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Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

    Readers of Tim Ferriss’s 2007 book The Four-Hour Workweek might be familiar with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery that appears on page 65 of the book: “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.”  This is especially evident in writing.  Free-writing is the process of assembling raw material, but careful editing is like sculpture or construction.  It is the process of taking unorganized material and fashioning it into something useful.  As people get more productive and as their time gets more valuable, it will become progressively more important to pack as much information into as little space as possible.  Here are a couple of editing steps that can help you write tighter, more lucid prose.

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    1.  Write a Reverse Outline. I learned this a few summers ago when I participated in an Academic Ladder Summer Writing Club.  Basically, you take your finished rough draft and then write an outline based on the draft.  This helps you identify repetition and redundancy, which then gives you what you need in order to move to step 2.

    2.  Eliminate redundant passages that repeat things you have said earlier in the draft unnecessarily.  Redundancy can be the sand in the gears of your rough draft.  Prose that was swift, fluid, and interesting gets dull fast when you’re making ineffective use of redundancy.  That isn’t to say that repetition isn’t useful, but a lot of times you might end up repeating yourself either because you can’t think of anything more interesting to say or because your thoughts are fundamentally disorganized.  So what do you eliminate, and how?

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    3.  Eliminate unnecessary pages and paragraphs.  It’s appropriate to begin the editing process with a chainsaw.  Editing that crappy first draft–and you should always give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft, no matter how bad it is, as long as you get it on paper–is not the time to be delicate.  There are probably large swaths of your draft that can be eliminated without reducing the quality of your final product.  I’ve gotten comments like this at conferences and from journal referees.  In one case, a conference commentator liked a paper I had written but suggested that I eliminate the first nineteen pages.  I received a revise-and-resubmit request on a journal article once suggesting that I eliminate the first fifteen pages.  And so on.  The idea that a piece of writing is good just because it is long might be appropriate for a sixth grade language arts class, but it is wholly inappropriate for serious writing.  Past a certain wordcount, the returns to additional words are sharply diminishing.

    4.  Eliminate unnecessary sentences.  Now it’s time to start being more careful.  You’ve eliminated redundant paragraphs, and now it is time to look within the essential exposition to see where you can clarify.  There is still likely to be some junk here that can be eliminated without compromising your message.  Your readers’ time is very scarce.  Don’t waste it.

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    5.  Eliminate words, then syllables.  Simple expression elucidates powerful thinking, and it has been said–though I forget by whom–that you should never use a ten-cent word when a five-cent word will do.  In the process you will clarify your analysis, clarify your own thinking, and do an important service for your readers.

    You’ve probably noticed, perhaps with irony, that this article is imperfect.  The last couple of times I have taught writing-intensive sections of economics 101, I have given students a bonus assignment in which I give them my own interpretation of the first writing assignment–the last couple of times it has involved Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, if you’re curious–and asked them to grade my paper according to the rubric by which I grade their work in exchange for a few bonus points.  I think they have fun with it, it’s a nice way to let them peek behind the curtain, so to speak, and suffice it to say it is always fun and informative to read my students’ comments on my own work.  So here’s an exercise for everyone reading: what would happen this article look like if you applied the editing suggestions I gave you above to what I’ve written here?  If you take a shot at it, I would be interested in seeing the results either via email or in the comments.  Happy editing!

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    Last Updated on February 13, 2019

    10 Things Happy People Do Differently

    10 Things Happy People Do Differently

    Think being happy is something that happens as a result of luck, circumstance, having money, etc.? Think again.

    Happiness is a mindset. And if you’re looking to improve your ability to find happiness, then check out these 10 things happy people do differently.

    Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. -Dalai Lama

    1. Happy people find balance in their lives.

    Folks who are happy have this in common: they’re content with what they have, and don’t waste a whole lot of time worrying and stressing over things they don’t. Unhappy people do the opposite: they spend too much time thinking about what they don’t have. Happy people lead balanced lives. This means they make time for all the things that are important to them, whether it’s family, friends, career, health, religion, etc.

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    2. Happy people abide by the golden rule.

    You know that saying you heard when you were a kid, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Well, happy people truly embody this principle. They treat others with respect. They’re sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other people. They’re compassionate. And they get treated this way (most of the time) in return.

    3. Happy people don’t sweat the small stuff.

    One of the biggest things happy people do differently compared to unhappy people is they let stuff go. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Happy people realize this, are able to take things in stride, and move on. Unhappy people tend to dwell on minor inconveniences and issues, which can perpetuate feelings of sadness, guilt, resentment, greed, and anger.

    4. Happy people take responsibility for their actions.

    Happy people aren’t perfect, and they’re well aware of that. When they screw up, they admit it. They recognize their faults and work to improve on them. Unhappy people tend to blame others and always find an excuse why things aren’t going their way. Happy people, on the other hand, live by the mantra:

    “There are two types of people in the world: those that do and those that make excuses why they don’t.”

    5. Happy people surround themselves with other happy people.

    happiness surrounding

      One defining characteristic of happy people is they tend to hang out with other happy people. Misery loves company, and unhappy people gravitate toward others who share their negative sentiments. If you’re struggling with a bout of sadness, depression, worry, or anger, spend more time with your happiest friends or family members. Chances are, you’ll find that their positive attitude rubs off on you.

      6. Happy people are honest with themselves and others.

      People who are happy often exhibit the virtues of honesty and trustworthiness. They would rather give you candid feedback, even when the truth hurts, and they expect the same in return. Happy people respect people who give them an honest opinion.

      7. Happy people show signs of happiness.

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      smile

        This one may sound obvious but it’s a key differentiator between happy and unhappy people. Think about your happiest friends. Chances are, the mental image you form is of them smiling, laughing, and appearing genuinely happy. On the flip side, those who aren’t happy tend to look the part. Their posture may be slouched and you may perceive a lack of confidence.

        8. Happy people are passionate.

        Another thing happy people have in common is their ability to find their passions in life and pursue those passions to the fullest. Happy people have found what they’re looking for, and they spend their time doing what they love.

        9. Happy people see challenges as opportunities.

        Folks who are happy accept challenges and use them as opportunities to learn and grow. They turn negatives into positives and make the best out of seemingly bad situations. They don’t dwell on things that are out of their control; rather, they seek solutions and creative ways of overcoming obstacles.

        10. Happy people live in the present.

        While unhappy people tend to dwell on the past and worry about the future, happy people live in the moment. They are grateful for “the now” and focus their efforts on living life to the fullest in the present. Their philosophy is:

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        There’s a reason it’s called “the present.” Because life is a gift.

        So if you’d like to bring a little more happiness into your life, think about the 10 principles above and how you can use them to make yourself better.

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