Ever been in this situation? You’ve finished a story, but you’ve read over it so much that you can barely stand to look at it one more time, and now it’s time to make final edits. Or a contributor has submitted a piece but you don’t even know where to begin.
First of all, in either case, you don’t have to tackle everything at once. An inverted pyramid can help you make the most effective use of your time — prioritizing the high-level, high-impact material first keeps you from getting lost in the weeds.
Try editing in this order to make the most effective use of your time, effort, and brain power:
Topic and Tone
Does your reader care about the topic?
Is this the way they would speak about it and understand it?
Look for logical hierarchy: are you taking your reader step by step?
Are there any jumps in logic or breaks in flow?
Make sure the transitions are smooth. Write additional transitions if necessary.
Format to improve readability: bold important body copy, add subheads, create bulleted lists, add breaks in copy.
Now that you’ve restructured, get rid of sentences that may say the same thing.
Look for sentences that aren’t doing enough work, doing too much work, and vary your sentence length to help keep the reader’s attention.
If you feel exhausted after reading a sentence, it’s probably too long.
Murder your darlings — You absolutely love the way a sentence sounds… but if you took it out, would your piece be stronger? If your copy doesn’t serve a purpose, get rid of it.
Use the free Hemingway App to test copy for readability.
Using words your reader wouldn’t use makes you sound out of touch. Look for danger words: words that your readers don’t understand the way that you do — they probably don’t mean anything to them. (Examples include world-class, optimized, revolutionary)
Replace danger words with something more specific that makes sense to your audience.
How do you figure out what those specific words are? See what current students/alumni have said. What have they told you in person or wrote about? What are the things they can’t stop talking about? Key in on those words and use them.
No time to edit?
Spend time where your readers will spend the most time (like headline, subheads, calls to actions)
Having a hard time editing?
Here are a few tips Lianna Patch recommends to help:
- Edit later in the day
- Take time away from the copy
- Read it out loud (when reading aloud sometimes you can hear missing words that your eyes gloss over)
- Blow it up (change text size, font size — better for spotting typos)
- Print it out
- Eat something (seriously hunger can be very distracting — your brain needs fuel)
This post was based on Lianna Patch’s presentation on “How to Edit Your (Own) Copy for Effectiveness” at the 2017 Call to Action Conference in Vancouver.