Red Pen Rules: Editing Tips For Making Your Messages Pop

There’s a long-standing tradition among editors that text be reviewed with red pen in hand. While the kind of pen or pencil is a matter of choice, diligent editing remains indispensable in getting a piece of writing to come alive.

Whether you’re evaluating marketing copy, a business communication, or something personal that you want to be well received, these proven tips will prepare your messages to connect with clarity and impact.

Red Pen Rule # 1: Cut, don’t add: First drafts are almost always longer than needed. You may decide to add a word or two while editing, but for the most part, you should be looking for opportunities to trim. Concise writing is easier to absorb than dense text. Keep it as short and sweet as possible.

Red Pen Rule # 2: Get rid of redundancies. Don’t you hate it when people repeat themselves? Don’t you hate it when people repeat themselves? Redundancies clutter up the writing, bog down momentum, and ultimately result in a failure to hold your readers’ interest. Describing a company as “committed and dedicated to customer service” says the same thing twice in one sentence. So does calling a person “prompt and punctual.” Choose the best word to express what needs to be said, then move on.

Red Pen Rule # 3: Use everyday language. Do you interface with someone or talk with them? Utilize a tool or use a tool? Matriculate at a school or enroll at a school? Watch for fancy or inflated words and cut them. While there is a time and a place for jargon (such as talking about bioscience to bioscientists), writing in everyday language is the most reliable way to engage people quickly and get your message through intelligibly.

Red Pen Rule # 4: Question the necessity of everything. Every statement, point, detail and word should have a good reason to be in your piece. If it doesn’t, ditch it. Be critical. If a word or phrase doesn’t illuminate the message or add value to the writing, kiss it goodbye.

Red Pen Rule # 5: Sleep on it. If you’re reviewing your own work and time’s on your side, wait at least one night before editing. You want to forget what you wrote so that instead of your brain seeing what it expects, it sees what’s really there. When we approach our writing with a clear mind, the mental lapses that come with being too close to the material are less likely to result in typos and awkward phrasing.

There’s a saying among writers that there’s no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing. To make sure that the work you draft or review is unfailingly clear and concise, free of repetition, and full of compelling messages, make editing an integral part of the process.

Just pull out your proverbial red pen, follow a few rules of the craft, and let the improvements flow.

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