You have just spent a virtual lifetime writing a piece of content. But there is nobody around to proofread it for you. Editing your own work can be difficult in any number of ways, from being too familiar with the piece to making yourself take out writing that you love but know deep down doesn’t serve the story. How can you make sure your web writing is letter-perfect when the only eyeballs available are yours?
Here are four tips to prepare your writing for public consumption.
Read It Aloud
Scott Yates of BlogMutt gave me this piece of advice. As we all know, when you are really on a roll your brain can go faster than your fingers and it is easy to leave out words or create awkward sentences. The same problem occurs when you read silently to yourself. You are so familiar with the material that it’s easy to skip words or to mentally add them even when they aren’t on the page.
By reading out loud, you are forced to slow down. Missing words or poor grammar become very obvious. Even structural problems are more easily discerned when you listen to yourself speaking the words you typed. Reading aloud also places a little more distance between you and your work so you can treat it more objectively. A sentence that looked lovely when first written can come off sounding stilted or in a different style from the rest of the piece. Such clinkers are highlighted and you feel better about deleting them.
Don’t Trust the Spell Checker
How often have you read a sentence that made no sense because even though all the words are spelled correctly, the wrong word has been used? Sometimes it turns out unintentionally funny (or pain-ful):
“Any kind of pin in the eyes should be reported to your doctor or ophthalmologist.”
In any case, this could cause your reader to doubt not only your expertise but your sanity. Not a good way to earn business. Read it through post-spell check just in case this sort of thing has happened.
Another piece of advice about the spell-check function: don’t blindly accept “new” words into its dictionary unless you are certain they are correct. And if you select “ignore all” make certain all changes work. Also remember that some spell checkers discriminate between upper and lower case letters, treating a word with the first letter capitalized differently from the same word in all lowercase. Look at all versions of the word; don’t skip what seem to be extra notifications from the spell checker.
Sleep On It
If your deadline allows it, let your writing rest overnight. If you can manage it, let it rest for a couple of days or a week. This helps you look at the piece with fresh eyes. You aren’t reading it immediately after writing it and unconsciously inserting words or missing spelling errors from skimming too quickly. It can just be too darn hard to slow down when you have written and rewritten something six times already. You just want to get it out of there!
Looking at a piece of writing hours or days later makes it more new to you. You may read through it asking yourself, “What was I thinking?”
You discover that the writing doesn’t flow as well as you thought. Missing words are more obvious. You may even find you left out entire sentences. That description of the solution you came up with suddenly appears inadequate or, conversely, too detailed.
Like reading aloud, letting it sit can bring objective distance into your editing.
The web demands tight writing. Reading from a computer screen strains the eye and most readers are in a hurry. Superfluous words just get in the way. Study each word, each sentence and ask yourself if it advances the story. Try reading the paragraph without that word or sentence. Was anything lost? If not, feel free to get rid of the offending item dragging your content down.
As a writer it can be nearly impossible to cut words, sentences, or even paragraphs that you slaved over lovingly, but your duty is to the reader. Remove repetition. Axe adverbs. Consult a thesaurus if need be. Just don’t overdo it.
Strip out everything you can and distill your writing down to its very essence.
Letter-perfect writing can’t be achieved in a first draft. You should want only your best out there for the world to see. Edit accordingly.