Editing content is an essential part of the writer’s life. We do everything we can to ensure we communicate our message effectively. As Christian writers, we begin by spending time with God. We read our Bibles and pray, listening for His voice and the message He wants us to communicate. A message that carries impact, has eternal consequences, and can change lives. It’s a process. We start by listening well. We follow through by communicating clearly. Then the Holy Spirit uses our words in readers’ hearts.
But messy writing leaves them weary and confused. As a result, we can lose credibility as writers, no matter how good our message is. We even risk losing them altogether. This weight of delivering quality content can be enough to keep many writers from producing, publishing, and promoting their work. Then the enemy has them right where he wants them—insecure and silent. This is where editing comes in. Whether we self-edit or we hire someone to do it for us, great editing ensures that readers understand our message and can read it easily. There is help and hope to strengthen your writing!
What You Can Do
Even if you aren’t an English or Journalism major, you can give your readers a quality reading experience. Many tools are readily available to help identify ways to strengthen your writing. Finding the right word or phrase takes time. But it is rewarding when we do. The right word in the right place is like a gem in a beautiful setting (Proverbs 25:11). Certainly, take advantage of tools like thesaurus.com and Power Thesaurus. But take care that your words are right for your audience. Words the general public doesn’t understand can drive them away. In the Christian realm, this is especially important when communicating with new believers or those who have been hurt by the Church.
Some writers may not want to engage in editing. They want to write what’s on their hearts and let God do the rest, which He does. Others may feel they don’t have the extra time to cull through their content to make sure their writing is concise, clear, and clean. But writing is a stewardship, and editing is a necessary part of the writing life. We please the Lord when we do our best in every aspect of our craft.
If you draft your content in MS Word, you can use the editing tools it provides. Go to Preferences and then the Spelling and Grammar tab. The top of the pop-up window lets you decide spelling rules; the bottom section lets you choose grammar rules. In the grammar section, you choose your writing style: casual, standard, formal, etc. If you click the Settings button, all kinds of options are available for you to select or deselect. You decide what you want Word to flag and what you want Word to ignore.
Also, two free websites can go a long way to make sure your content is clean of grammatical errors and is easy to read.
Editing with the free version of Grammarly checks for basic grammar and spelling errors. It requires an account to use. When you paste your content into the window, a dialog box asks you a few questions so it can edit according to your writing style. You let it know if your writing is formal or informal, who your audience is, etc. Grammarly takes a quick pass and alerts you to basic mistakes. The premium versions of Grammarly include a plagiarism checker and other tools.
Editing with Hemingway focuses on making content easy to read, and you don’t need an account to use it. When you paste your content into its window, Hemingway flags instances of passive voice and encourages you to change them to active voice. Active voice uses fewer words than passive voice.
Hemingway also flags adverbs and lets you know if any of your sentences are difficult to read. Typically, splitting a long sentence into two or three fixes this. But sometimes a long sentence is necessary to communicate your message. Too many of them and readers may tire of trying to understand and click away to something else.
Although Grammarly is probably the most well-known online grammar checker, there are others. ProWritingAid (PWA) is a new-to-me online app. Its free version is more robust than Grammarly and Hemingway combined. Plus, it’s easy to use. Besides basic grammar and readability, PWA checks for cliches, sentence structure and length, transitions, and much more. So far, my favorite part of the app is how it identifies overused and repeated words and phrases, not just literally, but also thoughts that echo each other.
All these audits can be used dynamically in its editing tool. For example, when you hover over a known issue, PWA brings up a window with suggestions for change. The deeper edits limit you to the first 500 words of your document, but you can overcome that by pasting in sections at a time. (Although you don’t have the benefit of the overall picture.)
These apps show you how to strengthen your writing. The more you use them and get used to what they flag, the more you will develop these good habits on your own. You don’t have to change everything these tools flag. Sometimes you intend for a sentence to be Just. One. Word. And that’s ok. Maintain your God-given voice. It’s your writing personality. It’s how people know you.
More Self-Editing Tips
- Walk away for a couple of days. It gives your mind and your eyes a break from what you think you’ve written. When you come back, fresh eyes will better understand what you’ve written.
- When your mind is relaxed, like before falling asleep, you might think of things you want to add or change. Keep a notepad or phone nearby so you can jot those things down for later. We lose a treasure trove of ideas when we think we’ll remember, but we don’t. Always write things down!
- When you think you are finished editing your content, reformat it. Change the font to one you never use. (For this purpose, I use Courier New. It’s like an old typewriter font.) Change the layout to landscape. Then, select the text and put it into columns, as in a newspaper. Print it off and read it once again, with a red pen in hand. I find all kinds of things I want to change when I do this.
- Read your “final copy” out loud. You can even have someone else read it to you. This engages your sense of hearing instead of your sense of sight. When someone reads to you, set your mind in the place of your audience. You may hear things you didn’t expect. These ah-hah moments alert you to changes you can make or new content you can add.
- If you have a trusted friend, ask if he or she would read through your content and let you know if they notice any glaring errors or confusing sections.
What You May Want Someone Else to Do
With the writing helpers that come in MS Word and apps like Grammarly and Hemingway, you may ask yourself, do I even need an editor? The answer is, it depends. If writers use the above tools, an editor may not be necessary for blog posts and most articles. However, if you are creating lengthy content for publication, remember editors see things an app can’t. They can:
- Tighten your writing by eliminating unnecessary (or duplicate) words and phrases.
- Identify mixed metaphors.
- Help with transitions from one paragraph to another.
- Ensure that the point you make at the beginning is the point you make at the end (think bookends).
- Recognize a logical progression in your content, even though you may not have written it that way.
If an editor is knowledgeable about your content, he or she can suggest how to make it richer. And if you’ve made a mistake, he or she can (gently) show you how to correct it.
When you’ve been working on a piece for a while, you get used to it. You see what you meant to say, even though that may not be what you wrote. An editor can help you with these things and many more.
Getting the Most Out of Hiring an Editor
If you hire an editor, I encourage you to run your content through one of the online apps mentioned above. Some editors may want a sample of your writing before quoting a price for their services. If your content needs a lot of work, they may quote you a higher rate, especially if they charge by the hour. But if you take time to self-edit, the rate may be lower. Then your editor can spend their time doing things that may be more difficult for you, saving you money in the long run.
As writers, the last thing we want is for our audience to misunderstand our message. Careful editing for grammar and clarity ensures we communicate our message accurately. Without it, we risk being misunderstood, losing credibility as a writer, or even losing our audience.
More on the Craft of WritingWhether we self-edit or we hire someone to do it for us, good editing ensures that our message is understood and easy to read. Self-Editing Trick: Change the font to one you never use. Select all the text and put it into columns, like you find in a newspaper. Print it off and read it once again--with a red pen in hand. The last thing writers want is for their audience to misunderstand their message. Taking care to edit for grammar and clarity will ensure your message is communicated accurately. Without it, we run the risk of being misunderstood, or even losing our audience.