I’ve thought a bit lately about why we edit and proofread. For me it comes back to why we write. Humans are a funny breed. We’re desperate for people to take notice of us, to understand our point of view, and grasp our own unique experience. We write to convey information and ideas. We write to influence. We write to inspire.
Writing can be done quickly or it can be done slowly. Either way, the words end up on the page and then we might think, “There! I have done it. I have written what needed to be written.”
But have you really?
Re-reading your masterpiece you see it’s not quite like that at all. There are spelling mistakes and strange twists of phrases. And why does that sentence finish in…
Editing is about clarity.
Of words. Of thought. It’s about making sure what you think and want to write is what appears on the page. If someone else picks up this piece of paper or scrolls down this screen understands what you were trying to convey, then your job is complete. Of course, they might not agree with you, but that’s a topic for another day.
When we edit, we’re aiming for readability. If what you’ve written is hard to read, then the reader isn’t going to be swayed. They might not even get past the first paragraph because it’s just too much like hard work. And if that happens then all you’ve done is for naught.
A big part of readability is how the words look on the page. Have you used too many capitals? Too much bold, italics or underline? Is there enough white space?
When it comes to capitalisation in titles, I admit, I change my preference from either capitalising the first word and that’s it, or capitalising the first letter of every word. But it depends on the context, how many words and how easy is it for my eye to grasp what is written. Take a look at the difference:
How To Buy Five Different Pairs Of Stockings Every Week And Still Have Room For More
How to buy five different pairs of stockings every week and still have room for more
Which title is easier to read? Which would you want at the top of your article (if you had to)?
Bold, italics, underline: which do you use most often? I’d say any are fine…in small doses. If you’re going to use any of them, ask yourself why. What purpose does it serve? And then consider how it’s going to be used. Can you be consistent throughout? If you’ve chosen bold for headings, then always use bold for headings. If you use italics, keep it to a minimum. No big blocks of text, please; it’s hard to read on paper and on screen. And it’s best to avoid underline on screen unless it’s a link. (And please don’t use a combination of all three.)
Have you seen one of those really old newspapers where the words just fill the column? There’s nowhere for your eye to stop or break apart the information into manageable chunks? Nowadays we love white space. Our eyes crave it so make sure you use paragraphs frequently. For online writing it’s a must.
These are just a few of the considerations you need to think about when writing and when editing. However, they’re the nuts and bolts. The philosophy or ideal behind it should always be: how clear is my writing? If you can answer, “Crystal!” then your job is done.