How to edit anything – pro tip

a stage and footlights with the words 'Know Your Audience' across itI’ve been doing a lot of editing recently. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Think about who will use the thing and for what.
  2. Write a temporary headline for each chunk.*
    Each headline must be a full sentence that summarises the chunk.
    Do not make any other changes.
  3. Now look at all the temporary headlines. Do they flow? Do they match what people will use it for? Are they all necessary? Rearrange accordingly. And delete. Be bold!
  4. That’s it. It works.

There’s a longer version here: Editing that works

*chunk means a piece of the thing that has a single thought in it; often a paragraph or a slide but look out for paragraphs or slides with more than one chunk

(This is a slightly edited version of my ‘recipe for editing anything’ on Twitter that people found handy)

My method is similar to reverse outlining

David Lipscomb, head of the Writing Center at Georgetown University, pointed out that my method is similar to an editing technique called ‘reverse outlining’. Thanks David!

If you search for ‘reverse outlining’, you’ll find plenty of good descriptions. I like this one, because it also suggests that the temporary headings ought to be full sentences – a feature that I find really important in practice.