How to Edit 4 Writing Styles

Effective editing produces crystal-clear, highly readable documents that serve their intended goals. Editing requires an eagle eye (and some spidey senses) to spot problems and fix them—a skill that goes way beyond fixing grammar and punctuation problems.

Because editing is a large part of my “bread and butter,” I can spot “writing personalities”—and each personality, or writing style, requires different editing tactics. Here are four common writing styles, the typical problems they pose, and how to fix them.

Problem: Muddy the message with disjoint, tangential or extraneous information
Solution: Sharpen the focus. Delete information that isn’t essential to the main message.

Problem: Take too long to get to the main point
Solution: Decipher the heart of the message and ensure that every part of the discussion points to or supports the main message. Remove redundant (repetitive) verbiage. Trim sentence lengths as needed.

Problem: Think that readers already know as much about the topic as the author does (or will, after reading the author’s work)
Solution: Write to the “lowest common denominator”—that is, the reader who knows the least about the topic. Provide enough detail and explanations to convey a clear message.

Problem: Lose the message in technical terms—or write intimidating-sounding verbiage.
Solution: Know the target audience and their general comprehension level. Minimize use of technical terms when feasible; explain all first usages of terms (including abbreviations) that people might not be familiar with. Replace long, unfamiliar words with shorter, highly understandable equivalents.

Whether you edit your own work or others’, ask yourself what writing personality the author tends toward. It may be a mixture of the ones I described, or it may be one I haven’t included. Either way, effective editing includes recognizing overarching writing tendencies and knowing how to address those tendencies to produce more effective communications.

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