As I write this I think, “they won’t find a number of links called Content Editing at the end of this one.”
Most writers think of content editing as part of the revising process, which is why you won’t find a number of links at the end of this post. I break it out to emphasize the challenge to the expression that should take place before the actual revising starts. Notice the graphic for this step has reversed color. That’s because we’ve moved focus from expression to structure.
I coach new writers to invite a colleague or friend to serve as their content editor, to take on the role of the surrogate audience. A pair of fresh eyes at this point can do a lot speed up the process of checking for sense, order, and logic.
A content editor is the first to challenge the writing, to shake the structure. This editor checks to ensure that all important information is included and that any unnecessary stuff is left out. He or she reads to see that the writing is clear, that it says what the writer wants it to, that the order is logical and easy to follow, and that the piece holds together without gaps or holes.
I’m currently writing a fictional narrative in which some events take place in the narrator’s mind. Helping the reader keep track of what’s real and what’s not requires changing tenses, using seques, and staying alert. Sometimes I get going so fast with the story that I miss a key segue, and the reader gets lost. I have three content editor-friends reading behind me, just to make sure I’ve not left something out. I can’t do it myself, because the story is simply too obvious to me.
A good checklist for a content editor draws from the characteristics of the genre. I’ll detail the characteristics for several genres next week, but for this article here’s a typical checklist for a personal narrative.
Personal Narrative Content Editor’s Checklist
- Does the introduction make the reader want to continue?
- Are the events clear and in chronological order?
- Does the body stay to the core of the story, using only rich and relevant details for support?
- Does the writer use exact words that portray the experience in a way the reader can understand it?
- Does the conclusion tie the story together, leaving the reader glad to have read it?
Use this checklist yourself when reviewing a personal narrative, or ask a friend to use it to see whether your writing lives up to it. Then use the notes from the checklist experience to guide you as you do your revisions.
Having set goals going in, does a lot to take out sting of revising.
—me strauss Letting me be