Essential Elements of Effective Writing; Plan, Draft, Revise, Proofread and Edit


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Avoiding Problems

Editing and proofreading are critical elements of the writing process but make sure that you give equal and unwavering priority to the writing process itself. Read on…

When writers make haste with any of the essential steps of content development the end result can be a document that lacks clarity, confuses the reader, will appear poorly conceived and lacking authority. At the proofreading stage, the task of going back after your content is completed to resolve such issues will add a substantial amount of work and frustration to the proofreading and editing stages.

Proofreading and editing must be an exacting exercise that examines your content right from the title or heading through to the closing sentence of your content. That goes for any content that is to be distributed in professional circles throughout your place of business, published to a website or other online location or a book manuscript published in print or electronic formats. It is a painstaking and absolutely necessary final step of ensuring your content is error-free, grammatically sound, structurally, substantively and stylistically consistent, fluid and solid in presentation and message delivery.

Unless you take the time and exacting effort to follow through on each and every one of the critical steps to the writing process you are running the risk of your readers questioning your professional standards, your expertise or authority level and the critical risk that your readers or targeted audience will not read through the content and never return to engage in your future publications.

Effective Writing and Editing Strategies

Sufficient Time Allocation

Be sure to allocate sufficient time for articulate, clear and concise content development, proofreading and editing. Create an advanced timeline on a calendar or content management system software that will ensure that you stay on track and on topic. Leave room for unanticipated delays.

Keep in mind that there is nothing worse than scheduling your work so tightly that if any unforeseen distractions or delays occur you are cornered into a stressful and frustrating situation, especially if hard deadlines for submission are on the table. Also, anticipate sufficient time at the conclusion of the project to fully execute the proofreading and editing stages AND time to go back for further revisions and an additional round(s) of proofreading if necessary. So much can be sacrificed by rushing content development only to submit your work before it is at its absolutely best form, presentation, and message delivery.

Brainstorming Your Content in Advance

Set down an advance chronological sequence of content layout, format and subject matter. If you don’t have a plan in place to achieve specific objectives with your content according to its intended audience, your distributed or published material will lack the relevant focus it needs to have the optimum impact on your reading audience. You will also find inconsistencies in your content flow or progression.

From a marketing standpoint, clearly envision ahead of time what problem you are addressing that your readers will typically be faced with and what the best solutions are for your readers or customers to implement to avoid problems and make their life better, smoother, more enjoyable and prosperous.

Research and Knowledge about Your Resources

You should have a solid grasp of essential grammatical and citation rules that apply to the type of content you are producing. If you are getting into unfamiliar territory with the proofreading and editing disciplines you should consider bringing someone into the process that is proficient with resolving spelling, grammar, punctuation and all that is entailed with proofreading and editing textual content.

Keep essential tools such as on or offline dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides, research documents and relevant articles, handbooks and more. Having a skilled and competent mentor available when you need clarification is also a valued asset to the process. At every step of the way, if in doubt refer to those resources rather than leaving the task for the proofing and editing phases which can become monumental works of their own.

Identify Your Vulnerabilities  

Set down on paper a list of those issues which you tend to make errors on; in doing so you will minimize the editing process later on. By following a list of your common challenges you become much more mindful of avoiding those various errors line by line through your content development stages.

The Proofreading and Editing Processes

Many writers elect to print out a hard copy of their content on paper as a preferred method of reading back their content for proofreading and editing purposes. Professional editors and proofreaders will often elect to print for their purposes as well. Errors are often harder to detect on a computer screen. A related practice is to use a straight edge i.e. a book, blank page or ruler to control the eye’s focus strictly on each line being examined to ensure that you are fully focused word by word on each line.

When reading large volumes of written content it is common for the reader to experience a ‘lazy eye’ or scanning/glazing over of textual content. As the author of such content it is easy to become over-confident in your own writing accuracy and the habit of quick scanning of content rather than deliberate, focused attention to every detail becomes a risk. As such, even with repeated rounds of proofreading, you can quite easily fall into this glazing over habit with repeated missed errors as a result.

After your written work has been completed plan some time to sit back and relax away from the project before sitting down for the proofreading and editing processes. Rest your eyes and your mind for a few days before returning to your content. Review with fresh eyes and clarity of mind! You will be much sharper in readiness for this critical phase of your writing.

As an early detection and issue identification process during the writing stages of your content, you may wish to implement software such as Grammarly.com’s online extension for grammar checks. Do not rely solely on any such software to fully identify and resolve the many English language issues that can arise during the writing process.

Read Content Back Aloud

A great way to help you maintain focus is to read back your content out loud. By doing so, you will audibly hear and detect obvious inconsistencies in content delivery, confusing wording or phrasing or material generally out of context with the subject matter. Reading aloud forces you to focus on the text itself rather than the theme or specific ideas being presented. Sentence fragments are a very common issue with many writers. They tend to write as they would speak however incomplete or fragmented sentences are not grammatically correct, read poorly and are often confusing for the reader.

Reading Content Backwards

You may be scratching your head right now at this suggestion but it is also a highly effective method of tighter focus on individual letters and words during the proofreading process. It forces the eyes to have an even narrower focus on individual words, their spelling, sentence completion and comprehension and overall cohesive flow of content from one paragraph to the next.

Have you ever found that in second or third rounds of proofreading you are still missing errors? The problem is very common and goes back to my reference earlier here of the author becoming over-confident in their own writing accuracy. With that over-confidence brings the bad habit of scanning or glazing over content rather than a strict focus on every single letter, word, phrase, and sentence throughout your content.

Think of editing this way: Clean, clear and concise content that informs, inspires, educates and/or entertains is critical. Just as critical is presenting error-free, grammatically correct content and that your ideas flow consistently. When readers and especially potential clients, business associates and influencers read your material, it is critical that they have an extremely positive, impressed and enthusiastic response to your content.

That being said, why would you risk losing that critical new audience, collectively or individually, through sloppy textual content that is riddled with the type of errors already raised here previously? The same goes for purchasing customers of your novels. Make your body of work the best it can possibly be.

thClosely Check Your Punctuation

Punctuation is one area of textual writing that is often overlooked. It is an area that demands advanced study and understanding and should never be second-guessed during the writing process. For anyone well-versed in proper punctuation, nothing looks worse than sloppy, haphazard or misplaced and incorrect use of punctuation.

The English language is highly complex. Unfortunately, the educational system typically glazes over proper grammatical practices. For anyone who aspires to become a published writer or in any way must produce accurate, informative and highly polished and professional content through their place of employment, their business or otherwise, taking appropriate courses in advance to gain that essential knowledge is a must.

Where you do not possess such knowledge you will need to hire a professional proofreader and/or editor to undertake the proofing and editing phases of your content development prior to its distribution or publication. You can utilize MS Word’s built-in spelling and grammar check software as a starting point to the process once your content is ready for proofing but we aware that such software, free or purchased, is not infallible. The software is not human and as such, even through extensive programming the software cannot and does not fully detect spelling and grammatical errors.

Because programming cannot fully address the detection of any and all types of textual content errors for issues such as correct proper name spelling, sentence fragmentation, every instance of proper punctuation and grammar applications, the final examination authority rests with human eyes. The technology just isn’t that far advanced that it is even close to being perfect at this point in time.

Run-on Sentences

Like many of us, it is very easy to find yourself writing elongated or “run-on” sentences. The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Standard was established by scholars years ago which address this issue in the overall presentation of textual content writing. I have focused on these various elements addressed by the standard in a previous article and will not cover that range in this article again today.

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability principles have become ever more critical in today’s world of huge demands on people’s time and focus. This has become statistically evident even more so online where effective content presentation is essential to content marketing and retaining our readers’ short attention span. In a time when online searches produce relevant content in a matter of seconds and the reader expects to determine in only seconds whether or not they are at the right location for the information, they are seeking, highly engaging content is all the more critical.

Once you have engaged readers in your content, on or offline, you must be constantly mindful that all content is well spaced, with easy to read and understand wording. Sentences need to be kept short and to the point and you should refrain from developing paragraphs that exceed three or four sentences maximum, on average, throughout your content body.

As such, well-spaced content that includes space between relatively short paragraphs gives the reader’s eyes a brief pause or rest before reading on and can actually provide critically brief moments to absorb what they have just read. In turn, this overall formula helps to maintain focus, interest, and perspective during that reading experience.

If that focus or interest begins to wander the reader is more inclined to click out or close the book without finishing the read to refer elsewhere for their reading purposes. In terms of published content like novels that translates to lost revenue and repeat customers for the writer.

Ensuring Proper Citation Presentation

Where you have content which requires reference to its original source for proper authority reference, you will need to ensure that you apply the appropriate format of citation and location (in-text). Also, ensure that the references are properly displayed and located i.e. either ‘footnotes’ for references located at the bottom of the same page where the citation is found or ‘endnotes’ which are located at the end or conclusion of a particular chapter or body of text that the citation is found in.

Proper Quotation Form

When you are providing a quotation of the written or verbalized statement of another, you must be sure to include the word for word content in its entirety. Make sure all quoted content is spelled and worded exactly as it was presented by the originator. The quotation should therefore not be altered in any way from its original content and form.

Obtain Content Feedback

Before going forward with your content distribution or publication, take the time to seek feedback from friends, acquaintances, work associates, industry professionals. As writers, we tend to be so closely attached to our written work that we lose a level of objectivity when it comes to the perceived quality of what we write. We are often less critical and effective when it comes to proofreading and editing our own content objectively.

By getting the opinions and early responses from those objective individuals you can get a better sense of how recipients of your content, whether through business or publication, will receive your work. Will they perceive you as an expert source of information or entertainment and want to obtain more of your future works or look to others for that desire or need?

That outside objectivity will help to identify weak spots in your content that contain an error in fact or are less engaging. Feedback will help identify areas of your content that is unclear or confusing, perhaps not fully consistent with the storyline or forward movement of idea flow.

Taking these steps will help you to ensure that your writing improves and is the best it can possibly be in advance of it going out to its intended audience.

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© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

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