When I edit any of my writings, I use the 3 Cs. I edit for content, for clarity, and for correction. For projects with short deadlines, I will probably combine all methods into one in order to meet the deadline. This is especially true for journalistic pieces, which demand publishing almost immediately. Otherwise for basic essays that require at least three weeks of effort, at least three revisions are enough to go through the entire editing process. Of course, most of my students wait until the last minute anyway, so I end up having to treat their essay like a journalistic article; forcing me to be slightly more cruel to them. I apologize for that.
Before editing your work
Several ideas come to mind prior to editing, but it all ends with the same milestone: have a completed rough draft! Editing an incomplete article is not only a waste of time, but it often causes “writer’s block,” when a person has no idea what to write. Writer’s block is every author’s nemesis, because it pushes back any deadline or milestone they were supposed to meet. When you’re worrying about editing your work before it’s completed, you lose sight of why you’re writing in the first place. Get the ideas out first. Filter later!
Here is a list of ideas you can do before starting your rough draft. You do not have to do all the suggested elements on this list, but I highly suggest doing things in bold. I will not go into detail explaining all of them, but you can always ask me if you need me to clarify.
- Brainstorm ideas and topics for your writing.
- Free-write all the thoughts you have on paper for 5-10 minutes.
- Research on your topic.
- Make an outline of your article.
- Create charts and graphs of your content’s elements (especially for stories).
- Have annotated notes on your key points and ideas.
- Write your thesis statement or purpose on a sticky note and place it in front of you wherever you write your article.
- Write your rough draft without worrying about citing references.
Once you have gone through these pre-writing processes, complete your rough draft and consider three edits. These are the editing processes in order.
Editing for Content
This is the easiest, yet longest method of editing for any writer. Editing for content essentially boils down to a single question: does my article make sense? In this process, editors (particularly ones who are not the author of this piece) ask a series of questions regarding what the article is talking about. More often than not, these questions aim specifically at elements that need to either be explained or reworded, because content of such detail is either missing or confusing to a reader. You, the author, should read your own article as well; and if you can, read it as if you know nothing of the subject at all. If you or your editors don’t understand your article, your audience sure as hell won’t understand either!
Keep in mind though, editors will not look for the same elements, and many of them will contradict each other. You, the author must judge for yourself what needs to be clarified or explained for the purposes of your own writing.
This process can be completed in as few as 1 complete revision, but can take as many as it possibly can, especially for longer works such as novels or dissertations (I think the longest I’ve heard about had something like 20 revisions, just for content). Editing for content is completed once the author (you) can read the article without asking any of these key questions on missing or confusing content.
Editing for Clarity
This method often complements editing for content, but I do it separately for the sake of keeping myself from writer’s block. Editing for clarity asks whether the content fits logically or necessarily. There are details in many of my own articles that explain perhaps too much to the reader, and is probably the biggest reason my readers don’t bother to read my stuff in complete detail. I have to identify what these elements are (usually filler phrases like “the fact that” or “even though”) and remove them where necessary. Sometimes you want to slow a reader down by throwing in passive verse or filler words, but you should only do this when you have mastered normal writing techniques (and never do them for an academic assignment).
The other element in editing for clarity is to make sure your elements flow logically. You don’t often state your conclusion in the middle of your premises. And if you do, like I just did, you better make it very clear to your readers that this is a point you’re emphasizing (of course, you would be using prepositional phrases rather than bold your content unless you’re blogging).
Another good example you could do in clarity (particularly for stories) is if the nature of your content flows logically. Let’s say I write about an event that happened in the summer. If I then describe another event later down the road in spring, your conclusion is that either I skipped an entire year’s worth of content or I don’t know how the seasons change at all. This content needs to be clarified.
If you do, perchance, change significant details in your editing by clarity phase, you might have to revisit editing by content. Be careful of doing that, because you don’t want to waste time on your article unnecessarily, especially when you have a deadline.
Editing for Correction
Only the daring need apply for this one; but if you’re a decent writer, you should do this step automatically. Simply put, editing for correction is your grammar checker. Many word document software have built-in spelling and grammar checkers nowadays, but they may skip over typos or even ask you to revise something you intentionally left misspelled or incorrect. Do not rely on your word document software’s grammar checker!
Editing for correction is used just to patch up your writing so that it doesn’t violate your language’s standard rules, and should only be done once you are satisfied with the content of your article. Good writers who edit by correction can have this step done in 1 revision; because if everything has already been caught content- and clarity-wise, touching up is all that’s left!
My personal method by which I correct writing is by literally (yes, literally) reading my paper out loud. This, of course, is annoying if you are in an intentionally silent environment, such as a library (where many writers do their writing). By reading my own work out loud, I can catch mistakes if I have trouble reading it.
If you cannot judge your own writing by correction, have someone else read it. By reading your own writing, you already know what you’re looking for and skim over obvious typos or phrases that don’t make sense. If your editor or friend also skims over, have them read your paper out loud to you. Once you have revised your article for correction, read it again to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Turning in or Publishing
Now believe me, I violate this all the time because I like hitting the “Publish” button on my blogs immediately once I’m done with a rough draft (this article included). Do not do this if you are absolutely serious about being a journalist; and most definitely do not turn in your rough drafts (or halfway revised drafts) as the final document in your writing classes!
You should only publish once all 3 editing methods have been done and you have revised your article to the nth degree because of them. This may take awhile, but please remember that all your assignments must be published! Unless you are writing in a private journal that no one else bothers to read unless they happen to stumble upon it, writing is intended for other people to read.
So don’t forget to edit, and please don’t forget your deadlines, be it personal or external. The last thing a writer needs to have is a boss that’s fed up with them for not writing anything! And you know you have been, but you’ve been editing all this time. You better turn something in!
And with that, keep on writing; and if you ever need a personal editor, I’m always available for friends, but I may consult with you regarding a fee if your writing is an asset rather than just for fun!