Monday, May 7, 2012

Self-Editing Your Article

By Becky Hillman

Your article is finally finished and you’re ready to send it off to be published. But is the article ready? Have you taken the necessary steps to make sure it’s all it can be? You’ve worked hard to get to this point, don’t slack off now. Besides, your name is going to be attached to this piece, you want it to be something you can be proud of. Here are some self-editing tips from a 2012 Writers Advance! Boot Camp class taught by Ann Tatlock to help you out.

Once your article is finished, Ann suggests “giving it a cooling-off period. Come back later with fresh eyes. In the meantime, let a critique partner read the material.” I like to ask my husband to read things I’ve written because I know he will be honest about it. He is good at letting me know when he doesn’t understand the point I’m trying to make, or when a sentence seems a bit wordy.

Once it’s back in my hands, the fun begins. Here are some questions Ann says to ask yourself:

Do I have an effective lead?
An effective lead is probably one of the most important parts of an article, or any piece or writing for that matter. If you don’t hook the reader in, they will put down what they are reading and move on to something else.

Have I stuck to the point or gotten off on rabbit trails?
Sticking to the point is difficult at best, so you must be careful with this one. A critique partner or an honest friend is most helpful here. They can easily see where you have gone bird walking and will help pull you back in.

Have I left gaps in information?
Right tight! We all heard it more than once at the 2012 Writers Advance! Boot Camp, but not at the expense of leaving the reader guessing at what you really mean. You want to leave some things to their imagination, but not so much they are left in the dark.

Do I have a good balance of narrative and dialogue?
If your article includes dialogue, keep it balanced with the narrative. Maintaining this balance keeps readers on their toes. Too much of either one can be awkward and boring.

When I read it aloud, does if flow? (Vary sentence length.)
Speaking of awkward, read your article out loud. This feels a bit strange, but allows you to check the flow. Are your sentences too short and choppy? Or maybe you have long run-on sentences. A good flow will hold a reader’s attention and keep them looking for more.

Is the ending satisfying and does it give the reader something to take away and think about?
Satisfy your audience with a challenging ending. Give them something useful, something they can think about long after they have put your article down.

As you read through each paragraph, Ann points out the following items to make your work shine:
  •  Cut out the deadwood. Get rid of the words that aren’t necessary, especially overused adverbs or adjectives. Look for repetitive words and delete them.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this the right word to use?” Words that are similar may still have different shades of meaning. Use a thesaurus or synonym finder.
  • Circle passive verbs (is, was, were, etc.) and use active verbs instead.
  • Look for end-of-sentence prepositions and see if you can rework the sentence.
  • Avoid clichés. Strive for originality.
  • Check for incorrect grammar, misspelled words and typos.
Remember, your name will be attached to your work and people will read it. If it gets into the hands of an editor, you want them to see your best. Do what you can to polish it so what they read is worth remembering.

Like me, I’m sure you are grateful to Ann for taking the time and effort to share her wisdom. Now, let’s pick up our marching orders and use her advice to write the best articles the world has ever seen. And share those articles with your fellow boot campers. Remember, we are all in this together!