Good writing is the result of good editing. Think about it. There is a reason they are called “first drafts” and not “one-and-only” drafts. “First” implies that there will be a second, and maybe even a third draft. Possibly, an outside editor will be involved. For some content creators and at least one blogger I met, the thought of editing sends shivers down their spines.
“Blogs are all about self-expression and speaking in my voice,” a fellow attendee of a blogging conference told me after I explained how I help small business owners be better content creators. There was no way she was letting someone else muck up her precious words. But she was also walking into a “How To Monetize Your Blog” seminar, so presumably her content goals were bigger than pure self-expression.
The truth is, I believe in self-expression and authentic voice. They are the most powerful marketing tools most small business owners have.
I also believe in clarity and making sure your message actually reaches your audience and propels them to take action.
And I know those two beliefs aren’t mutually exclusive.
If you’re going to take the time to create content, take the time to create it well. Here’s my best advice for editing for clarity and sanity.
Editing for Clarity: Say What You Mean
Editing for clarity means injecting some basic rules of grammar and construction into your work. Don’t panic, I’m not asking you to diagram a sentence. Just go back and look at your work for the following:
- Is there a clear idea coming across? If so, great. If not, ask yourself again, “what exactly am I trying to say here?” And if you see five or six clear ideas, congratulations, you’ve just written a series.
- Do your sentences end at some point? Does your piece have long, complicated sentences littered with ellipsis, dashes and parenthetical material? Your audience doesn’t have time to untangle a word mess. Break up your longest and windingest sentence into tighter, independent sentences that are easier to read.
- Do your paragraphs end at some point? Paragraphs give the reader a little break and signal that you are moving onto another thought. Reread your paragraphs and count up how many ideas you’re cramming into them. This number should be low.
Editing for Sanity: Don’t Sound Like a Madman
Pay attention to key ideas and sentence/paragraph length lessens the risk of sounding like a rambling madman. Here are three more ways you can edit to up the sanity quotient in your work:
- Nix jargon, acronyms and arcane references. Much like the jar of red pepper flakes at the pizza joint, a sprinkling of complex language might spice things up, but too much makes the whole thing unappetizing. (An early draft of this post made this point with references to the Unabomber and singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. Arcane references, indeed.)
- Beware the tangent. Random spasms of unrelated content will leave your reader scratching his or her head. I could have done a paragraph or two explaining how I think the Unabomber, Ryan Adams and editing all tie together (because I do). But why? You’d probably think, “umm, who cares?” And you’d be right.
- Watch out for your writing ticks. We all have them. They are the typos we continually make, the phrasing we go to too often, the words we overuse. Does every fifth sentence start with “not only (whatever you’re writing about), but also (another related thing)?” That’s a writing tick. Reread your older materials. What pops up frequently? Watch for and edit out those repeat offenders.
This is not an exhaustive list of ways to edit and improve your content. I didn’t even touch on proofreading! But it’s a great place to start.
Your message gets lost when your blog posts and articles are long, unstructured jumbles of words. If you’re cool with leaving your audience behind and just talking to yourself, carry on.
But if you’d prefer to expand beyond an audience of one, embrace editing for clarity and sanity. It will make your content readable, engaging and actionable.