I spent most of my college career studying grammar, sentence structure, and verb tense. The AP Stylebook was my bible, and Merriam-Webster was my best friend, but here’s a secret that I wish my professors told me: Every industry needs a writer.
My collegiate days were spent thinking that newspapers were a dying art, and that I would be unemployed forever. Let’s face it though: In literature, they’re called authors. In media, they’re reporters or journalists. In marketing, they’re content creators. But call a spade, a spade (or a writer, a writer) – everyone needs someone who’s good with the written word.
And you know what’s better than being a syntactical master? Also being a redline master. Here are a few of Illumine8’s tried-and-true tips to being the best wordsmith and copyeditor ever:
Read your work backward. Since your eyes are so used to glancing over your content, try reading each sentence from the end to the beginning, or from right to left. This is a great practice for catching any quick grammatical errors like a missing apostrophe or the wrong form of ‘their,’ ‘there,’ or ‘they’re.’ (Cue the spine shivers.)
Reading your writing backwards frees your brain from trying to make meaning (seeing words in a sentence as an interconnected unit) so it can see each word in isolation, providing a clearer lens through which to catch mistakes. This might be hard to understand, but try it out and the value of reading backward will become clear very quickly. Now, this does not mean to only read your writing backwards. Doing so is just one helpful step in a thorough and complete editing process.
Read aloud. Some write for radio, and others write for digital. Some people write for a live audience, and the last percentage (most likely) writes paper copy. All of these platforms require different styles of writing, and the best way to know what works is to read it aloud.
Think about it: Newscasters and radio show hosts sound different. Journalists and speechwriters don’t sound the same as a tweet or a Facebook status. Harry Potter doesn’t read like Cosmopolitan.* Say it aloud to find your voice, to identify awkward phrases and to get a sense of the pacing of your words. You'll be suprised how different words feel and sound when given a voice. Reading your writing aloud or having someone read your writing out loud is an excellent way to make good writing, great.
Stay consistent with verb tense. Many people write the way that they speak, but to a first-time reader, this can get confusing. Blogs, DIY guides, social media, and other entertaining content are typically in present tense. Articles, white papers, and other educational, researched pieces of content are usually in past tense. Though this rule is flexible, make sure you don’t jump from past to present and back again.
Focus on one problem at a time. If you know that word choice isn’t your strong suit, concentrate on choosing different synonyms from a thesaurus. After that, check for basic grammar and spelling errors, and lastly, look for awkward sentence structure and subject-verb agreement. By focusing on one aspect at a time, you can thoroughly check your work without questioning if you skipped something important. The editing process works differently for every writer and editor. However, the key to strong editing is universally the same: having a focused process and sticking to it.
Double-check facts, numbers, and names. One of my professors took off 25 percent of my total grade if I misspelled a name or place and 50 percent off for a misinterpreted fact or misrepresented quote. Though this practice seems extreme, it taught me to double- and triple-check everything. There’s nothing worse than posting a piece of content, and having someone tell you that they never said that or their name isn’t right.
Get fresh eyes on your work. It can be an editor-in-chief, another writer, or someone who knows absolutely nothing about your content. Where they fall on the spectrum doesn’t matter.
There's a point in the editing process where your eyes will see what they want to see and the process becomes counterproductive. Writers need to let their work go at some point and give it to a trusted editor for new insights. Another set of fresh eyes can check for subject clarity, grammar mechanics and formatting inconsistencies.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Basically, Hemingway is saying writing isn’t easy – and that’s OK.
Like most things, the only way to get better at writing is to keep following your process. Editing and revising your work is as creative a process as the writing itself. Once you understand that editing is a creative act, it becomes much easier to commit to a consistent editing process.
By following these few writing and redlining tips, you’ll be able to crank out (the first draft of) a literary or blog masterpiece in no time.
*Writer’s note: Harry Potter reading like Cosmo would be hysterical.
If you need a helping hand with your content creation or editing process, feel free to contact Illumine8 Marketing & PR today.