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Effective Editing

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

Chicago, Illinois 60615 (773) 405-5916

Tips for Effective Editing

Whether it’s a three sentence newspaper ad, twenty-five page business plan, or five page PowerPoint presentation, business materials must go through a stringent editing process to ensure that they are clear, concise, and credible as well as targeted to the identified audience.

What is editing?

Editing is the process of preparing written communication for publication or presentation.

It involves correcting and revising text to improve readability (flow and structure), credibility (truthfulness), and clarity (ease of understanding).

How do you approach editing?

Editing involves two processes: (1) copy editing and (2) developmental editing.

Copy editing involves carefully reviewing written communication to identify and correct mechanical errors such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, word usage, sentence structure, and formatting. This type of editing is more concerned with improving the material without changing its substance (style, tone, organization, and conceptualization).

Developmental editing (or substantive editing) is concerned with the ideas, purpose, and overall organization of the material. The goal is to create written communication that is not only mechanically correct but also well-structured. It involves examining the entire structure of the material to determine if it is accurate, straightforward, consistent, and logical. It may include adding and/or deleting information, rewriting sentences and paragraphs, and reordering information.

What are the steps to better editing?

The following suggestions will help you create materials that meet the needs of your target audience.

Review the material for purpose and clarity: When you develop written communication you have a purpose (e.g., to inform, persuade, educate, evaluate, entertain, or document) and target audience in mind. You wrote the material because you want the audience to acquire new information and/or take some kind of action. Therefore, reviewing the material to ensure that it communicates exactly what you intended is vital. The content should stay on point and not stray from the original purpose.

For instance, does the material focus solely on the theme (subject or issue)? Will the reader clearly understand why they are reading the material? Are the facts straight? Have you fully explained and defined concepts and definitions?

Examine the overall structure of the material: The content should be structured in a logical manner that is easy to read and understand. It should also include accurate information and have a well-defined beginning, middle, and end.

Ask yourself the following questions: Are the concepts presented coherently or are they disorganized? Are the paragraphs in the right order? Are there smooth transitions between paragraphs? Do sentences flow with ease or are they difficult to comprehend?

Check paragraph structure: A paragraph discusses a particular point or concept related to the main theme of the material.  They should flow logically from point to point to create a well-organized, relevant discussion of the topic.

Some questions to ask when reviewing paragraphs include the following: Is the paragraph complete? Is it in the correct order? Is it too long? Does each sentence belong in the paragraph? Does each sentence contribute to the point of that the paragraph?

Evaluate sentence structure: Sentences should express a complete thought and include a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). First and foremost, each sentence should make sense and further the point being made in the paragraph. Each sentence should build upon the last and flow easily from thought to thought.

Issues that negatively impact sentence structure include the following:

As a general rule, sentences that contain eight to twenty words are easier to read and comprehend. Although sometimes, sentences that are much shorter or even longer are appropriate.

Correct the mechanics: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, passive constructions, capitalization, and subject-verb agreement are some of the grammatical concepts that must be in order.

If written communication is marred with mechanical errors, readers will not understand it or take the time to read it. Therefore, it is important to scour your material to identify and correct these errors. Additionally, it is important to use the same rules of style and grammar throughout the material.

Check formatting and design: The format and design of materials are important because they make them more appealing to the eye, spark interest, and make text easier to read and understand. Format and design depend on the type of material, individual preference, or industry/company standards.

When reviewing format, ask yourself the following questions:

Editing and writing go hand in hand.

Good writing cannot be achieved without good editing. More than just a spell/grammar check, editing often involves revising and rewriting materials. This is necessary to create cohesive, well-organized, and polished materials that expertly communicate the message to the target audience.

In fact, it may take several rounds of revisions to create the most professional and effective materials. This is why editing requires time, patience, and diligence.


Sparks, Suzanne D. 1999. The manager’s guide to business writing. New York, New York: McGraw Hill.

Technical Editors’ Eyrie: Resources for technical editors. What is substantive editing? http://www.jeanweber.com/newsite/?page_id=28, accessed January 28, 2011.

Copyright 2011 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.