School is back in session. As an adjunct professor of communication, I am excited to be working with my latest new crop of media writing undergrads.
While I’ll teach the inverted pyramid, the art of writing a good lead, and AP style to my students this semester, one of the most important lessons I’ll focus on is quite simple: Revise and rewrite your work.
It’s something we should all remember, because it makes our writing clearer, sharper, and more interesting.
Let’s face it, first drafts usually stink, especially when you’re a beginner. This always seems to be an eye-opener for students, yet it’s an important lesson. Turning in a rough draft gets you (at best) a “C” in my course. It doesn’t fly when you’re in the working world, either.
One of my mentors taught me early in my career to read and revise your work at least four times, and it’s a method I teach my students today:
First, read your piece from beginning to end to check for organization and clarity.
Does everything make sense? Are you skipping around too much? Perhaps you need some transitions to flag you’re moving from one idea to another. Make these major fixes first.
Next, read your story paragraph by paragraph.
Are you too wordy? Is there a simpler way to convey your thoughts? Start line editing, challenging every sentence.
Third, read your piece from end to beginning.
That’s right—backwards. This is the best way to find typos, because you’re not reading in context, glancing over words. Don’t assume Microsoft Word will find typos for you.
Finally, look at your story from top to bottom one last time.
Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
If you’re an overachiever, you’ll want to take one more step: Get someone else to review your copy.
That could be a friend, a roommate, or your mother. It doesn’t matter too much, as long as that person will give you honest feedback. I encourage my students to find a “writing buddy” in class, so they can look over each other’s work with a critical eye. You might consider doing this with a colleague at your company.
Revising and rewriting your work takes time. Make sure to build it in, so you don’t turn in sloppy copy. Your readers (and professor) will thank you for it!
Michele Baer is founder and president of Baer Consulting Inc., an award-winning healthcare communications firm. She is also an adjunct professor of communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @michelebaer.