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Top 10 editing tips to tighten your copy

Writers rarely get it right the first time. Good writers use first, second, third and even fourth drafts to get their ideas in order and hone their copy. Here are ten tips you can use to make sure you’re getting the most from your words.

1. Know your audience
Even before you start writing, know who you’re writing for. The words and phrases you use for a business presentation will be different to those you’d use on a blog post. It may not be a traditional editing tip but it’s one of the most important.

2. Read your writing out loud
Once you’ve written your first draft take the time to read it out loud. Reading your work aloud helps identify awkward sentences or ideas as well as revealing where sentence structure may be less than perfect.

3. Cut it out
Like a good outfit, in good writing less is more. Around 10-15 per cent of what you’ve written can usually be cut. To start with, delete repetitive sentences, weak transitions, unnecessary anecdotes, and clichés. Cut or revise anything that hikes up your word count without delivering value in return.

4. Short and sweet
If you make your sentences and paragraphs shorter, you’ll find you’re well on your way to cutting out superfluous phrases and clichés. English-speakers find shorter paragraphs and sentences easier to comprehend. Sentences should be around 20-25 words long, and paragraphs around three sentences. Ramble on for too long, and you’re likely to lose your reader.
5. Axe the adverbs (aka those ‘ly’ words)
Adverbs weaken your copy because they’re not truly descriptive. Rather than saying ‘the girl runs quickly’, say ‘she sprints’. Instead of describing the cat as walking slowly, say he creeps or tiptoes. The screen door didn’t shut noisily, it banged shut.

6. Make your verbs stronge
It’s not just adverbs that need to be axed. A weak verb can dilute your copy. Use verbs that command attention and focus the copy on the point you’re trying to make. Strong verbs allow readers to visualise actions.

7. Keep it simple
Big words don’t make your writing high-brow. In fact, complicated words lead to confusion and you’re audience is likely to switch off. Use words with which people are familiar – the shorter the better.

8. Stick to one voice
If you start writing in first person, stick to it. The same if you start your copy in second person. Chopping and changing between the two can confuse readers. To make it simple, stick to the ‘I’ voice or the ‘you’ voice.

9. Remove redundancies
If one word will do, don’t use two. Things like brand new, advance planning, basic necessities are just a few examples that sneak into copy without you noticing. Sometimes redundancies are separated by an “and.” If you say your sentences are straightforward and to-the-point, they are neither. You don’t need both words. Your sentences are straightforward. Or, your sentences are to-the-point.

10. Use a copyeditor
Finally, don’t be afraid to call a professional. Copyeditors are trained to spot errors faster and with greater accuracy than the average content writer. Or use a tool like Grammarly, which can scan for errors as you type, or PerfectIt – an add-on to MS Word.
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