Last month the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC, Vancouver Chapter) offered a one-day seminar on “Eight Step Editing,” a systematic way to make documents more readable, hosted by Jim Taylor. It was excellent. In recognition of his contribution to the profession, Taylor was made an honorary life member of the EAC in 1993. He retired in 2007; thus, we’re fortunate that he comes out of retirement from time to time to give seminars. Jim sanctioned my intent to share his work: all the credit belongs to him.
A systematic approach to editing has many benefits. It helps professional editors ensure they have not looked over anything. It give novice editors a starting point for commencing work on any manuscript. And it give writers a chance to improve their own product before it goes to an editor, significantly improving chances of acceptance.
The Eight Steps:
1. Shorten sentences. Inserting a period into a long sentence cut its fog index in half.
2. Take out the Trash. Remove meaningless and unnecessary phrases inserted in the sentences.
3. Deflate fat words. Most longer words consist of prefixes and suffixes grafted onto shorter roots. Get rid of the accretions, and watch the words sparkle.
4. Reduce negatives. Every negation inserts a layer of opaqueness. Multiple negatives increase the difficulties exponentially.
5. Eliminate the equations. Almost every use of the verb “to be” lowers the energy of the sentence a bit. Equating verbs reduce the energy level to zero. Find the real action in the sentence, and turn that word into a verb.
6. Activate the passives. Passive verbs create passive readers. But all passive verbs started life as active transitive verbs. Convert them back again to increase energy and vitality.
7. Lead with strength. Find the sentence, paragraph, or illustration that will best grab and hold the reader’s attention. Move it to the beginning. Shuffle the rest of the material as necessary.
8. Tune up topic sentences. Old style paragraphing turns people off. Start a new paragraph every time you shift to a new point of view, and use the topic sentence to keep the thread of meaning flowing.
Don’t try to tackle all eight steps at once. You may have to work through the text several times. That’s not necessarily a handicap. You can probably do two or three passes, checking specific items at a time, faster than an all-encompassing pass.
An editor is the intermediary between the writer and the reader. It’s a loop. The writer shares a message and the reader receives it. As I continue to work throughout the material of Taylor’s seminar, I shall share my insights with you and do my best to keep my own violations of the above steps to a minimum!