At Wellness Wordworks, We Practice Collaborative Editing, Part 2 of 2

Collaborative editing

Collaborative editing

A good editor sands and polishes writers’ work, so their ideas and personal writing styles shine through.  He or she does not impose his ideas or style on a writer’s work.  Collaborative editing is  between the writer and editor gives the best results.

All writing needs editing, whether the writers do it themselves, get help from an editor, or both. Nobody writes perfect copy the first time through.

Collaborative Editing on the Opening

Occasionally, editing involves reworking a writer’s opening to make it more likely to catch the reader’s interest, or reflect more accurately what the blog is really about.  Sometimes, the writer has buried a better lead father down in the story.

Sometimes, a blog needs a “nut graf,” a short paragraph near the top that summarizes any background the reader needs to continue reading.

And sometimes editing is surgery, moving whole paragraphs and sections around to make the story better organized, clearer, and more forceful.  Computers make it easy to “cut and paste.”  We used to use to use scissors and rubber cement, cut the draft in pieces, and paste the pieces on a fresh page in a different order, like a jigsaw puzzle. Hence, the computer term“cut and paste.”

Substantive changes like these require collaborative editing.

Editing Excess Words and Strung-Out Sentences

Editing is mostly removing excess words, and changing punctuation to connect ideas more clearly.  Also, when sentences are strung together with “and,” and other connecting words, I often cut them off and start a new sentence.

When people talk, they use excess words, and run ideas together.  I encourage writers to write first drafts fast, the way they talk naturally.  But excess words and run-on sentences muddy ideas, clutter good writing, and hide the writer’s natural style.

Editing for Clarity

Writers should not let punctuation slow down their first draft.  But they must show the editor where the sentences start and stop, and when to pause, with whatever punctuation seems right.  Leaving out punctuation completely turns editing into guess work. Writer should use whatever punctuation they can to show the editor how to read the sentence.

If I can’t understand what a writer means, I guess, and trust the writer to tell me if I guessed wrong.  That happens less than you’d think, because passionate writing, which most of our guest blogs are, is usually clear, even if it is spelled and punctuated wrong.

Collaborative editing for clarity is the only way to go, by definition.

Editing Manuals

"Strunk and White" is my favorite editing manual

"Strunk and White" is my favorite editing manual

I apply the editing principles expressed in The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White.  It’s very popular among professional writers and editors. who refer to it regularly.  But at 60, the little book (86 pages), is starting to show its age.

Part 1, by Strunk – that he wrote to teach college freshmen, including White, in the early 1900’s –contains all anyone needs to know about grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure (syntax) in just a few pages. But it uses the jargon of writing to teach writing.  Some say it can only help you if you already know how to write.

But for editing, Strunk and White, is still essential.  The basics in Part 1 – how to arrange words in sentences  — have changed very little.

Usage and vocabulary change all the time. The Associated Press Style Manual (AP) is constantly updated.  Any good dictionary will do, but AP is the authority most newspapers and popular publications have agreed to follow.

In Part 2, “An Approach to Style,” E.B. White, (master prose stylist and author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web) said words like uptight and ripoff are vivid and useful, but not ready for formal composition. That was in the ‘50’s. They’re ready now, according to AP and most American dictionaries.

Hopefully Becomes Page One News

White came down hard against the use of hopefully to describe the writer’s attitude instead of modifying a particular verb.  (“Hopefully, the Yankees will win,” — the writer’s attitude —  as opposed to “he said hopefully,” modifying said, meaning he was hopeful when he said it.

In May, 2012, AP horrified many language snobs by changing its style manual to say hopefully is now OK unconnected to a specific verb.  The change sparked over-the-top outrage in language circles that made Page One of The Washington Post.

Still, Strunk and White is a great investment for all writers and editors at about $8.95 at any good bookstore.  For one thing, it’s the best example I know of the precise, vivid, forceful, concise, clear writing it teaches.

Editing Blogs for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Finally, I make minute changes to bring the guest blog in line with the system we use to attract visitors to your blog and our website.  This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

I assign a key phrase people are likely to search for on Google, and add visuals, a headline and subheads, a short summary and longer description that show up on Google. Each one contains the keyword(s) I assigned. I make a list of smaller things the blog mentions that readers might search for on Google, especially familiar names or concepts.

SEO is built into Google websites.  A checklist shows up on the control panel (dashboard) under the blog, showing its SEO score.  After I look at the checklist, I often go back and tinker to just to raise the blog’s SEO score to attract more visitors.

This can’t be collaborative editing.  Only editors have access to the dashboard.

I’m still not finished editing.  Now, it’s time to bring get back to the writer for more collaborative editing.

Collaboraitve Editing WITH the Writer 

I e-mail the edited copy to the writer for comments, changes, or approval.  Sometimes, I go back and forth with a writer two or three times before we agree on final wording.  That’s fine with me.  Writing and editing should be suuportive, respectful, and collaborative.

I adopt the writer’s preferences 99.9 percent of the time.  If I don’t, I explain why, and we keep talking till we agree. Only then do I schedule the guest blog for posting on the website.

Would collaborative editing help your writing?


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