You’ve heard me expound the importance of professional editing over and over again, but I do get a lot of emails from people who can’t afford professional services.
This guest blog post is from Jake, founder of DocuToss, a free online community that encourages its users to offer feedback and editing advice to their fellow writers.
I think there are essentially three steps to being a high quality writer.
First, be an average writer.
Second, get feedback from other people.
Third, seriously think about that feedback and revise.
What other routes are there to improving writing other than feedback?
Well, reading is certainly helpful and there are some useful training activities and ways to practice. Ultimately though, it all comes down to doing it and seeing how well it worked. Unless you are your own audience that is going to mean seeing how well it worked for someone else.
Nothing about the concept of receiving feedback is new to anyone reading this. The slightly unique argument worth considering is the benefit of providing feedback. There are at least three benefits of this type.
1. Providing feedback forces you to read differently.
It encourages you to look carefully and look for errors. Practice in this type of reading is an invaluable way to write more carefully. Good feedback goes beyond pointing out errors and attempts to explain why an alleged error needs correction. Editing forces you to think critically about grammar, style, organization and content.
2. Providing feedback gives ideas on improving your own writing.
As you read using critical eyes you are likely to find yourself thinking about the mistakes you fall into. You also are likely to begin thinking about the ways other writers organize their ideas.
3. Providing feedback is fun.
This benefit may sound marginal but should not be marginalized. It is a great way to expose yourself to a wide variety of writing you might not otherwise typically read. Writing is usually rewarding, but in a very selfish way. Editing gives you an opportunity to help others through your writing skills; altruism is fun.
Hopefully this has been somewhat convincing.
It is easy to exchange writing with friends, family members or respected colleagues. Another great option is to find an online community in which you enjoy sharing reviews. This can take the form of a favorite writing forum or an online exchange editing platform.
Before you actually get started you might be wondering …
How to ensure you are getting the most of the editing process.
While there are no perfect guides to editing there are a few basic tips.
First, if exchanging files digitally, using comments (instead of track changes) in Microsoft office is a great option. It forces you to explain yourself and think about your suggestions.
Second, there are many online checklists for editing, google a few of these before you get started and use them. It may seem elementary but they are a great way to get you to challenge yourself to think while editing. Here’s an example from ReadWriteThink.
Third, editing (like writing) is iterative. It requires repetition. It is best when attempted more than once. If you want the best possible results, don’t be lazy and be willing to reread and reconsider a paper several times.
[Note from Joanna: Please also edit and comment on genres that you already read and enjoy, not genres you know nothing about. And please respect each other and be aware of being constructive. Check out this interview on rejection, criticism and resilience to help you.]
Next time you’re itching for something to inspire you to write, or some golden tip to improve your writing, consider how well the opposite approach can work. Get inspired and improve not by writing, but by editing.
Have you found editing other people’s work useful? How have critique communities helped you? What are your tips for editing peers? Please do leave a comment below.
DocuToss is an attempt to improve the quality of writing through a simple feedback interface. It was born out of a simple observation: the process of asking others to review papers, emails and other documents is often more cumbersome than the actual review process.
We wanted to speed up how quick you could toss your documents out for feedback. But we also knew that “roulette” style sites tend to become quickly swamped with low quality content. The solution we have found is to create a community in which users are rewarded for strong contributions.
…and thus DocuToss was born…