Edit yourself. It’s cheaper and it makes you smarter.

You wrote something. It’s not the best it can be. You could hire an editor. Or you could fix it yourself.

Sure, if you can’t really figure out what you’re saying, you might need outside help. But before you do, try these tricks:

  1. Make sentences shorter. Find sentences of more than 20 words. Break them up. If the reader reads a sentence, they’ll read the next one. Better to have two or three connected sentences than one interminable one.
  2. Fix passive voice. Your word processor highlights it. Now ask “who is actually doing what here?” Rewrite.
  3. Put the bullets in order. If you have a list, is it in the order you thought of the items in? Rearrange chronologically, or so it tells a story, or with the most important points first.
  4. Delete exclamation points. If you have five, reduce them to one. Then eliminate that one, and you’re done.
  5. Put the word “you” into a few places. What do you want people to do? Tell them to do it. As in point 4 above.
  6. Delete meaningless intensifiers. Find and delete all the instances of very, highly, deeply, and other weaselly intensifiers.
  7. Rewrite the title. The one you thought of when you started writing the piece is probably not the best one. What’s a better title?
  8. Cut scare quotes. You don’t need to tell people to have a better “feel” for their writing or to keep going until they’re “comfortable.” Unless it’s a direct quotation, you can probably drop the scare quotes.

The best part about all of these? You can do them yourself. You don’t need an editor. (And if you have an editor, they can spend their time on content and clarity instead of this stuff you could have fixed yourself.)

If you follow these steps, you’ll train yourself to write better. Next time, alarms bells will go off when you write passive voice, “deeply,” long sentences, randomly ordered bullets, or exclamation points. You’ll internalize the lessons. And your writing will be smoother.

4 responses to “Edit yourself. It’s cheaper and it makes you smarter.

  1. Makes sense, except for the one about passive voice. You definitely should look at sentences in the passive voice and re-phrase many of them. But you shouldn’t eliminate every instance of passive voice. The passive voice has great utility and is another tool for the writer. Maybe you don’t know the actor; maybe the actor isn’t important. e.g., “My car was stolen!” Don’t know who stole it and don’t care. The police might care, but I don’t. Sometimes you need to avoid specifying who did something — “Mistakes were made, and need to be fixed.” Sometimes the subject is complex and you’ll get lost before you get to the predicate. Sometimes you just need the passive voice to add a little variety. The passive voice is like salt: a little goes a long way; too much wiil kill you, but you need a little bit in the mix.

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