Fifteen tips for making any document look and read better

How to polish copy with only minutes to spare.

How to polish copy with only minutes to spare

It’s 15 minutes to deadline, and after some begging and pleading, one of your contributors has finally e-mailed you an article that needs to make it into the latest publication. You can pray to the copyediting gods that the piece is OK—or you can use this list of tips to give the text a quick-and-easy cleanup job. (It’s not a bad idea to give your own copy a scan using these same tips.)

Note that for the most part, these minor changes won’t require you to schedule fresh meetings with the contributor, or go back to legal for approvals. However, these changes will impart a professional polish to text, even when time is in short supply.

1. Your friend, the period. Chop up some longer sentences in your copy, and you’ll instantly make it more readable. (This is a useful shortcut when you’re dealing with copy that’s already been approved by legal and other higher-ups—since you’re not making word changes or rewriting the text, you won’t need to go back for more approvals.)

According to The Associated Press Guide to News Writing, writers should aim for an “average” sentence length of 16 or 17 words. Sentences of more than 20 words are a tough read.

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