Writing tip: Stage 1 of your editing system—big picture

Let's assume you are editing a large report. Stage 1 of your editing system is to look at the big picture. Do not get distracted by details such as spelling.

Edit for the big things first: purpose, structure and content.

Stage 1 is sometimes called ‘macro-editing’. It’s your first step with any editing job.

Study the big picture—always from the reader’s point of view. Analyse the entire document, and see how the sections or parts relate to the whole. Consider the total impact of the document.

  1. What is the purpose of this document? Does it achieve its purpose?
  2. Would some major change help this document to achieve its purpose?
  3. What is the most important message in this document? Is it obvious? Is it emphasised? Or is it buried?
  4. Does the document have an appealing, appropriate, and highly readable appearance? Is the formatting excellent, or does it require some major change? Would colour, graphics or illustrations improve it ?
  5. Is the structure ideal from the reader’s point of view? Do any sections need repositioning? Does the document begin with a summary of the whole? If not, why not?
  6. Does this document contain all the necessary information? If not, what’s missing?
  7. Is the information accurate? Is it logical and proven?
  8. Are any sections unnecessary or irrelevant?

Take radical action where necessary, for example:

  • restructure the entire document or certain sections
  • add material
  • remove material
  • write or rewrite the executive summary.

Now you're ready to begin Stage 2 of the editing task. Feels good.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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