Editing is an important and necessary step in writing any piece in the workplace. As an association coordinator, I do editing work every day, even if I’m not consciously aware of it. Re-reading an email before sending it to a board member, that’s editing. Having a colleague proofread an e-blast before it gets sent to association members, that’s editing. Ensuring that meeting minutes have a flowing and sensical narrative, that’s editing. Even though editing work is constantly being done in the association management world, I believe that by being consciously aware of the editing process while it’s occurring, your work will come out better than ever.
There are three formal stages of editing:
- Structural editing
- Stylistic editing
The editing process starts with looking at the big picture in the structural editing stage. Start by analyzing the structure and intention of the message. Ensure that all the required information has been included: dates/times, locations, links, contact information. Although it is important to be aware of your audience throughout the entire editing process, try to fill in any gaps where questions could be raised, and try to make the piece’s structure coherent for your intended audience. After establishing a strong structure, the stylistic and copy-editing stages will help fine-tune your message.
Stylistic editing involves examining every paragraph, every sentence, and every word to clarify meaning, improve flow, and smooth language. In this stage, focus on eliminating unnecessary wordiness, restructuring and reordering sentences, word choice, and catering terminology to your audience. This stage will be the most mentally demanding and time-consuming but will also allow you to showcase your own personal writing and editing style.
Finally, the copy-editing stage will put the final touches on your message. At this point, your work is almost done, but looking over the piece with a microscopic lens will help finesse your work and project a new level of expertise. In this stage, ensure consistency in capitalization, abbreviations, hyphenation, treatment of numbers, spelling and grammar, and overall formatting and style. Often, you will notice that the stylistic and copy-editing stages will overlap. This is almost inevitable and is not an issue if the final piece is sound.
All this being said, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to edit. Each editor has a different style, different methods, and different goals that influence the way in which they work. In association management, an editor/writer must approach member and board communication in a way that will speak to their audience, convey the appropriate tone, and make the message clear and concise. Use these three editing stages as a guideline to help improve overall association communication. As another reference for communicating with association member effectively, see Genevieve’s blogs “How to Write Things That Will Actually Get Read” parts 1 and 2.
Bonus Tips for Exceptional Editing
Jim Taylor, Canadian writer and editor, has developed a method of editing that he guarantees will produce a well-worded document:
- Shorten sentences – average sentence length should be about 18 words
- Eliminate jargon and cut unnecessary phrases
- Overcome the negatives – replace multiple negatives with positive statements
- Deflate pomposity – keep it simple; avoid long words when shorter ones work as well
- Eliminate equations – avoid forms of the verb “to be” where possible
- Activate the passives – every sentence should have an active verb
- Lead with strength – draw in the reader with your opening statement
- Parade your paragraphs – use strong topic sentences and logical structure and flow
By applying the three stages of editing, above, and Taylor’s golden rules of editing into your association management work, member and board communication will be greatly improved. It is important to realize the impact that quality output has on an association’s reputation and for overall member satisfaction. Member satisfaction will improve if news, policy changes, renewal letters are communicated in a meaningful way. By going through the structural, stylistic and copy-editing stages when creating messages for members, gaps will be filled, wordiness will be eliminated, and the goal of the communications will be clear. Members will not be left searching for missing information, they will not be calling and emailing asking questions, and they will have peace of mind that their association is being professionally managed. When members understand the goals and communications of the association, everyone wins.