You’ve written a report; you’ve put a lot of time and thought into it. You have an investment in it. Now you need to edit your reports.
You can find lots of practical advice about how to edit your work. However, none of these suggestions will work for you until you address issues that have plagued the best writers who ever lived.
You’ve Worked Hard on This and You’ve Lost Perspective
This happens to every writer. It means that you’ve immersed yourself in your subject matter. Even when you haven’t been writing, you may have been thinking about the report and getting great ideas about what would improve that section. When you mentally write “The End,” you must mean it—for a while.
Put some distance between yourself and what you’ve written before you edit your reports. Your involvement and identification with what you’ve written has to loosen before you edit it. Otherwise, you’ll feel as if you’re amputating pieces of yourself when you pick up a pen to make changes. Or you are lost in a maze.
Repeat “This Is Not Me.”
Even when you do allow a period of time—which will vary, according to your time constraints—to pass before the editing phase, you may feel attached to what you’ve written. This will especially be true if you’re new to writing.
As you gain experience in report writing, this feeling will dissipate. It’s normal to feel attached to the first big report you’ve ever written. Once you’ve written dozens, the attachment fades.
Believe me, I know. I’ve written thousands of reports as an LNC.
You can speed up the process of detachment by telling yourself that this report isn’t your child or pet. It isn’t your car. It’s a vehicle for you to express facts, ideas, and principles. Do this accurately and in a way that communicates with other people.
It’s a tool for doing that.
Grab our editing checklist
Keep this handy tool next to you when you need to edit your work.
Be Ruthless When You Edit Your Reports
With the concept of “tool” in mind, approach the editing process as if you’re not the writer but the reader. Many writers find it helpful to read their work out loud.
Be honest. Make notes wherever you think your phrasing is awkward. Flag anything that’s unclear. Notice if you repeat words or if your language is too formal.
Being ruthless means boldly making changes that will make your work shine. Consider these style elements.
Get to the point
If you are analyzing a case for merit, share your opinion at the beginning of the report. Then provide the background to substantiate your opinion, followed by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Conclude by offering other services you can provide.
Make paragraphs short
Limit a paragraph to one idea. This gives the reader the opportunity to pause to absorb one concept before reading another. I recommend a maximum of four sentences per paragraph. Don’t exceed ten lines of text. Your reader needs a brief place to pause before moving on.
Go easy on the adverbs and adjectives
This is a subject in itself. To give you an idea of this rule’s power, compare the effect of “spoke loudly” versus “shouted” or “very attractive” as opposed to “beautiful.” Trim unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
Strong verbs and nouns also give authority to your writing. When you have a point to make, you need that authority. If, for example, you’re presenting industry statistics, you don’t write, “These figures suggest.” You write, “These figures confirm.” Be definite.
Use active voice
We need to unlearn passive voice and use active language. Do some reading on how to identify passive voice and change to active voice.
- Walk Away From Your Work.
- Repeat “This Is Not Me.”
- Be Ruthless.
These principles will help you hone your writing. Practice will sharpen it into a powerful tool to serve you as you edit your reports.