How to Edit Your Own Writing

, , , | Colin Dawson

Have you ever looked back on your training initiatives? The handouts or workbooks or what you’ve written for eLearning.

You may slowly lose your optimism about your work. You may well think that much of it is no good. Why was I such a bad writer?

But, that’s the wrong question.

We are all bad writers.  Even great authors write crappy first drafts.  And as legendary copywriter David Ogilvy suggested: I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor.  So I go to work editing my own draft”

Writing a crappy first draft is normal.  You must know how to change it into awesome learning.

What is Good Editing?

Editing is a necessary part of the writing process. To write a first draft, your focus should be to get your thoughts on paper.

Next check your content for flow.  Is the order of learning logical?

Once you’re happy with your content as above, it’s time to edit sentence by sentence.  Polish each sentence so it’s easy to read, concise and human, and fine tune the rhythm of your copy.

Editing our own writing can be tricky as we know what we meant to say, and we are tempted to read between the lines.

To become a better editor, read through the eyes and brain of your learner.  Read what IS written, not what you think is written.

1. Paint vivid imagery: Trainers often write in abstract language, especially when dealing with interpersonal skills. But that’s a problem because abstract language makes it hard for readers to visualise and understand our ideas.

Abstract is: “shaking the person’s hand.”

A concrete goal is more motivational, such as . . . "making the interviewee feel welcome with a firm and friendly handshake.”

Notice how that sketches a clear picture?  Making abstract language solid requires some effort but it’s well worth it because it makes your writing more vivid and the learning more engaging.  Learners will more quickly grasp what you are teaching.

2. Fine-tune the tone of your writing: When writing a first draft we just want to get it done and we often forget who we’re writing for. We write for a faceless crowd.

And that makes it sound like a classroom lecture.

So, one step in the editing process is to make your writing feel more human.  Address your learner directly using the word YOU and ask a question.

Next, pay attention to the circumstances where a learner may have been embarrassed or feel out of their depth.  Here’s how you can add a note of compassion. 

For instance . . . "We’ve all felt lost and embarrassed by Customers at some time.  However, if we can see the situation through the Customer’s eyes it’s much easier to find a solution.”

Adjusting the tone of your writing is an essential part of editing.  It’ll help shape your voice and make learners feel like you’re writing for them personally.  Imagine your typical learner (the one you wrote your learning objective for) as if you’re them.  How does your text make them feel?

When can you engage them with a question?  When do you want to put a virtual arm around their shoulders?  When can you encourage them to take this learning back into their workplace.

Look forward to three more editing tips in next week’s Modletter.

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