The secrets of how to edit your own business writing

So what is editing? Is it rocket science? Or is it something anyone can learn to do, at least for their own purposes? Here’s how to do it successfully…

Editing can be anything from simple correction of spelling and grammar mistakes – to a major reduction (or expansion) of the text.

However, one of the benefits of getting your thinking right before you start writing (as I always preach) is that you don’t have to edit your work very much. That’s because you have already done a lot of the necessary editing while thinking about your writing.

Although some people will tell you that extensive editing can only improve your work, I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, it’s important to make sure your text is correct and concise. But too much editing can change what you’ve intended completely and with that, your writing can lose its freshness and originality. That’s why I feel it’s better to do the structural “editing” before you write, not after.

Here, though, we take a look at how you can improve your text with some editing techniques that work after you’ve written the first draft.

The first point is this. If you read through your text and you feel it needs a lot of editing, think hard. Will that solve the problems? Or would it save time in the long run to discard what you have drafted and write the text again?

The same applies if you find that your text is very much too long to fit into the space required. When this happens, you can’t just write the same text in a shorter way. You have to remove content, which may change the meaning and/or emphasis. If you need to shorten your text by more than about 20%, then, it is probably safer to go back to the beginning and re-write it.

Structural editing

Although you should have “edited” the structure of your text at the thinking stage, not the writing stage, you may want to check your text after you’ve written it to make sure it achieves your objectives. Here are some questions to ask yourself, in this order:

  • Does it start by identifying clearly the key point of the piece – the notion?
  • Does it provide convincing and accurate information to support that?
  • Does it conclude and summarize the main issue?
  • If relevant, is there a strong call to action?

Style editing

Here is a checklist you can use after you’ve written your text, to make sure its style works well.

  • Take out any adjectives and adverbs that don’t work hard
  • Remove repetitive words, phrases and sentences
  • Make sure each sentence flows logically into the next
  • Make sure paragraphs and sections flow in logical sequence too
  • Where appropriate use sub-headings to make text more readable and scannable
  • Run a final spell check and double check homophones, etc., yourself

Edit from screen or printed page?

Some people find that no matter how much they edit their work on a computer screen, they still find mistakes and things to improve once the text is printed out on paper.

If that’s true for you, always be sure to print out your text and check it that way.

Other people’s opinions

If you’re not a professional writer (and even if you are) it sometimes helps to show your text to someone else and ask their view. But be careful. Some people will find something to criticize in your writing, no matter how small or unimportant, just because they feel it’s expected of them.

If you want a balanced opinion from a colleague/friend/family member/etc., don’t hand them your text and say “what do you think of this?” That invites them to be critical.

Instead, say you’d like them to imagine they’re the person who will receive and read your text. Tell them the basis of your mission – what you want and/or need to achieve with this text. Then ask them how well they understand the message in that way.

Almost certainly you will get more than a “yes” or a “no.” And if the person doesn’t understand the message of your text in the right way, you can ask why. The answers will be less about your writing than about your thinking through of the text, which is probably where it will have gone wrong anyway.

Other people’s editing

Sometimes your writing will have to be edited by others – e.g. senior colleagues – whether you like it or not.

If this happens, do not let it go to print or screen immediately. Take another look at it. The other people may be careful when editing your text. But the fact that they didn’t create it to begin with, means they may not have understood your objectives properly.

If someone has made a change to your text that does not work – or changes its meaning – go back to that person and discuss it with them (even if the person is your boss!) Only go ahead with the text when you and that person are both happy that the meaning is correct.

Good luck – and please share your editing experiences here with us here!

More help with writing and editing:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. Interesting post Suze,
    I find it’s sometimes easier editing someone elses work rather than your own. Being able to look at a piece of work with fresh eyes is so important, as often your labour of love can be so close and personal, you can’t see the mistakes. When I was at Uni. a group of us would swap our essays to discuss and check errors for each other, before they were due in. We all found it so helpful, and learnt a lot in the process.

  2. You’re absolutely right there, Anita – where the people checking out others’ written work are all on a level playing field, psychologically speaking, swapping material like that is a very good way to perform reality checks as well as pick up mistakes.

    In a business context it’s not always that simple though, and often anyone “checking” your work may have another agenda – perfectly innocent, but nonetheless capable of diverting the main flow of the writing away from where it should be going. That’s why I warn people to be wary of others tinkering with their writing and to recheck it after others have made any changes,


  3. Hi Suze, oh yes I agree, I just meant that the process helped me a lot 🙂


  1. says:

    The secrets of how to edit your own business writing…

    How important is it to be able to edit your own business writing? Leading business writer Suzan St Maur thinks it is, and shares her tips on how to do it here……