared:

If you're new to editing, remember this: practice makes perfect. The more you edit, the better you'll get.

And now, happy editing!


*Aaron Crisler is a senior public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications.

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