Three Tips When You Edit Someone Else’s Writing
By Katy Kauffman
Editing commas is good and needed, but what I really hope for when a friend edits my writing, is help with content.
Content is king—it can make or break a publishing opportunity. Of course, editors love a “clean” article or manuscript. One that has few typos and follows their guidelines. But what editors really love is content that speaks to a specific audience’s felt need.
So when a friend (or critique group) asks us to edit some writing, what are the main ways we can be the most useful and edit with an objective perspective, an open heart, and an eagle eye? Here are three tips to help your friend with both content and grammar.
1. Grab three colored markers, and assign a color to each of the following: the main idea; wording that has punch, zip, or wow; and reader takeaway.
This will help you to see your friend’s content without partiality. We love our friends and want them to write well, and we want to tell them, “Good job!” But if we’re a true writing friend, we’ll look at their writing as objectively as possible, and colored markers can help us do that. (This process works for our own writing too.)
Once you know where their piece of writing is headed and who the target audience is, then read their work with your three colored markers. When you find the main idea—the main point— underline it with the first color. When you spot phrases or sentences that have punch, zip, and wow—they are said just right, they get to the point in an intriguing way, or they are inspiring—underline those with the second color. Finally, wherever you find takeaway—in the lead-in, in a transitional paragraph, where Scripture is explained, or where the bulk of the application is—underline every sentence with the third color.
Then look at the printed page (or the highlighted page on your screen if you can’t print out your friend’s writing). Ask yourself these questions as you analyze the content:
· Is the main idea clearly stated and well developed?
· Do stories, insights, and action steps use vivid nouns and verbs?
· Does the message have enough punch, zip, and wow?
· Is the takeaway relevant to me, and is it placed throughout the writing?
· Does the piece end with a meaningful conclusion?
If you feel that something was missing or not enough, make a list and mark that on the printed page (or digital file). When you email your friend with feedback, be sure to start with the content you enjoyed, and then share where you think they could spend more time.
Sometimes I feel hesitant to share what didn’t work for me, but I need to remember something. My friend asked me on purpose to look at their writing. If I tell them now, with kindness, what I think needs to change, they may have more of a chance to be published. And then others can read the wonderful message my friend has crafted to help people’s hearts and lives.
2. Know your stuff—stay up-to-date on punctuation and grammar because the rules can change.
spaces after a sentence are now out, and single spaces are in. When we quote
Scripture in running text (paragraphs), the period goes after the reference. In
a block quote (when the left side is all indented the same), the period goes
before the reference. Rules, rules, rules. But if we know the rules, we become
a trusted source for both editing and peace of mind for our friends.
My default setting is to edit according to the rules found in The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). So much in Christian publishing uses CMS as their style guide. If your friend knows that the publication uses a different style book but you don’t know those rules, perhaps you can make suggestions as best you can, and then your friend can double check your suggestions per the publisher’s preferred style manual.
3. Look for “heart” in your friend’s writing—aka, encouragement.
Why would a stressed woman pick up a book on peace? Why would a praying grandparent linger over an online article describing how to pray for wayward grandchildren? Why would a businessman listen to a podcast on sharing Jesus in the workplace? Because they all have a vested interest in the topic. They have a felt need to know.
As you read your friend’s work, take note of how much encouragement is shared. Also listen to the voice of the article. Is the tone encouraging and engaging? Does the article or chapter give enough help for the present topic? Does the writing reveal a heart-to-heart talk with the reader?
As you edit your friends’ writing and your own work, include a content edit and a line-by-line edit that looks at grammar and typos. When we remember to do both, we can become an even better writing buddy, and we can help our friends deliver messages from the heart.
Which of these three tips is your favorite? Tell us in the comments, and happy editing!
Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.
Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. She has taught the Bible to women and teens, and her Bible studies focus on winning life’s spiritual battles. Katy is a regular contributor to the Write Conversation and to two websites for young women. Connect with her at her blog, Life with God, and on Facebook.