Editing and proofreading: helping your document climb that last hill

by / Thursday, 01 June 2017 / Published in Blog
editing and proofreading

It’s so tempting, once you finish what you feel is the definitive draft of your document, to “hit the button” and publish it to the world. But giving in to that temptation, skipping the all-important step of an external edit and proofread, is a guaranteed route to trouble.

Back when Deirdre and I worked with a team of other journalists on the Irish IT newswire ElectricNews.net, our in-house rule was this: no matter how well you know a subject, another pair of eyes must sub edit your story before it goes live. For more than a decade, we were writing constantly about the business of IT, but we were not tempted to publish anything we’d written unless someone else had checked it, looking for opportunities to improve impact and clarity.

Even the most seasoned expert, writing on their subject of expertise, can benefit from external editing and proofreading, which is guaranteed to help highlight issues like the following:

  • Unintended nuances of meaning, such as brusqueness, sarcasm or humour
  • Glaring errors in peripheral elements like graphics or section titles
  • Common errors in spelling, punctuation and word choice (its/it’s, their/they’re and your/you’re are all too easy to confuse)
  • Lack of clarity in seminal points (this is vital, especially in a white paper)
  • Stilted or cold language (often used by those who are keen to sound professional and whose writing comes across as unfeeling)
  • Unnecessary capital letters in the middle of sentences
  • And my old favourite, writing company as a plural (“…the company have launched their…”)

Just up the hill and you’re done

Recently I took photos during our local PTA “Fun Run” (two words that running-phobics like myself cannot use together in a sentence). I stood with two race stewards at the bottom of a particularly cruel final hill, just a few meters before the finish line of the 10-kilometre course.

One of the stewards greeted the runners with encouragement and smiles. “You’re doing great!” she called as they stumbled past, red-faced. “Just up the hill and you’re done!”

This hill up to the school playground is steep even on a good day, and the hateful looks from runners told me how stunned most of them were that this little “gotcha” had been built into the course so close to the end.

Errors in spelling, logic or meaning are like the Fun Run’s final, cruel hill: you’ve laboured so hard to get your document finished, but these little “gotchas” can trip you in the final meters of the race.

That’s the case even if you’re a great writer blogging about your area of expertise. One of our clients used to send us every blog post before she published it. She knew her topic (recruitment) inside out, but she was looking to make good blogs even better with a final, outside edit; she also appreciated our help in brainstorming the picture ideas that helped give her posts a boost when sharing via social media (“picturing” your blog is the second of my three tips of highly effective blogging).

What if your document is perfect?

Maybe your document is perfect: if you ask us to do some final editing, we certainly won’t change things just for the sake of putting our fingerprints on it. Clear, convincing writing doesn’t need improvement. But it’s unusual to find perfection on a page; in fact, the role of any editor (as a novelist told me once) is to help the writer see what is actually on the page, which may not be what the writer intended at all.

Years ago I was editing a colleague’s article: it was a review of an extensive website all about babies and parenting. In his efforts to explain the great scope and depth of the site, he described it as a “giant baby website,” until I pointed out how small that target market probably was. He laughed and changed it.

What’s on your page? Is it what you thought you wrote, or has anything unintended crept in? For more information on our editing and proofreading services, call Sheila on +44 207 993 4563 or Deirdre on +353 21 234 8474.

Image by Bods on Flickr

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