13 Jul The Sounding Board
Writing is arguably one of the most important skills a public relations professional should possess. Even more important than writing though? Editing.
In today’s 24-hour news cycle, reporters are often rushing to get stories out the door as quickly as possible – and with that, thorough editing and proofreading is occasionally overlooked and seeing typos online has become commonplace.
The toughest aspect of editing it seems, is no matter how many times you personally go through a document – mistakes are often found later in the process. It’s easy to miss a typo or grammatical edit because you know the material so well that you are reading what you believe is there. Nothing is more frustrating then after internal, external and legal edits, a PR wire service still is able to find a mistake when it is uploaded.
And even if the content is in place, the best writing and storylines can be easily overlooked if there is a glaring error that makes the content seemed rushed regardless of how much time was put into it.
To avoid these mistakes and get your content in the best shape as possible before even the first round of outside edits, here are three tips to run through after finishing a draft.
Get some distance: It’s hard to edit something that you have just finished writing – it’s too familiar at that point and errors are more easily missed. If time allows it, put a bit of time and space between you and the document. Focus on a different task for a few hours, or even better, a day. When you return to the document you will have fresh eyes that won’t be as connected to the writing and will be a bit more unbiased to the content.
Read it out loud: Reading a document out loud helps you focus on each word as opposed to your mind skipping over it and seeing what it wants to see. Jonathan is always mumbling to himself next to me, reading over his work. Reading out loud helps with sentence structure and makes it clear when flowing transitions are missing or awkward. I tend to get repetitive at times in my writing and reading out loud helps me noticing if I have said something similar a few lines or paragraphs before.
From a proofreading perspective, reading out loud makes it much more obvious to spot a missing comma or a run on sentence.
Content first, proofread second: After you have taken some time away and are reading out loud, focus first on the content of the document. Have you done what the assignment requires and delivered on any promises that an abstract makes? Is the message clear and concise, with key points that could be easily extracted by the reader? As you are reading it over, be sure that your supporting points clearly reflect and support the overall goal of the document. Making a outline after the document is written can help with this, as you have to pick out the points that prove your argument – forcing you to make sure those points are there.
Once the heavy lifting of the content is done, the nitty-gritty proofreading can begin. Knowing that the key themes and supporting points are in place, you can now focus on grammar and sentence structure. Spell check helps a lot with this aspect, but is not a replacement. Spell checks should be used to help clean it up, but never as the sole source. Focus on looking at each sentence individually to make sure the punctuation is correct and no homonyms are being used.
Bonus tip: Cut, cut, cut. Over writing and rambling can be the kiss of death for an article. If you can say the message in 20 words, don’t use 50. Go through your document with a fine toothcomb and slash everything that is not absolutely necessary. This can be particularly hard if you have a word count to go by, but try to write without checking the word count at all. It will help you focus on the argument and not the number of words.
These are rules I try to live by when it comes to my own writing, what are your top editing guidelines for getting documents in tip-top shape?