Edit, Please!

When I worked in the ICU as a resident, one of my daily tasks was to write a detailed note on each patient after I had seen, assessed, and come up with a plan of care for him or her. The attending doctor of the ICU had a saying that stuck with me through the years and I’ve applied it to many types of writing, not just the chart notes that he referred to: “Your note should be long enough to be good, short enough to be better.”

As a writer, I do not want people to skim my words. I know that people do it—I do it, too. But my goal is to make my writing succinct enough that my readers read every word I write, and don’t feel that I could have left something out.

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to editing myself as I’ve been creating content for my website as well as writing fiction.

For example, in the first paragraph of this blog post, I started out with this phrase: “…after I had seen them, assessed them, and come up with a plan of care for them.” Upon editing, I cut three words. Then I added three words, so my rewrite, while not more succinct, was hopefully clearer and, shall we say, “less flabby.”

Here are my rules for editing, which I apply to everything from text messages and emails to blog posts, web content and short stories.

  1. Re-read the piece before hitting send. For some reason, the auto-correct on my smart phone changes the word “mom” to “Jim.” If I didn’t re-read my text messages, I might have sent this one to my husband: “Sleeping at Jim’s tonight, not sure when I’ll be home.”
  2. Read the piece out loud. Okay, I don’t do this with text messages or with personal email, but I do it every time I want to make sure that my meaning is clear and can’t be mistaken. So, every time I send an email to someone I don’t know well, I read it aloud first.
  3. Put the piece away after finishing a draft and then come back to it. Sometimes with a blog post, I can only leave it for a few hours, but ideally I have at least a day or two. And with bigger projects, weeks is preferable.
  4. Check for redundancies. If I am reading a piece and I feel like the author already told me something, that’s when I start skimming. Trust the reader!
  5. Keep to the word limit. For blog posts, I now limit myself to 500 words. My first draft of this piece had a word count of 570, the final draft word count is 469. Let me know if you miss any of the words I cut!

53 thoughts on “Edit, Please!

  1. definite chord hitting ringing on some of the numbered items in this post , which i enjoyed reading – will think it over – thanks

  2. Excellent advice! The food blog I’m currently doing is aimed at beginner cooks, and I struggle to keep it light, and simple.
    I had a teacher in college many moons ago that taught us the “KISS” theory. “Keep It Simple Stupid”… LOL Anything we had to write, she would mark with her red felt-tipped pen, and if there were words that weren’t necessary, they were heavily stroked out. The first two assignments, I had a LOT of red… and the dreaded “wordiness, KISS!” across the top of my papers. Receiving two of those, I made sure I didn’t get any others! (In her defense, she was a fantastic teacher)

    • Hi Food Forays,
      Thanks for reading! And the KISS method works, too. When I used to edit at an orthopedic research lab, I would go to to the author of an article I was editing, ask them what they meant by this or that paragraph. They would tell me, and I’d say, “Let’s put that,” instead of the convoluted technical language they thought they had to use. KISS!
      Good luck with your blog!

  3. Thanks, Diane, for your editing tidbits. I tend to rush everything so have cut out this list and placed it on my desk to remind me to slow down, reread and read out loud.

  4. I don’t miss the words you cut and I didn’t skim a single one you left!
    Great piece……so much to think about!

  5. Thanks for the editing tips! I always enjoy hearing other writers talk about what works for them in the revision process. That’s the hardest part of writing –learning how to cut and make it leaner, clearer. I like to read my words out loud too. I feel like a fool doing it (*cut to husband walking into office as I read in character*), but it’s so, so helpful.

    • Hi Writerlious,
      Thanks for reading! I agree, reading something out loud to an empty room makes me feel like an idiot, too–until I read something that doesn’t work, that I didn’t know didn’t work until I read it out loud!

  6. Thanks for this list! I do most of these things already, but I think I will add limiting my blog posts to a specific word count. Maybe if I have more to say about a subject, that’s an indication that I should write a second post on the same topic, rather than a too-lengthy single post. ~ Sheila

    • Hi Sheila,
      Limiting my blog posts to a specific word count is a fairly new rule for me, but I am finding it very helpful. The more blog posts I read, the more I realize that less is more. I agree, better to do two blog posts on the same topic, rather than one long blog post. Happy writing!

  7. I am fortunate that my wife is a great editor so all my blog posts get everything you mentioned plus an extra pair of eyes. She’ll find errors and problems in the writing that I never would. Really makes a difference for me.

    • Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for reading! I agree, another pair of eyes is very important. I actually have someone review all my blog posts, but I didn’t include that in my list as not everyone has that option. You’re lucky to have an editor so handy!

  8. this is crucial step in writing..its the editing that takes up most of the time..the writing is finished in a couple of hours…it is really important to re read before you publish
    thank you for sharing this post!

    • Hi Ria,
      You’re welcome! I’m glad you liked the post. Editing is crucial to the writing process. Thanks for reading!

  9. This is excellent advice for writers of all kinds, particularly in the workplace. Working in the legal field, where everything is frenetically deadline driven and last minute, I’ve noticed that professionals rarely leave enough time for a really thorough editing job.

    I have worked in more than one law firm (in completely different states) where huge errors were missed even though multiple people reviewed the document before it left the office. For example, in a case of tortious interference with a contract (tortious: constituting a tort; wrongful), colleagues submitted multiple documents to the court and client without noticing that autocorrect had substituted the word tortuous for tortious in every single instance (tortuous: full of twists, turns, or bends; twisting, winding, or crooked: a tortuous path).

    In my experience, your step three is the most often neglected, especially in the workplace. Although I acknowledge time is often at issue, surely the benefits of distance and perspective are worth scheduling extra time for editorial review. Nowhere is this more true than in the legal field, where using the wrong word can mean the case is dismissed!

    • Hi kendallaline,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree, we tend to work at such a fast pace these days, it’s not uncommon for typos such as you describe to make it past any number of pairs of eyes! I really like to put my work away and look at it with fresh eyes at a later date. Especially with blog posts, I find that I can write a draft, think it’s terrible, put it away, and come back to it later to find I have a lot to work with. Even if some of it is terrible, there is usually a good base to work with. Rewriting is always less draining than facing that blank page.

      Happy writing!

  10. Diane,
    This is a great resource for my students, with your permission I’d like to read this to them. So often, students slap out a draft and call it finished 🙂 What a task to encourage them to take their time. I particularly like step 2 – reading it aloud. It makes for a noisy room, but the final draft are just that much better for it. I do it with my writing, testing it out on my own children and am always amazed by what I miss. (I could probably trim a few unnecessary words from this comment, but in the spirit of every 5th grader, I’m handing it in as is!)


    • Hi Jessica,
      Thanks for your comments. Yes, I’m amazing how different “finished” can look, depending on your commitment level. I remember staying up all night in high school, writing a paper with my twin sister (we were in the same class and it was a group project.) One of us sat at the rocking chair dictating (drivel, that’s all I can call it), and one sat at the typewriter, typing in the drivel, word for word. We were shocked (and I mean, shocked! we were A students) to get a “C” on that paper. I laugh every time I think about it now. I think we took turns just making stuff up. Anyway, I appreciate your perspective–no trimming needed! 🙂


  11. The part of your list touching on redundancies–how I wish my fellow Christian inspirational writers would all practice THAT one! A good blogging friend of ours, ButchLeroyDean at Wordsmith is a wonderful example of truth-telling in spiritual matters with NO redundancies. Hooray!

    • Hi granbee,
      Yes, I get frustrated with writing that makes the same point over and over. Now, watch! I’ll do it in my next post without realizing it. My goal is not to be redundant, not sure I always achieve it. Thanks for reading!

  12. Hello, Diane. Thanks for the concise reminder list.I love your followers for their comments.

    I served as writer and editor for…entirely too long. I like your points and that they ARE points. (I was also the desktop publisher who laid everything out on in the publications and website, taking care to ensure clarity.)

    I can think of two tips to add:

    1) If you use auto-correct, please add a rule for public. There’s nothing funny about “calling a pubic meeting for comment.” Each time I caught the mistake I laughed a little less.

    2) Read backward. I read the sentences backward (a quick, vital skill once mastered) word-for-word. This is another means of catching the the redundancies. (As a child, I also developed a strange habit of reading words backward. Useless, but entertaining.)

    3) (Yes, I said two above; I’m sorry for false advertisement.) We were mandated to write at a sixth grade reading level. Tell that to an architect and watch the slackness magically transform his face. Some word processing software will grade your work’s reading level. If so, make use of it if reading level is a concern.

    Whew. Okay. I’m off to read akandrewwriter’s editing blog of last week.

    • Hi Sandra,
      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. My list was my absolute basics of editing–there are always more ways to edit. I’m definitely going to try reading backwards! And–if I knew how to turn off auto-correct, I would!
      Happy writing!

  13. the rewrite was definitely “less flabby”!! I do at least 4 of the 5 on your advice list and usually end up with roughly the same words etc. but hopefully also less “flabby” lol! just curious, you worked in the ICU as a resident?? did you give that up to write? if so, how did you come to that decision?

    • Hi thefobbymotherland,
      Thanks for your comment. I am a family physician and during our residency, we spend a certain number of months as we care for ICU patients (usually along with an ICU attending). We usually know our patients well so can add to the care, even if they have complex medical problems that are being monitored by the ICU staff. I still consider myself a family physician, but I left my practice when I had my son two years ago. Currently, I call myself a full-time mom and a part-time life coach. I’m keeping up my credentials as I will probably go back to medicine when my son is a little older. I had been seeing patients part-time prior to my son’s birth as I was splitting time between medicine and life coaching. Writing was a big part of my life until med school, and then I put it away completely for a few years. I’ve been writing more and more for the past ten years or so.
      Thanks for reading!

  14. Hello Diane, a big thank you for the tips. Enjoyed reading your witty post, I’ll share it with my editorial team mates.
    And no I didn’t miss any of the words you edited out!

    • Hi Abhi,
      Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading. I’m glad you are finding the post useful. One of my favorite things…being useful!

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading (and reblogging!)
      Yes, that blank page is the hardest to face, but I do believe editing is very important in this hurry-hurry world!


    • Hi writingiskilling.me,
      That’s quite the name you have there! Thanks for reading and sharing your comments!


  15. Thank-you for the great tips, Diane!

    In college, a professor for an advanced research class gave an assignment that, “must be at least 10 pages long in order to cover all the necessary material.” I produced an eight-page paper (typed, doubled spaced). I was anxious due to the length, but decided I couldn’t add anything else. When the paper was returned the comment was, “I didn’t think anyone could give me what was needed in a paper that length, but you managed to do so!”

    Besides learning the subject, I also learned that my instincts for the assignment were right: edit, edit, edit and focus on what needs to be answered!

    • Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for sharing your story. Good for you for following your instincts. I’m such a rule-follower, I probably would have added two pages of filler if it had been me. I like to think I wouldn’t if it happened today but when I was 19 or 20? Definitely would have followed the rules–and had a less polished product as a result.

      Thanks for reading!

  16. This was in my growing pile of ‘thing to read’ while I was offline for two weeks during a house move. Hence, apologies for coming late to the post and the comments. I think your tips are very sensible, a great reminder. I do tend to rush things out (especially blog posts or articles for a deadline) and I am sure that if I allowed it to ‘rest’ a little beforehand (like dough before baking), it would be much better.

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