5 Steps to Becoming a Better Editor

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I studied journalism in college. I thought I was going to be a Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper reporter. My career ended up taking a different direction when I got a job in church communications immediately out of school. But I still love writing and editing.

In college, I took a journalism editing class. I’ll never forget how the professor defined an editor. He said “an editor is someone who seeks to improve every detail of the world around them.”

Not many people write well. Even fewer know how to edit well. However, good editing is crucial to good writing. There are some tricks you can learn to edit better without going to journalism school, which will help you communicate better to your congregation and community.

1. Edit More Than You Write

Writing and editing are two completely different practices. When you write, just write. Don’t edit as you write. Embrace the crappy first draft. Write quickly then refine in the editing process.

Take more time to edit than it took you to write the first draft. You should take a few times to edit the content. Work on the flow and structure. Then worry about the finer details and grammar.

Another of my journalism professors said you should write everything as if it was going to appear on the front page of the New York Times the next day. Can you imagine if your social media posts or email campaigns were published in the Times? If they were, maybe you’d probably take more time to go through the editing process.

2. Remove Unnecessary Words

If you can remove a word from a sentence without changing the meaning, do it. Don’t use words you don’t need. Say more with less.

Unnecessary words are fluff. Fluff is the enemy of clarity. Adjectives are usually fluff. Cut down on using adjectives. I’d say that’s pretty clear.

3. Read It Out Loud

One great way to edit your work is to read it out loud to yourself. Because you naturally edit and correct awkward phrases as you talk, this gives you a chance to improve your writing.

When you read your own writing in your head, you may skip over words or miss trouble spots. Verbalizing your written words highlight problem areas and help work out the kinks. It takes away the opportunity for syntax issues to hide.

Reading everything aloud to yourself may seem silly or unnecessary, but it’s a simple practice that really works. Clear 15 minutes on your calendar. Close your office door. And read your latest blog post or bulletin announcement to your computer like an unconventional bedtime story.

4. Get Outside Help

The more you work on a written piece, the more you become blind to its problems. Instead of not being able to see the forest for the trees, you read the message for the words.

Becoming blind to your written works’ errors is why getting outside help on a writing project is crucial. A friend with fresh eyes will be able to catch minor grammar mistakes you miss. They’ll also be able to spot major flaws in the overall work. Invite two or three people to proofread everything you do and give honest feedback.

Part of this means you need to help proofread the work of others. Not only does this form a symbiotic editing relationship, it also helps you practice editing. By scratching someone else’s back on occasion, you’ll be a better friend and a better editor.

5. Use Technology

Thank God for spell check. Despite being an avid writer, I’m a terrible speller. Thankfully, I live in the 21st century and not Shakespearean England. (Note: I relied heavily on spell check to help me out with the word "Shakespearean.")

Beyond just the basic spell check in word processors, there are also a few handy online resources that can also improve the flow and structure of your writing. Here are a few free web tools that you can use:

What’s your least favorite part of editing? Where do you need the most help?

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