Tuesday 24 March 2015

Editing Your Article: Get Ready to Roll Up Your Sleeves

"When you have the first draft of your article done, then revision begins.  Get ready to roll up your sleeves, because this is the real work, and often, the real fun." (Michelle Ruberg)

Michelle Ruberg cites the example of Marge Simpson who sets out to write a story.  She writes the first paragraph and then clicks spell check.  That is her first mistake:  writers should separate the writing process from the editing process.  When writing that first draft, "Let it flow; get everything on the page," says Ms. Ruberg.  If you listen to your inner critic at this stage, you will stifle your voice and your creativity.  

With the first draft complete, take a break for a day or two.  Let it digest.  Work on another writing project or putter in the garden.  Come at if from a fresh perspective, with new eyes.  Pretend you are looking at your writing for the first time.  Critically re-read your piece with a fine tooth comb.  It's not a once over, it's a process.  Ms. Ruberg separates the process into four parts:  focus, organization, style and grammar.

1.  Focus

What is the major impression you want to make on the reader?  Summarize your theme in one or two sentences.  If you can't, it must not be strong enough.  As you re-read your article, make sure that everything points towards that central theme.  If not, take it out or rewrite it.

2.  Organization

Does your article flow?  Are your points presented in a logical sequence?  Do you link your points with easy transitions?  Do you repeat the same points or words?  Have you left some paragraphs sparse?  Re-read your piece twice.  Print it out and read it aloud, giving you more of an "outside reader" perspective.

3.  Style

Is your style interesting and easy to read?  Do you use your own voice?  Does it shine through?  Does your lead ex. quote, anecdote hook the reader in?  Do your paragraphs flow?  Have you tied your ending to your beginning?  Have you left the reader satisfied or have you left him or her hanging?  Is your content style and tone reflective of the current market?  Is your word count under the maximum amount?

4.  Grammar

Have you peppered your piece with strong verbs?  According to Ms. Ruberg, "strong verbs equals strong writing".  "To be" is one of the weakest verbs; replace it with a more interesting choice. Change the passive voice to the active voice.  Again, this makes your piece more convincing. Change nouns to verbs, especially those that end in "ing" (gerunds).  Eliminate adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs.  Replace noun/adjective combinations with stronger nouns when possible. Ms. Ruberg says this will strengthen your writing and lower your word count.  Make sure your tense is consistent as well as your point of view.  Use a good grammar reference to check punctuation. Make a checklist of your most common mistakes.  Finally, re-read your article backwards to find errors you missed.  Here is a chance to catch repetitions and overused words.

Happy Editing!

Note:  For more information, read Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (Michelle Ruberg).

Snoopy is breaking the first commandment of editing:  "Thou shalt not combine thy writing and thy editing" courtesy http://arnoldzwicky.s3.amazonaws.com/PeanutsEditing.jpg.

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