Where Writing and Editing Meet

This week, I’ve taken on a job where the lines between writing and editing meet. In other words, it’s a copywriting job which has an element of editing to it. The copy has already been written, but it needs to be rewritten to meet the needs of the audience, so I have the enjoyable task of manipulating the text to make it easier to read. I’ve written before that editing is like clearing the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. That’s what I’m aiming to do in this job.

I’ve been asked to cut the content in a training manual in half so that designs and illustrations can be added to the content. I’ll be doing this by removing academic references and overly wordy language and by breaking up into smaller, manageable chunks. I also need to change the look of the text, so that people can absorb its message more easily.

When you’re doing a multi-stranded job like this, it’s best to concentrate on making one change at a time, rather than trying to do them all at once. So here’s the step-by-step process I’ll be taking.

  1. Cut the Text Down to Size

At this stage, I take a wrecking ball to the text. Cutting text in half can’t be done without making radical changes. I take out everything that doesn’t need to be there and anything that obscures the point the content is trying to make. In this case it’s academic references that won’t make sense to the ordinary reader. Clients find this difficult. They’re attached to their words and think they need to include all of them. My job is to show them that by cutting down the copy, I’m making it easier to read, and that the message they want to convey is still there. It’s just expressed more concisely.

  1. In-Paragraph Cutting

At this stage in the process, I exchange the wrecking ball for a scalpel.

Good editors wield a scalpel.

I’ve been asked to make sure that the paragraphs are no longer than 60 words, so I turn my attention to the sentences themselves. I find I can shorten some of them and combine others. I also get rid of excess adjectives and repeated phrases. We all repeat more than we realise when we write, so I find the phrase that makes its point most concisely and get rid of the rest. This approach can get rid of a surprising amount of dead weight.

  1. Making the Text Pretty

Now I’ve fixed the words, I turn my attention to the layout. I come up with headings for each paragraph, summarising what’s contained in that paragraph. Some paragraphs lend themselves to being converted into lists with bullet points. I’ve been asked to include at least two of these per page. I also suggest breakout quotes, interesting quotes which the designer can place alongside the text to entice people to read it.

What do you do to rejuvenate your content and make it easier to read? How do you make sure it retains its original message?


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