The Red Pen Process: How to Edit Your Content
Everyone stands to benefit from a thorough editing process. Whether you’re updating your resume, writing a blog post, or responding to a work email, your output deserves more than a quick “once-over.”
Learning how to edit writing is a necessary step in your content creation process. Most writers and freelancers are their own editors. They often work with limited resources and tight deadlines, leaving little opportunity for external input or revisions. They understand that their work should be flawless and error-free before sending it to a client (even if the client plans to do additional editing).
Editing is important for a multitude of reasons, the most important of which is professionalism. It’s crucial that your reader takes you seriously. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors can signal a lack of knowledge or a carelessness. This can cause your reader to have a neutral or even negative viewpoint of your content and its associated brand.
Poor editing does not gain readers, followers, or customers.
Additionally, editing gives you an opportunity to condense your content so it is more readable, efficient, and blog-worthy. You can revisit your logic and check for clarity. You can identify any missing pieces that need to be addressed.
The editing process is your chance to get as close to perfect as possible. It allows you to show your best writing that reflects well on your and your client’s brand.
How to edit writing: helpful editing tips
Every writer’s process is different. You’ll discover what works best as you continue to gain experience in the writing field. However, the following tips are a great place to start.
1. Don’t edit while you write.
Write, write, write, and don’t stop to edit. This will impede your process and bog you down as you move through a piece. Instead, let your words flow naturally and plan to edit (and re-edit) later. “Writing first, editing second” is the most efficient formula to complete your work.
Avoid the backspace or delete keys during your first draft. Backspacing means you’re editing or rewording as you go along, which can slow you down. When you take the time to correct a sentence or adjust word usage on the first try, you lose your momentum and focus. This can interrupt your writing, causing you to lose inspiration, flow, and productivity.
Keep in mind: a first draft will never be perfect.
Some writers go even further than banning use of the backspace key. They significantly lower their screen brightness or type with their eyes closed so they can get their thoughts down without worrying about grammar or formatting. If you wear glasses, productivity specialist Peggy Duncan recommends removing them as you write to let your brain’s creativity flow without worrying about perfection on the first go.
Don’t let those first draft mistakes get you down. Most of writing is rewriting. The editing process exists so you can blast through a first draft without the pressure of crafting a perfect post, email, or report.
2. Sit on each draft for at least 24 hours.
Waiting is an integral part of learning how to edit writing. If possible, hold off the editing process for at least a day after finishing the first draft. This gives you a chance to step away and come back to your writing with fresh eyes. It enables you to see the piece as the reader will see it.
Furthermore, you’ll feel less emotionally attached to the work. You’ll have fewer reservations about killing your darlings— the process of removing your favorite, but unnecessary, lines from the piece.
3. Think about the big picture.
The first edit should focus on the overall piece as a whole. What is the main purpose of your post? What do you need to cut, add, or rearrange to achieve that purpose? How can you make it more cohesive and understandable? Does your tone remain consistent and appropriate?
Think of this first edit as a macro edit. Here, you’re focused on the big picture—the headers, paragraph length, and key points. Start this edit by assessing your main ideas. Work through each section and summarize the big takeaways. This will help you understand if your piece flows smoothly, your information is presented cohesively, and if each part answers the main question your piece is asking. Plus, your summary could work well as a conclusion for the piece.
Use the second draft as a micro-edit. This is where word selection, grammar fixes, and punctuation edits will come in. Consider tone, flow, diction, syntax, punctuation, and consistency.
4. Read the piece aloud.
Reading your writing aloud helps you understand flow and spot mistakes. You’ll identify which sentences are too long and which words are too repetitive. You’ll also discover typos easier than you would visually.
5. Print out your work and edit on paper.
This might remind you a bit of high school English class, but it’s an effective method. Print out your work, and make edits using a red pen. Your mistakes will stand out and force a stronger second and third draft. Plus, by making manual corrections, you’ll be less likely to repeat the same mistakes in the future. Think of the red pen process as muscle memory for how to edit writing.
6. Proofread multiple times.
Spellcheck alone won’t catch every mistake. It only corrects obvious misspellings and grammar mistakes without regard to context. When you manually proofread, look for the following:
Inconsistencies: Are you using the same spelling and capitalization of a word throughout the entire piece? Choose one form and stick to it. For example, there are variations of “ecommerce”, “eCommerce”, and “e-commerce.” Each is correct, so the one you choose doesn’t matter; what matters is that you stay consistent.
Punctuation: Have you included all commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, and periods? Are you using too many commas? Are you using comma splices?
Spelling: Watch out for homonyms, and ensure you’ve chosen the correct word (i.e. then or than).
Noun/verb agreement: Singular nouns should have singular verbs, and plural nouns should have plural verbs.
Missing words: It’s easy to skip over small articles like “a”, “an”, and “the.” Make sure they’re included.
Diction: Choose words that you’d use in everyday life. Use contractions, as they personalize your language and make it less formal. Write to your audience as you would talk to them.
7. Edit in the same space.
Identify a chair, nook, room, or coffee shop where you can edit your work. Use the same space to complete all your editing work. Ensure it’s not the same space in which you write. Having a physical “editing” space puts you in the mindset that you’ll be editing—rather than writing, watching TV, or playing with your dog.
8. Include a call to action at the end.
Many writers omit conclusions in the writing process, but this is a valuable space for you to wrap up your thoughts and direct the reader’s next action. Decide what you want your reader to do (i.e. download, buy, share, comment, etc.). Actively tell them to do it in the conclusion.
9. Standardize your formatting.
Every writer has different preferences when it comes to formatting. Whichever ones you choose, make sure they’re consistent. This means using the same font type and size as well as bold, italics, or size differences for titles and subheadings. You should also insert any necessary hyperlinks. Sharp formatting will make your work more professional and readable.
Perhaps all of these methods will work for you, or maybe you’ll stumble upon some other approaches that work better. Experiment and define your own editing process.
There are a handful of tools that can aid your editing process. Here are a few that we use at Palm Beach Content Co.:
Grammarly: With Grammarly, you can copy and paste your full text into an online text editor or install it as a browser extension. Grammarly then assesses your writing, flags issues, and offers suggestions and explanations for improvement.
Spellcheck: This built-in review function catches glaring spelling and passive-form issues.
Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway was known for his succinct and poignant prose. Hemingway app helps make your posts short and easy to read. Among other fixes, it helps correct passive voice, makes writing more concise, and minimizes complexity.
Revisit the first piece you ever wrote for your blog or for a client, or a post that you wrote more than a year ago. Edit the post using the tips from this article. What are the results from your final piece? What changes did you make? How do you like how it looks now?