- On February 1, 2017
“It felt kind of sexy.”
That’s how a friend described what it was like to have his essay—an application for admission to a PhD program—edited. Every time I told him to cut something— “The reader understands that, you don’t need it”—he got more energized. So too did his essay. The final product moved gracefully and powerfully.
“Gosh, I overwrite so much,” he said, as we were cutting chunks of copy and, in other places, turning 10 words into two. Everyone overwrites. It’s a natural part of the process. The challenge is not to edit each line as you go, hard as that might be, but to save the pruning for later.
Once you have a complete draft (yours or somebody else’s), read it through for focus and organization—with your red pen on the other side of the room. Even if the first few lines bog you down and your fingers start twitching, read the whole piece first. Then read it again, making notes in the margin.
• Is it clearly conveying the primary idea you want your reader(s) to take away?
• Does the piece leave questions unanswered?
• Is it well constructed?
• Is the tone of voice right? (It helps to read it aloud to know that.)
• Could it be read on a mobile device?
Depending on how you fare, you might need to do some rewriting or reorganizing before you pick up red pen and edit for clarity and brevity. Here a checklist for editing, part two:
• Cut dull openings
• Make sure your points track from one to the next
• Eliminate words that add nothing to meaning
• Ensure your grammar is correct
• Use subheads to break up chunks of text and help tell your story
• Liven up your headlines and subheads
Most important? Get to the point—at once.
Fashion stylists advise women to stand in front of a mirror and remove one accessory before going out the door. The same goes for copy. Less is more. Sexier too.