Editing & revising

"Perfection then, is finally achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de St. Exupéry

It is vital that your publication be edited by an objective person. A writer is often too close to their work to edit it effectively. They know their subject too deeply to see it from the readers' simpler perspective. They often become attached to their writing.

The editor stands between the writer and the reader. A good editor is someone who understands language, the needs and perspectives of the audience and the subject.

If you have a large project remember that you can hire editors and proof readers for as long as you need.

Be brief, be simple

Remember that people prefer short, simple, easy things to long, complex, difficult things.

Easiness means making the choices seem few.

Shortness means finding the most concise way of saying something. It also means letting the reader imply all the qualifications (if's, but's, whereas's), that the writer thinks are really important, but which readers don't actually care about. Sometimes it means making what seem breathtakingly general statements. Sometimes it means wholesale excision. It almost always means replacing generalities with concrete words.

Look at this example, from a manuscript prepared for a children's service:

"What is a Mobile Service?
Mobile Services provide programmes for a particular target group on a part-time basis at a number of venues. Most services transport equipment to one or two different locations on a day, weekly or on a fortnightly basis. They operate their programmes in halls, schools, parks, churches, community centres or other available venues."

This could be re-written as....

"What is a mobile service?
A mobile service is a vehicle that transports toys, books and and advice from place to place, setting up wherever it can."

It may not be precisely correct to the writer but it gets the message to the reader. That's what matters. You want to interest them first. Detailed information can be placed later when the reader is more ready to absorb it.

Once again, remember that the size of your readership usually declines with the length of your text. People just don't have the time or interest to read long technical texts unless they are specially interested in the subject matter.

The hard part when editing is to maintain the overall structure in your head, and bend the text to it. This may mean brutally cutting lines or sections that sound great but don't really contribute to informing the reader.

If you are editing regularly it is essential and also very convenient to use standard proof-correction marks. They are listed in The Style Manual, from the Australian Government Publishing Service bookshop.

Writing hints
  • Communicate in specifics and concrete terms, rather than generalities and abstractions, use word-pictures wherever possible.
  • Be careful of ambiguities. Your audience doesn't think like you; at least half of them will get the meaning you didn't expect.
  • One way to write clearly is to speak it. Everyone gets stuck in a grammatical quagmire from time to time. A good way out is to imagine an audience and to try to explain yourself to them verbally.
  • The complexity of the book/article should not be greater than the readers' own needs. Build your writing on the readers' knowledge, not your own.

Things don't actually have to be simple. They can be very complicated. But they should APPEAR simple to the reader.

Sexist language

Don't let your publication alienate readers through thoughtless use of sexist or discriminatory language.

  • Avoid 'man"-based words: eg.
    • mankind (= humanity)
    • chairman (= chairperson)
    • ancient man (= ancient people)
    • watchman (= guard)
    • foreman (= supervisor).
  • Avoid female diminutives: eg.
    • conductress (= conductor)
    • authoress (= author).
  • Don"t use 'he' for mixed sex groups: try s/he, she or he, one, you, they. If necessary re-work the sentence to avoid using a pronoun.
  • Don't use Miss, Mrs, Mr: use full names instead.
  • Avoid sexist stereotypes in text and graphics.
  • Be aware also of language that discriminates against races, ethnic groups, nationalities, the overweight, the old, the disabled and against people not living in heterosexual nuclear families.

  • Write titles, heads, subheads, captions, pull-quotes.
  • Could any items become boxed or subsidiary stories?
  • Have the facts and phone numbers been checked?
  • Do the figures add up?
  • If the writing is about someone, has a comment been sought from them?
  • If the article is critical is there evidence to back it up?
  • Have all comments been attributed?
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Use active instead of passive words.
  • Be concrete, use word-pictures, avoid abstract words.
  • Avoid acronyms.
  • Check for consistency in spelling, punctuation and capitalisation.