Published: 10 December 2010

Embrace the editing process

Other people's feedback is a vital part of the creative process, says freelance copywriter Trina Wallace 

The best charity communicators love the word “but”. Their ears are not closed to it, they heed the words that follow it and they act on them to make their charity’s communications better.

“I love that new enewsletter you’ve put together; it will really engage our supporters, but…”

“That leaflet will definitely get people to take action, but I was thinking…”

“It’s our best annual review yet, but next time can we…”

The “but” can be hard to swallow and easy to dismiss, whether it comes from your chief executive or your service users. When I was training to be a journalist, I remember that feeling of disappointment the first time I got red ink all over my work.

But…

I’ve learned to embrace other people’s feedback because it’s a vital part of the creative process.

The writer’s best friend

Listening and responding to feedback is a crucial aspect of putting together any charity communication. That means considering and not automatically clicking “ignore” on the tracked changes colleagues make on your carefully crafted copy.

Making time to edit your work after receiving people’s comments will improve it no end. Your charity’s communications will be more effective and more impactful because they’ll be better focused.Copyediting is your opportunity to take your draft and refine it until it’s accurate, consistent and engaging.

As author Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “The waste basket is the writer’s best friend.”

With this in mind, here are four tips on good copyediting:

  1. Don’t get too attached to your copy. You may love a particular turn of phrase or paragraph, but be prepared to lose it if it doesn’t fit your argument. Get a colleague to offer their opinion on whether they think it works.
  1. Get in order. Is your copy in the most logical order? Have you started with your most important point? And followed up with supporting information and background material in descending order of importance? Copyediting is your opportunity to move things round – and make cuts if necessary.
  2. Check for ambiguity. Your audience should be able to understand what you have written after a single read. To avoid ambiguity (and unintentional humour) make sure your sentences are clear. If people can’t easily understand what you’re saying, they’ll switch off.
  3. Remind yourself of what you’re trying to do. Write what you want your document to achieve on a note and put it above your desk. Check over your work to make sure that each word, sentence and paragraph justifies its existence to meet this aim. 

Trina Wallace, copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.