Sunday, May 13, 2012

Editing Tools: Read Backwards

I recently heard a new piece of advice for editing your writing from purely a grammar, sentence structure, and clarity perspective. I needed to try it out before I went ahead and passed it along, though.

Lucky for me, more detail editing work has come my way. I won't reveal anything about it, except that the fact that I did the first set of edits for the first publisher led to this job in a roundabout way. This is a much smaller job, and should go much faster, which is why I had room to try this new method.

Simply put, on this run-through, I started at the end of the manuscript, and am working my way forward. I'm trying to go sentence by sentence, but this writer's sentences are a different length than what I'm accustomed to. So, if I can manage paragraph by paragraph, that's what I'm doing.

What this technique does is it removes the context. I can't check for continuity, using this method, but that's not the level of edits I was hired to perform, anyway. I'm contracted to look for grammar and sentence structure issues, and that's precisely what reading backwards is revealing.

It also slows me down, and anything that halts the eye is good. When you read straight through a thing, whether you're a fast reader or not, you'll want to keep going. Therefore, your mind will fill in gaps, patch over bad syntax, and generally ignore that the words aren't perfect, in favor of the big picture. That's one of the advantages of reading aloud, too.

I can definitely say that I've spotted some errors I'd jumped over before, when I was reading chronologically, so this small tip has been a great help. I can't say for sure I wouldn't have picked them up on my third read-through, but I didn't pick them up on my first or second pass.

And so, having tried it, and found it useful, I'm passing this tip along. For sentence-level edits, read your piece starting from the last sentence, and going back to the start. You'll find things you wouldn't have, reading chronologically.

This method may also highlight repetitive conversations or if you've mentioned something more than once, but I wouldn't count on it for finding redundancy. Instead, I'll be using it on my own writing when I need to polish up the grammar to a high shine.

Because, yes, even I make errors in my writing. Shocking, I know.

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