e’ dit v.t. reword for a purpose. Editing makes for good writing, effective communication. (So do reading and practice.) It’s sometimes subdivided into editing and copy editing. Editors worry about the big picture: are ideas clear and well-organized, the result appealing? Copy editors worry about details: grammar, syntax, choice of word, turn of phrase.

Good publishers of books, magazines, newspapers, etc., employ both kinds. Good editors get thanked by good authors; the former make the latter’s books better. Editors shape authors: J. K. Galbraith credited Henry Luce, editor of Fortune magazine, with teaching him how to write. Good newspaper editors get the best from journalists.

Today many books and blogs, websites and face-book pages are self-published, often unedited. It shows, just as it does in students’ essays, letters to editors, “tweets” and “texts”. Sometimes we don’t care; often, we should.

Any thoughtful reader can be an amateur editor, unskilled perhaps, but much better than nothing. Get someone else to read your stuff before it’s “released”, “published”, “sent”, “submitted”. Is the meaning clear and sensible, the organization logical, the wording readable?

My students of College Composition or American History read and comment on each other’s papers. Subsequent re-writes are much improved. After a while, the first drafts also get better.

And/or self-edit. You should know what you want, or mean to say. Have you done it? As best you can? When you stop between sentences or paragraphs, go back and check the last few. Do they look/sound right? Do they lead to what will follow?

Time is a great filter. If a piece matters, make the time to stand back. An hour’s break is better than nothing, a day or more, better still. It’s occasionally discouraging but always helpful; does it still make sense and sound right after a rest?

Nike says “Just Do It”. It may work for sports, but it’s seldom good when writing, or indeed, speaking. “Think First” and “Think Again” are better mottos. Self-edit, at least. Great presidential authors (Jefferson, Lincoln, TR…) seldom sent and never published an unedited word. Recently, lesser and less literate incumbents have paid a price (bad spelling and misused words are often signs of insufficient reading).

David R. Jones’s wife reads and edits his stuff. Fortunately

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