Part IV: Quick and Dirty Tips to Edit Documents

Laptop and papers

Welcome to the fourth of a four part series (1, 2, 3, 4) on Technical Writing and Editing.

During the Technical Writing program, all major projects had an editing component. This meant that we had to email draft projects to other students to eviscerate. As someone who holds onto work, this was terrifying. The benefit was that it impressed the importance of following the editing process.

I worked with several different students and always picked up a nugget of knowledge that helped my writing. What I learned can apply to any type of document.

Formatting

  • Technical Writing: Single line spacing, left-aligned
  • Creative Writing: Double line spacing, indent first line
  • Use easy-to-read fonts

Design

  • Keep the design simple (no more than two fonts for beginner designers)
  • If you have a logo, base your colour choices for headings/design elements on the colour from the logo
  • DO NOT underline headings or text and reserve this for URLs and links

Sentence Structure and Word Choice

  • Use active voice: throw away the essay style! Limit the use of passive voice
  • Be concise and direct (less is more – 20 words or less per sentence)
  • Be precise: use consistent terms and be explicit and specific!
  • Rephrase any sentence with “in order”, “it”, “was”
  • Do not start a sentence with ‘that’
  • Add parallelism

Since I know that my trouble areas are passive writing and unintentional vagueness (littering a document with “in order” or “it”), I use this short list before emailing documents to an editor. By creating your own list of master editing rules, you’ll also be able to memorize rules and refer back.

No list is perfect and neither is my grammar. I still break some rules and have problems with passive writing. Luckily there are apps that I also use to fine-tune my writing and locate trouble spots.

Hemingway App: The Hemingway App accesses the readability of a document. It locates adverbs, passive voice, and hard to read sentences. I wouldn’t recommend using this app to edit an entire document, but it’s perfect if there’s a paragraph you can’t perfect.

Grammarly: Grammarly is an online proofreading app that highlights grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.

Editing gets easier with practice. It takes time to memorize tips, grammar rules, and style guides, but these set an experienced tone to your edits. Plan for your edit, learn how to edit your own work, and apply professional editing techniques to outside work. By positioning yourself as an authority, both you and your work will be respected.

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