How To Edit Efficiently

I’d like to use an example to elaborate on an earlier post in which I highlighted the importance of editing.

Below is a made-up example of a news article that’s in need of some work.

Local man never picks upp after doug

More than 150 Moronsville residents has reported dat a local man have been taking his dog out for walks without clening up after it, police sources confurmed on Friday.

“The complaints are endless,” said Police Sgt. Sean Brown. “Were getting all these ppl whining about some scumbag who wont clean up after his dumbass dog. Can you believ it? I joined the police force to go after murderers and rapists, not asshole pet owners. Fuck my life.”

Patrick Henderson, the asshole pet owner in question, will move to Moronsville with his dog, Benjamin Crawford the Fourth, just two months ago/

“I was 100% sure he was trouble the moment he pulled in2 the driveway next door in his U-Haul truck,” said Nancy Anderson. “He and his ugly dog get out of the truck, and not even a minute passes before the little bugger starts shitting in the middle of the street.”

Residing twenty miles away from Hendurson’s place of residence is a house that has Evan Cooper living inside of it. Cooper said that Henderson and the dog he owns are very problematic and have been really causing Cooper and his girlfriend a large amount of stress.

“My girl and I like to jog every day, or at least we did until Henderson came to town,” Cooper said. “I live ten miles away from him. Ten miles! How is it that he, without fail, walks his dog ten miles every day and turns the roads in2 a shit landmine?”

Henderson, whose aware of the complaints, said he doesnt let them get to him

“I get the evil eye all the time when I’m walking Benjamin Crawford the Fourth,” said Henderson. “A lot of the residents curse at me, but I don’t pay them any mine. Its their problem, not mine. Benjamin Crawford the Fourth can poop wherever he wants, and nothing is going to change that.”

UPDATE: Several days after this article was published, Henderson was found dead in his home. According to police, Henderson slowly bled to death from dozens of lacerashuns. Near his corpse was a bloody kitchen knife. Though the police investigation is still underway, several law enforcement officials have stated that the incident is most likely an “accidental death” and Henderson “probably fell down the stairs or something.” Benjamin Crawford the Fourth was found in the home’s backyard, leashed and unharmed. He has been taken to an animal shelter.

Now, aside from being a bit silly, this example has glaring errors. You might think the errors are too glaring to take this example seriously, but I assure you that some writers aren’t above turning in work this poor, either because they lack the skill to make the appropriate corrections or they just don’t care.

Depending on what kind of writers you’re dealing with, the quality of what they give you might gradually send you into a crippling depression. To avoid this horrible fate and years of self-medicating with alcohol, use the following steps:

0. Let your work sit for a while

1. Look for and edit typos/misspellings, punctuation errors, and usage errors only

2. Look for and edit grammar and style errors only

3. Look for and edit inconsistencies and inaccuracies only

4. Remove/Replace filler words and weak words only

5. Repeat steps 0 to 4

 We’ll be using these steps on excerpts from the example I gave at the beginning of the post.

Step 0: Let your work sit for a while

If you wrote what’s being edited, let your work sit for a while before searching for errors. Taking time away from your work lets you look at it with fresh eyes once you start editing.

I made this step “0” because life has a way of cruelly screwing with us at the most inconvenient moments, so unfortunate circumstances are sure to often prevent you from having time to let your work sit. (There’s also a chance you aren’t the work’s original writer to begin with.) But in any case, I suggest giving yourself as much time as possible to edit.

Naturally, this means not waiting until the day before your deadline to start working.

Like the steps after this, step 0 is important and you should follow it whenever possible. But when step 0 doesn’t apply to you, go straight to step 1.

 

Step 1: Look for and edit typos/misspellings, punctuation errors, and usage errors only

spelling_isnt_ez

For some, drawing is even harder.

I suggested limiting what errors you look for across three steps so you lower the risk of overlooking mistakes, which is easy to do when you’re not actively looking for a specific kind of error.

Typos, misspellings, punctuation errors, and usage errors are all mistakes that are likely to get you laughed at, but you have a useful tool to help you avoid this: spell check.

Notice how I said “help.” Spell check should be used as an aid, not a substitute for manually searching for errors. Contrary to popular belief, spell check doesn’t find every mistake you think it should, which is why you should run it before and/or after you manually search for errors.

To illustrate, refer to the seventh paragraph in the example news article: Henderson, whose aware of the complaints, said he doesnt let them get to him

In the above excerpt, the word “whose” is a usage error; it should be “who’s.” But because “whose” is the correct spelling of an actual word, your word processor’s spell check might not catch that the word is being used in the wrong context, meaning  it won’t alert you about the usage error. It will, however, tell you about the sentence’s punctuation errors. (The sentence is missing a period and the contraction “doesn’t” is missing its comma.)

 

Step 2: Look for and edit grammar and style errors only

1318904678736

The answer is actually “everyone.”

By “grammar,” I mean things like subject-verb agreement, and by “style,” I mean the rules to any usage guidelines you’re supposed to follow.

To see errors in subject-verb agreement, check out this excerpt from the first paragraph in the example news article: More than 150 Moronsville residents has reported dat a local man have been taking his dog out for walks…

The subject residents does not agree with the verb has. Since the subject is plural, the verb should match appropriately. Corrected, this excerpt reads, “More than 150 Moronsville residents have reported…”

The excerpt has another error of this nature. The subject man, which is singular, does not agree with its verb have been. Corrected, this excerpt reads, “…local man has been taking his dog out for walks…”

In regards to usage guidelines, because people can’t agree on anything and life’s problems have to be more difficult than necessary, different stylebooks have different rules for word usage and symbol usage.

This excerpt from the fourth paragraph reads, “I was 100% sure he was trouble…”

Certain stylebooks require that you write “100%” the way it’s written in the above excerpt.

However, this usage is in conflict with the guidelines of other stylebooks, so they’d consider the excerpt’s usage an error. To correct it, you’d replace the percent symbol with the actual word. The new sentence would read, “I was 100 percent sure he was trouble…”

Which usage is correct depends on the style you’re following.

 

Step 3: Look for and edit inconsistencies and inaccuracies only

Better to be right all of the time instead of some of the time.

Better to be right all of the time instead of some of the time.

While misspellings will have readers laughing at you, inconsistencies and inaccuracies will have readers upset with you. Both errors can confuse your audience and ruin their reading experience.

Take a look at paragraph five of the news article: Residing twenty miles away from Hendurson’s place of residence is a house that has Evan Cooper living inside of it. Cooper said that Henderson and the dog he owns are very problematic and have been really causing Cooper and his girlfriend a large amount of stress.

“Hendurson” is both a misspelling and an inconsistency. The man’s name, Henderson, is spelled correctly all throughout the example article except for in this paragraph. Mistakenly spelling one person’s name two different ways will confuse readers, especially when certain names are known for having multiple accurate spellings (ex: Shawn and Sean). Readers won’t know know which spelling is right, or they might think each spelling is referring to different people with similar names.

For an example with an inaccuracy, refer to the same excerpt shown above and then refer to this one from paragraph six: “My girl and I like to jog every day, or at least we did until Henderson came to town,” Cooper said. “I live ten miles away from him. Ten miles! How is it that he, without fail, walks his dog ten miles every day and turns the roads in2 a shit landmine?”

Paragraph five states Cooper lives twenty miles away from Henderson, but paragraph six has Cooper saying the distance is ten miles. Which one is right? Did the author fall asleep while writing this? Is Cooper lying through his teeth? Did Henderson or Cooper somehow move to a new house between paragraphs? The reader will never know the answer to these questions because all they have to go on is what the author wrote.

Regardless of whether the author or Cooper is right, the two statements should not conflict, and the author should correct it so his words and Cooper’s match to reflect the truth.

 

Step 4: Remove/Replace filler words and weak words only

Thanks, professor!

Thanks, professor!

If the phrase “filler words” triggers your PTSD and forces you to relive the days you had to construct needlessly long sentences to meet some arbitrary word count requirement, you already have one reason to avoid words that add little to no meaning to your sentences.

Refer to the example article’s fifth paragraph again: Residing twenty miles away from Hendurson’s place of residence is a house that has Evan Cooper living inside of it. Cooper said that Henderson and the dog he owns are very problematic and have been really causing Cooper and his girlfriend a large amount of stress.

This paragraph is brimming with filler words. To efficiently shorten this wordy mess, see which lengthy descriptions you can replace with something shorter, or which words you can simply eliminate. The end result should convey the same meaning as the original but in a shorter amount of words. Once you’re done, you might get something close to this:

Evan Cooper, who lives twenty miles away from Henderson, said that the pet and its owner are problematic and have been causing Cooper and his girlfriend a bunch of stress.

The paragraph is now one sentence long and more active, all while conveying the same meaning. How was this achieved?

I rewrote the sentence to have Evan Cooper perform the actions, which allowed me to replace wordy actions like “residing,” and long descriptions like “Henderson and the dog he owns.” Also, I was able to eliminate the long-winded “place of residence.”

“Very” and “really” just take up space in this context, and should always be put on the chopping block if their exclusion doesn’t hurt the sentence. The same goes for the phrase “a large amount of.”

The resulting sentence is much better, but can be improved even more.

I’d argue that the use of “are problematic” is unnecessary, as the sentence conveys this when it states Henderson and his dog are causing Cooper and his girlfriend stress, which is normally considered problematic.

Also, “a bunch of” doesn’t add to the sentence, so removing it doesn’t affect the meaning. Following the exclusion of the two aforementioned phrases, the newest sentence would look like this:

Evan Cooper, who lives twenty miles away from Henderson, said that the pet and its owner have been causing Cooper and his girlfriend stress.

With some careful replacing and removing, the same message is being communicated, but with a word count that’s been nearly halved.

 

Step 5: Repeat steps 0 to 4

Because no one is perfect, chances are that you either overlooked a mistake during the previous steps or introduced new ones. Repeating steps 0 to 4 will help you rectify that.

This process is sure to take some time, which is why I suggested not waiting until the last moment to edit when possible.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want, and if you were to use it to edit the example news article, hopefully the end result would turn out like this or better:

Local man never picks up after dog

More than 150 Moronsville residents have reported that a local man has been walking his dog without cleaning up after it, police confirmed Friday.

“The complaints are endless,” said Police Sgt. Sean Brown. “Were getting all these people whining about some scumbag who won’t clean up after his dumbass dog. Can you believe it? I joined the police force to go after murderers and rapists, not asshole pet owners. Fuck my life.”

Patrick Henderson, the asshole pet owner in question, moved to Moronsville with his dog, Benjamin Crawford the Fourth, just two months ago.

“I was 100 percent sure he was trouble the moment he pulled into the driveway next door in his U-Haul truck,” said Nancy Anderson. “He and his ugly dog get out of the truck, and not even a minute passes before the little bugger starts shitting in the middle of the street.”

Evan Cooper, who lives ten miles away from Henderson, said that the pet and its owner have been causing Cooper and his girlfriend stress.

“My girl and I like to jog every day, or at least we did until Henderson came to town,” Cooper said. “I live ten miles away from him. Ten miles! How is it that he, without fail, walks his dog ten miles every day and turns the roads into a shit landmine?”

Henderson, who’s aware of the complaints, said he doesn’t let them get to him.

“I get the evil eye all the time when I’m walking Benjamin Crawford the Fourth,” said Henderson. “A lot of the residents curse at me, but I don’t pay them any mind. Its their problem, not mine. Benjamin Crawford the Fourth can poop wherever he wants, and nothing is going to change that.”

UPDATE: Several days after this article was published, Henderson was found dead in his home. According to police, Henderson slowly bled to death from dozens of lacerations. Near his corpse was a bloody kitchen knife. Though the police investigation is still underway, several law enforcement officials have stated that the incident is most likely an “accidental death” and Henderson “probably fell down the stairs or something.” Henderson’s dog was found in the home’s backyard, leashed and unharmed. It has been taken to an animal shelter.

 

 

 

 

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