Divide and Conquer

How do I edit thee?
Let me count the ways.

I edit thee for obvious responsiveness, aligning the sections with the questions: the same numbering, headings, and order.

I edit thee for organization within each section, keeping like topics together and imposing some sort of defensible order on a stream-of-consciousness input.

I edit thee for clarity, ensuring that the same concept in different sections uses the same words.

I edit thee for macro consistency, ensuring that content in different sections tells the same story.

I edit thee for micro consistency, enforcing arbitrary standards on acronym use, capitalization, spelling, units of measurement, and an entire flock of factoids.

I edit thee for readability:

  • Breaking down long sentences
  • Breaking apart long paragraphs
  • Using simpler words
  • Adding bullets and graphics

I edit thee for style, smoothing the idiosyncracies that different writers and technical/business specialties exhibit.

I edit thee for marketing impact, putting the benefit first: in each section, in each paragraph, in each sentence.

I edit thee for length, finding shorter ways to say almost everything.

I edit thee for typos and grammatical errors, driving out basic mistakes.

I edit thee in one pass, jumping effortlessly between the biggest picture (solution clarity and consistency), the big picture (marketing impact), the slightly smaller picture (style consistency), the tiniest of tiny pictures (standardizing spaces around slashes), and all the pictures in-between.

Or not.

Jumping from one conceptual level to another, from one level of abstraction to another, from one level of detail to another, is work. Hard work. Tiring work. Prone-to-error work.

The longer I do this work, the more I’m inclined to break editing into discrete tasks. First, structure and numbering. Second, readability and length. Third, clarity. Fourth, consistency and style. Fifth, length and graphics.

One person can do it all, or a few editors can tag-team a document, with one cleaning up the obvious messes and the other reading for meaning. Successive passes can deliver a higher-quality product faster than a single pass, and with less wear-and-tear on the editor(s).

Pick one focus at a time (OK, or two – this *is* Proposal Land and some parallel processing is expected). Complete it (or them). And repeat.

 

4 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    I agree; multiple passes over an ms are usually faster and more precise. I recall occasions when, while trying to do an all-at-once edit, I discovered on page 107 some simple idiosyncrasy of the author’s — perhaps using British quotation mark style instead of American, or some spelling quirk, whatever — and being able to go through those 107 pages in about five minutes, when I knew precisely what I was looking for.

    At the same time, I disagree, in practice rather than theory. Sometimes I have to line edit for little things like commas before I can begin to grasp the bigger picture. Like, say, moving whole chapters around.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Interesting. For me, there’s no profit in line editing before the lines are close to being in the right place and order, so I’ve learned to do the structure edit first, come what may. Of course, I’m not working freehand: I have a structure from the client to impose.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – 🙂 Well, I see your nearer comment, so will assume all is well. Love is an interesting metaphor for editing. I’m not sure anyone I’ve edited would *feel* loved. I see it more as a dance. Everyone throws in their best moves and the result is better – way better – than anyone could have done on their own.

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