By Terry C. Misfeldt
Part of writing is getting the words out. Another part is editing. Editing is an essential tool for every writer. It involves word choice, story flow, grammar, punctuation, and readability. Let’s look at those elements of editing, or should it be writing?
Word choice. When you write, the words you use are important. Some are useless and unnecessary and editing takes care of them. “That” is one of those words that can often be eliminated. Here’s an example with the previous sentence: “That” is a word you can eliminate. The other aspect of word choice is thinking about which word is most descriptive for the scene you create. The right words can be powerful in your story, creating an image in the reader’s mind describing emotions, building tension, or adding stress.
Story flow. Editing for flow involves reading the copy from a reader’s perspective. Is there a logical progression from one scene to the next? Does a gap exist causing your readers to give up on what’s going on? There are occasions when you are editing requiring you to move sentences, paragraphs, and perhaps even chapters to a better location in the story. Edit for your reader.
Grammar. There are software applications available to catch and correct grammatical errors when editing your work. As the writer, however, ultimate responsibility for grammar changes if yours. By the way, “the” is another often unnecessary word. Think about it.
Punctuation. Readers can be turned off my missing or incorrect punctuation—such as a dash instead of a comma, semi-colon; or misplaced colon: End a question with a question mark? End an exclamation with an exclamation mark! Use parentheses for (parenthetical expressions) in your work. Periods are the end of a sentence. Punctuation is a form of expressing yourself, so edit accordingly.
Readability. Scholars write at university level. Average reading levels for cognition suggest writers craft their writing at a third of fourth grade level. Editing for readability is about knowing your audience and writing for them. It can discourage a reader if they have to stop and look up a word they do not understand, so keep that in mind when editing. It is okay to add a definition or describe intent to keep the flow going for your reader. Oops! In the second to last sentence, the words “have to” should have been edited out as unnecessary.
Editing is a constant challenge. There are occasions when a professional editor is beneficial.