The 3 A’s of self-editing for the big picture

Editing your own work can be extremely difficult because if you didn’t think it was right in the first place, you probably wouldn’t have written it. Add that to the fact we have spell checks, Google and more, we tend to think that we’ve got everything covered.

That is, until someone else reads it, finds 138,025 problems and we end up looking like idiots.

Throughout the process of editing, you should be looking for all errors, large and small. (A post that says, “Make sure stuff is spelled right” or “Always check your facts” is a tad reductive at this stage of the semester. That said, I’m still seeing those kinds of errors, so do both of those things first and then come back to this post.)

Beyond keying in on the basics, you should also spend some time looking at the bigger picture when it comes to the value of the story. Since students like to get all A’s, here are a few A’s to consider when looking at a story.

Accuracy: You want to make sure that you’re not just fact checking but accuracy checking the bigger sense of if this is actually accurate and representative of reality.

For example, the statement “Vince Filak has been an owner of two professional sports teams” is factually accurate: I own a share of Packers stock and when the Cleveland baseball team went public back in the late 1990s, I had 10 shares of that as well. I was “an owner” of two teams, both of which were professional teams. (Although some days with Cleveland, it wasn’t always the case.)

That said, this isn’t really representative of reality because it leads people to believe I might have been in an owners box, giving Jerry Jones grief over the play of the Cowboys.

When you read through your work for accuracy, ask yourself, “Could someone conceivably misinterpret what I’m trying to tell them?” If so, try to rework it to better represent things in an accurate and clear fashion. Just because something “sounds good,” it doesn’t follow that you should keep it as is.

Advantages: Journalists love being first to provide people with information. “The big scoop” drives many people in the field to push for big stories. In most cases, those stories don’t mean as much as the everyday stories that can impact people’s lives. Valuable content can also be lost in stories amid a sea of glib quotes and tortured prose.

This is one of the more difficult things about self-editing: You tend to get really deep into the topic, to the point in which you forget that your readers are getting this for the first time. They don’t know all the stuff you do, nor do they have a strong sense of why they should care. To that end, you want to make sure you are highlighting key advantages in the story you are writing.

During your self-edit, look for ways to tell people “This matters to you because X!” or “Here’s why you should care!” Look for ways to showcase those advantages for your readers.

Accessible: The reason people go to a website, pick up a newspaper, thumb through a magazine or use any other form of media is to be engaged, entertained or educated.  The only way any of these things can occur is if the reader can understand the material itself.

In the self-edit, go back through and look at every term that you think your mom or your kid brother wouldn’t understand from the jump. If the jargon is unfamiliar to them, it might be unfamiliar to your readers.

That doesn’t mean you’ll cut every term that doesn’t make sense to common folk. You will often write for readers who are as attuned to a topic as you are, if not more. That said, you should question the degree to which your audience can follow along with what you’re trying to say before you just let the abbreviations and “inside baseball” terms slide by.

If they can’t read it easily, they will go elsewhere for their information. Shape your stories so they reflect the vocabulary, knowledge base and tone you expect your audience to embrace. Make your stories good reads, and people will continue to consume your content.

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