A typo, broken link, poor grammar or misspelled word can be an instinctive turn-off for readers you don’t want to disappoint. Whether you’re a long-time writer or just thinking about writing stresses you to tears, answering these familiar questions will improve your writing.
Who am I talking to?
My revision starts with this question. It’s a useful way to focus on my audience. Revision can mean several rewrites to avoid costly mistakes that could be read quicker than you’re able to update after you publish.
“Who” frequently answers the question “how,” which makes revision an essential part of effective business communication. As a process, revision happens before, during and after, putting your focus, energy and understanding squarely on task. It hones your ability to develop meaningful connections with intended readers by removing errors, cluttered or unclear phrasing.
Open-mindedness helps after input from your team, clients or those who see things differently. Defend your writing, but don’t be a pushover about it, or worse, a bully. Find the opportunity in every criticism, your writing will be better, and you’ll be a team player of whom clients sing. Cue the “Hallelujah” chorus.
What needs revision?
Writers need constant revision, but must we rewrite everything? No, but it’s helpful to reconsider awkward word combinations. If you stumble, so will your readers, who may go elsewhere if you don’t revise. You’ll also lose people if sentences or words are too complicated.
Build from the basics to hit the sweet spot in your reader’s imagination, and you’ll earn points for style later. Mark Twain suggested that we delete every third word to make our writing relevant, modern and easy to understand. Choose verbs (actions) over adjectives (descriptions). Abandon empty words like “very” and “really” that have little meaning and may sound amateurish.
If a word isn’t useful, delete it. Revise for consistent tone, appropriate tempo, correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Double-check references, tables of contents and lists. Don’t forget attributions and bookmarks, resumes and captions. Relook at appendices, forms, emails, metadata, social posts, tags, bios and white papers. Drill-down on selling points, so they flourish in your customers’ minds.
A quick note on showing versus telling readers: descriptions tell people about things, “large” or “small,” “shiny” and “round” whereas showing tells the tale as readers might experience it. In other words, is it merely a hot day or noonday Sahara? Revision is about finding what works. Where common sense fails, seek expert advice or sponge skills from your existing crew.
When should I revise?
Content always tells your production story, but don’t let urgency pull your strings before you’re absolutely ready to go. When it comes to revision, your process should check every box.
Revision offers perspective, but not all revision is alike. Can you revise too much or too little? Prematurely? Though revision heals disruptive elements in your company narrative before they happen, it’s possible to revise yourself out of a payday. Revising helps you avoid this by giving everything on the page reason to be there.
As a writing enthusiast, I chase perfection all the time. If you chase it like I do, rethink your perfection myth: there’s always a way to improve. Practice instead. Deadlines tell us effective revision means knowing when to quit.
If you’re squinting from dry eyes, can’t keep them open or see ants running over the page, it’s time to put it away. Give it a rest if nothing is working. It won’t last, and you’ll thank yourself later. Writing often needs a simmer to achieve lasting flavor. No matter where you go, it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you get back.
How should I revise?
Revise like an invisible, highly attuned waiter, and never leave your reader’s glass empty. Build your writing purposefully around the people you’re writing for, so no one gets left behind.
Response, or lack of it, tells you if word is getting out, so revise accordingly. If your writing sounds off, rewrite until it’s correct. Test it, and use feedback. Read aloud, and ask yourself: does it make sense for my audience? If there’s too much clutter or you get the impression that you’re trying to say everything at once, simplify for best effect. Try writing one idea per sentence and one focal point per paragraph.
One indispensable technique I’ve picked up is simple: read from end to beginning. If each bit makes sense, be confident you’ve done a respectable job. A “garbage in, garbage out” approach keeps desired results firmly in mind. Organize paragraphs around a single, unifying idea using a clear beginning, middle and end. Too many commas in your sentence, and there’s too much going on.
You can make changes as you write, or run a fine-tooth comb revision after you’re done. Revision by section works for longer items, or mix it up. It’s the end result that matters. Tracking changes in word-processing software expedites the revision process, and preserves a history of previous changes that can be used as reference material.
Why is revision an invaluable tool in an entrepreneur’s repertoire? Writers need constant revision, or they grow stale. Fail to judiciously revise, attention evaporates and value disappears. Revision saves time teaching you what doesn’t need to be changed, but try not to lose yourself in it.
Revision is your spin-cycle when it comes to writing: it’s the first step toward a great first impression. It removes mildew causing verbiage and ripens strong, influential writing like a compass. A former Marine, and successful e-commerce business owner I worked with once told me, “Proper, prior preparation prevents poor performance.” It was some of the best practical advice I’ve ever received.
You’ll like your writing better after revision because it will be better. Though change is seldom instant, see what a good revision habit does for your bottom line over time and let me know how it goes.