Seven Editing Tips to Make Your Writing More Readable

Posted By on May 20, 2013

Editing Tips for Writing About Dance

Don’t just use the word “dance.” Put your brain through its paces and make your writing strut, rhumba, rock or cha-cha. Photo copyright 2012 Cynthia Hartwig

When you’re pressed for time, it’s hard to write well. But believe it or not, it’s okay to write as fast as you can, churning out boring, repetitive, and overwritten drafts. Putting words on a page is always the most difficult part. It’s easy to revise them if you know these seven editing tips. They’ll keep you from torpedoing your deadline and boring the reader.

  1. Edit for Speed Reading
  2. Simple sentences read well. Write convoluted, wandering sentences, and you’ll lose your readers. Cut a straight path with your pen by shortening sentences and eliminating parenthetical phrases.

  3. Act, Don’t Hang Back
  4. Jazz up your writing by switching from passive to active verbs. Verbs will turn flabby writing into muscular prose. If you are on deadline, go back through your document, circle every verb, and see if you can spiff up the action quickly.

  5. Adjective- and Adverb-Ectomies
  6. Simplify your sentences by reducing the number of adjectives and adverbs you use. We’ll take ho-hum copy and run it through our Adjective-and Adverb-Ectomizer to clean up clutter and clarify meaning.

  7. No Abstractions, Please
  8. People engage with the world through the senses. Adding sights, sounds, tastes, and smells to your writing creates a visceral experience. Identify abstractions and replace them with concrete language and you’ll be surprised how readability improves.

  9. Repetition Run-through
  10. Write fast, as we suggest, and inevitably you’ll write repetitively. Find and Replace can help. Use it to remove repetitious language (go for cutting by 25%) and let the meaning stand on its own.

  11. Punch Up the Opening
  12. Catch the attention of the reader at the beginning, or the rest of the work will be for naught. We always rewrite our own first paragraphs to make sure the opening answers the promise of the headline.

  13. Speak the Speak
  14. Every industry has a specific set of words—a lexicon—that only people working within it know. Using their language when you’re writing for an industry builds your authority. Even if you’re not an air conditioning expert or a diesel-engine engineer, you can build a lexicon of 100 words to join any world. This is how to conquer complicated technology or science writing while building your street cred.

Emily Warn

PS If you’re interested in how we’d edit YOUR work, post a paragraph in the comments and Cynthia and I will weigh in with our best tips on how to improve your writing.