Edit Before You Write

Editing your content before you share it is an absolute must. No matter how well you write and arrange your thoughts, a second (and third) read will improve your text 100% of the time. A second opinion from someone you trust will do that even more so. 

Editing, by definition, is an act of refinement and modification, so it requires some input. When we think about editing, most of us think about the draft we write. We think of editing as the activity that follows writing. And while this is indeed the most common form of editing, it is not the only one. Editing can start before you even have the very first words of a draft. The sooner you start editing, the better your writing becomes.

Copyediting and Line Editing are designed to perfect the text in terms of style, tone, and grammatical correctness. As such, they cannot be done before the text is written. Without a draft, there is no input for these editing activities. But there are higher-level types of editing that are focused on entirely different aspects. These editing activities are used to verify the logical flow of your text: what is included, what should be omitted, how deep you should dive into each idea, and what is the optimal arrangement of ideas and information in your text. Developmental, Structural, and Substantive Editing are not focused on the phrasing of each sentence but on the design of the content as a whole. Like lower-level editing, they can be done after you have a complete draft. But we can utilize this editorial mindset even more when applied to a completely different type of input. 

When I write, the editing process starts with the design of the text. If I can improve the logical flow of the text, add missing ideas, and omit redundant pieces, there is no sense in waiting until I have a draft ready. All these issues are basically design decisions, so it is more cost-effective to identify and resolve them during the project’s design phase. Editing, in that sense, is like reviewing and refining the storyboard of a film before shooting starts or the blueprint of a building before construction has begun. Identifying redundancies, missing pieces, or incoherent flow is easy at this stage, and so is making changes. I haven’t yet invested in the writing itself, so the cost of changes is significantly smaller. By the time I start the actual writing, everything is already verified from a logical, high-level perspective. 

So, how do you edit your text before it is written? 

Step 1: Collect Your Thoughts 

Capture whatever comes to mind in the context you wish to write about. I call these nuggets of content Content Bits. At this stage, all you have to do is write a single sentence that captures the essence of each Bit and then break it down to the main bullet points you wish to cover. 

In this post, for example, the segment describing the different types of editing is a Bit. The body of the Bit was made of 4-5 bullet points in which I captured the things I aimed to cover in this segment. I didn’t bother phrasing them or writing draft-quality text at this stage. I wanted to keep the Bit as lightweight as possible. 

You can add quotes, examples, relevant data, and anything that can potentially find its way into your text to your pool of Content Bits. The more Bits you have, the more flexibility you gain in playing with different arrangements in the next step. 

Step 2: Arrange the Bits

With the collection of Bits you now have, you can create the design of your text. You can experiment with various arrangements to create different logical flows. 

I could have placed the Bit describing the types of editing at the beginning of this post. But I felt I needed a different opening, so I’ve picked another Bit from the pool I had prepared. 

The design we create at this step will be used later to guide us in the writing process. Instead of pausing to think about what should come next, we will have a guide to walk us through the logical flow as we write. But before we can use it, we still need to edit and refine it. 

Step 3: Edit the Design 

Editing starts with reading what we’ve created. Remember, we haven’t begun to write the actual text. At this point, we only have a skeleton made of Content Bits arranged in a particular order. When we read it, we can quickly evaluate the logical flow. It is pretty easy to identify repetitions or missing parts where we seem to skip some steps in the logical argument. We might notice that we miss an example that could clarify a certain point. Or we might realize we are opening too many threads, and the design does not lead to a well-defined closure. 

Sharing our design with other people will provide even more valuable insights. While we are biased by definition because we know where we are going with the argument, others can highlight unclear parts or things we take for granted. 

This activity is basically the essence of Structural and Substantive editing, but we are doing it before investing in writing the text itself. This way, even radical changes are not costly and don’t result in significant rework. When we start to write the text, our design is much more solid, and the validated logical flow will make the writing more fluent. 

A well-designed text can be read more fluently, but it is also easier to write. Editing before writing will help you write better, and the result will have a greater impact.

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