The writing craft requires that you think like both a writer and an editor because at the end of the drafting process, the two tasks are intertwined.
Writing has three phases: drafting, revising, where you make changes and rewrite, and then editing. Many people think revising is editing, but there is a slight distinction. When you are making changes, you are rewriting, moving pieces around, and reading your draft aloud. You are still immersed in the material, thinking from the writer’s perspective. What details do I need to best communicate this point? How should I describe this to provide a clear picture for the reader? Can I tighten this sentence without changing the meaning? Does this flow cohesively from the previous paragraph? You are bound to ask some questions that an editor would ask, but most questions will be related to how you the writer wants to tell the story.
When you feel you are finished making changes to the draft, you put on your editing hat and approach it from the reader’s perspective. “As an editor, you also have to revise, but the emphasis is on the reader’s experience,” Merrill Perlman, a former New York Times editor, said in an email. “It’s trying to experience the piece as someone who doesn’t have the embedded knowledge of the topic as the writer.” She said her image of the editor “is of someone leaning back, just reading something — until something stops him, at which point he hunches over the keyboard to find what the problem is and fixes it. Then he leans back and continues reading.”
If you edit a lot of your own copy, or if you have editors but not not helpful ones, getting it right is a significant challenge. Having invested so much time researching, writing the memo or story, and then revising it, you are too close to the material to see the flaws in the draft. You have read it and reread it so many times, your eyes skim across sentences. Sometimes facts need to be checked, words are missing, the wrong word is used, math is incorrect, or sentences don’t make sense.
So whether you are a corporate communications or public relations professional, or just someone trying to write an effective message, try to find a writing partner whose opinion you trust, who will read your drafts and provide candid and constructive feedback. A good editor can save you embarrassment, and might also provide enlightening suggestions.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.