The art of editing

Editing has always mattered. However, in the age of the internet where everyone’s a writer and any channel a news source, editing takes on an even more important role.

With the advent of the internet, language changed. A new, conversational style has risen – the language of texts, of email, of informal communication. Which is not a bad thing: language evolves. 

Yet with this evolution comes a danger: that people will forget grammar, forget punctuation, forget how to write with beauty, impact, and meaning. 

We’re warned of the extinction of the semicolon in favour of the dash, of the constant misuse of apostrophes, and so on. Editors are the guardians of language, and we can guide its evolution. 

We can’t forget good punctuation and grammar. We can’t. So, here’s why we must celebrate, guard and guide language. 

Editing is an art

Editing is an art, but an invisible one. To quote Robert Gottlieb: “The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one.” You remember the writer but rarely the editor. It’s essential if you’re editing to be invisible and to bring out the writer’s or brand’s tone of voice – not yours. 

Due to its artistic and rule-bending nature, editing is subjective. Editors will disagree over the smallest of marks. It’s a lot of grey and not clear-cut – but that’s what makes it interesting. 

Whatever you’re writing, whether it’s fiction, a biography, a white paper, an article, a presentation – it should be beautiful. 

How you write matters. Beauty means different things for different types of writing. Beauty in a white paper could be the clarity of writing; in a proposal, its persuasive nature; or in an article, its impact and memorable phrases. 

There’s no excuse; everything can be written beautifully. Because, why not? More beauty in the world is no bad thing. 

Why you must edit  

Editing is “a really thorough tooth cleaning”.

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.

It fine-tunes, structures, and polishes. It removes unnecessary words, ideas, and paragraphs. It enforces the tone of voice (TOV) and house style. It gives your writing impact and strength, and it makes your writing shine. 

Every brand needs a consistent and compelling TOV and style to:

  • Stand out from the crowd
  • Be authentic and have authority
  • Define its personality
  • Develop a lasting relationship with its audience 
  • Turn customers into advocates

Making sure your brand has a solid TOV and style guide is essential, but it’s also imperative to ensure your grammar and punctuation reflect this. You need on-point punctuation for rhythm, pace, meaning, and beauty. You have what you say, and how you say it – make sure both have equal consideration. 

Isn’t there an app for that?

Can’t you just use an app to edit your writing? Hell no. Well, I mean sure; use an app to check for the very basics. However, no app can ever replace an editor. There are rules with grammar and punctuation but most of these can be bent – or completely broken. 

Here are some examples that show why editing needs a real person. 

For meaning:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Same sentence. Different punctuation. Utterly different meaning. 

For beauty:

“Epic, yes; odyssey, no.”

Western vs. Noir: How Two Genres Shaped Postwar American Culture by Franco Moretti

This sentence is perfect and beautiful because it’s so well balanced by the semicolon. The semicolon keeps the thought going and provides a soft pause. There are so many ways you could write this, but none with the grace of this one.

Without the semicolon the examples below are either heavy-handed, striking or staccato (which may sometimes be what you want to achieve, but not here). 

“Epic, yes, but an Odyssey, no.”

“Epic, yes – Odyssey, no.” 

“Epic, yes. Odyssey, no.” 

For persuasion: 

“In today’s era of digital business, the idea of a corporate perimeter starts to sound quaint — even dangerous. Just as your business becomes increasingly data-centric, so must your security strategy and architecture.”

In this example, from Forrester Research, the dash creates impact and highlights the danger. The use of ‘so must’ is compelling, and to finish there is a short call to action (missing from this example). This stands out against the previous longer flowing sentences – giving gravitas to the action. 

Make an impact

Make an impact with what you write, and how you write it. Think about the order of your words; the punctuation, grammar, and rhetorical devices. A great line is quoted not only because the idea is compelling but because the way it’s expressed is memorable. The use of diacope in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” line, would be nowhere near as satisfying and effective if it were: “live or die”.  

Make your ideas stick, bond with your audience, and ensure you’re remembered with beautiful, compelling sentences. Get in touch below to find out more about how we can help you craft impactful content.