How to Edit: 4 Helpful Hints for Marketing and Technical Writing

The old joke has it that in order to create a great sculpture like Michelangelo’s David, all you do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.

That advice may not make you another Michelangelo but it will certainly help you to edit your marketing or technical writing.

What Is Editing and When Do You Do It?

Editing is the process of pruning down your writing so that it (a) fits the space it needs to fit (for example, a magazine may have a 1000-word limit); (b) says what you need it to say clearly, concisely, and powerfully; and/or (c) is easy for readers to follow, because very few people will slog through a logical mess.

Many of us have a little voice in our heads that criticizes our writing. Many of us have no voice whatsoever and cling to our words as if they dripped with gold. Doesn’t matter. You need to edit, and the time to do that is after you are finished writing, never while.

What to Look for When You’re Editing

Editing is not the same as proofreading–although you should proofread every word you write before you send it out into the world. Proofreading concentrates on correct and consistent spelling, grammar, and formatting.

Editing concentrates on delivering a clear, concise, and interesting message that sticks to the topic. To edit your technical or marketing writing:

  1. Introduce no more than 3 ideas. People have trouble remembering more than 7 new ideas and you want to stay well below that mark. As an added incentive to limit new ideas, when doctors are testing for memory issues, they often give the patient three random words to remember until the end of the session. That’s three, not thirty. If you have trouble sticking to and organizing a few memorable ideas, please see my previous blog post.
  2. Check for unnecessary words and phrases like can or are able to and for vague adjectives like cost-effective. Precision motivates readers. Instead of “We are able to deliver cost-effective heating solutions” state “We save you 20% yearly on heating.”
  3. Never be afraid to use more words to gain clarity. In an effort to be concise, an engineer I worked with came up with the sentence, “We offer a broad portfolio of compatible knowledge components.” He meant: “Our software transfers your information smoothly from one program to another.” For two extra words, he gained tremendous clarity.
  4. Stay true to your theme and your audience. This is where you cut away anything that is not David. If you feel frustrated, then write another article, success story, insight paper, blog post, or brochure. But do not switch themes (“how to save money on heating”) or audiences (your average homeowner) in midstream or you will baffle–and lose–your reader.


Editing is a necessary step after you write and before you proofread; in fact, I usually edit three or four times. The first edit, I cut back; the second, I restore; and the third, I find that perfect balance between saying too much and not enough. For writing, editing, and proofreading help for your marketing or technical writing, whether a large project or very small, contact me today through LinkedIn or at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.


White Papers: 5 Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

When I am asked to edit a white paper or long report, especially one to which several writers have contributed, I often detect the following problems:

  • A gap between what the introduction or executive summary promises and what the actual white paper delivers. Usually, this is caused by someone writing the executive summary first, so that it reflects wishes and intentions rather than the actual content. Or the executive summary includes information that didn’t quite fit in the white paper. Executive summaries should always be written last and should always summarize the white paper–not introduce new content.
  • Inconsistent ways of organizing data. Headings, subheadings, bullets and other graphic devices are guidelines to the logic of the report. If you say that data fits into three categories (say, past, present and future voting patterns) but then present the data up in three entirely different categories (location, age of informant and political beliefs), you lose your readers. They’re busy wondering what happened to the past, present and future.
  • Conclusions buried in the text. Your readers won’t go hunting for the main points in your white paper or report. You are familiar with the points you want to make and may not even realize that you have reduced them to a brief aside. Before you start writing, list your goals, your main conclusions and the data that supports those conclusions. Then before you publish, make sure the conclusions are easy to find.
  • Grammatical and spelling inconsistencies. What style are you following: US, U.S., United States, USA? Are you using a serial comma (comma before “and” in a series)? Are headings bolded or italicized? Working with a style guide should prevent and help you fix those inconsistencies.
  • Cross-references that go nowhere. Multiple writers are a key cause of this problem. The writer of chapter 3 assumes a diagram appears in chapter 4 but the writer in chapter 4 places it in an appendix; the reader following the cross-reference in chapter 3 searches chapter 4 in vain. Electronic links are especially likely to go nowhere or to the wrong place.

Whenever multiple writers contribute to a white paper or report, it is wise to have an editor examine the entire report for problems before it goes to the intended audience. As a professional editor and writer, I know what to look for and am prepared to solve the problems that I find. Contact me today.