The hardest part is done—you’ve pulled together information and framed it with the right messaging, and now you have an article, blog update or press release. Ready to post? Not quite. Next comes the essential step of proofreading and shaping the text.
When you’re a writer, marketing expert or PR professional, you may not always have access to editors who can fix errors and help polish your work—and for those times, you’ll need to know the basics, so you can be your own editor.
Here’s a quick rundown of ways to keep your writing clean and expressive.
Check the structure.
Is your piece using the right structure? In the process of writing, you may have placed some of the most relevant information further down, rather than at the top. Make sure you don’t “bury the lede,” and always include the main takeaway for the reader in the opening paragraphs.
Imagine that a reader would follow a link to your content, then scan only the first few lines before clicking away—what would you want the person to learn in that time?
At the end of the piece, insert a call to action, or leave the reader with a memorable statement about the subject.
Review the punctuation.
Punctuation is how we break up text to make reading English easy and understandable. If you’re not sure whether to use a comma or semicolon, stick with a sentence structure that you know is correct, or browse the internet for tips.
Depending on whether you use AP, Chicago or another stylebook (or your organization’s house style), certain preferences are worth making a habit, so that all material from your company appears consistent. For example, at USGBC, we use AP style, which means we don’t use the serial comma.
As an editor, I also look up usage questions in the AP style guide almost daily, to make sure I’ve got things right—it only takes a moment, and it’s worth it for the consistency of our content.
Eliminate extra words.
“Omit needless words,” counselled Strunk and White in their classic 1918 guide “The Elements of Style.”
A first draft usually contains redundancies. That’s just how writing works, as you put ideas onto the page. As your own editor, you must go back and examine where you can make your content more succinct. Streamlining your message will enhance its impact on the reader.
This advice also applies to the title itself—is the title short enough to work for a digital format, but still descriptive of exactly what the piece is about?
In an ideal world, you’ll have time to let content sit for a day or two before reviewing it, but attending to another task for even a couple of hours can make it easier to go back to a piece of writing with fresh eyes.
Run spell check—and then do your own spell check.
Always run the own spelling and grammar check provided in your software, or use another plugin. Nobody’s perfect, and chances are, something has slipped past your first review.
It’s easy to rush past common misuse errors, such as putting “principle” where you meant “principal.” These types of mistakes won’t be caught by automated spell check, so look carefully at context to make sure you’re using the right words.
Also, to avoid embarrassment later, double-check any proper nouns like the names of people, organizations and geographic locations.
With a little extra attention, you can ensure much cleaner, more professional-looking copy. It’s not just about correctness—having enough respect for your readers to put in this effort will pay off, as your readers will, in turn, have greater respect for your organization and trust in its message.