The one ‘must-do’ exercise that will save you hours and brain cells

Three steps to editing a document

As noted in my post ‘How to edit a dog’s breakfast’, creating marginal notes is a terrific way to find out if your document flows well, contains irrelevant material or needs more information.

To use marginal notes, follow the three steps below.

  1. Using as few words as possible, write in the margins what each paragraph is about.
    • Your first marginal note might be ‘2020–21 results.’
    • Highlight any sections or paragraphs that can be deleted or belong in another document.
    • Include any comments you have about the paragraph, such as ‘Delete? Include in Board report instead?’
    • Do this for the entire document.
  2. Number the paragraphs in an order that makes sense logically.
    • Remember the purpose of the document. If it’s to persuade, you will need to build your case and present your evidence for your recommendations.
  3. Re-order the paragraphs
    • Read the document aloud
    • Add any linking sentences to ensure flow
    • You’re now ready to do the initial ‘tidy up’ your boss thought they were asking you to do.

Just remember:

  • Do the marginal notes exercise on a COPY of your document so that if you get stuck, you can always go back to a clean copy.
  • Time how long it took you to do this task. This could be up to an hour longer than what your boss said it would take, but you’re going to have a much better document at the end of it.
  • Tell your manager about this process. They may not realise what they’d asked you to do was so difficult or time-consuming.
  • Suggest that they ask the original author(s) of the piece to work to a plan or template in the future to save the organisation time and effort.
  • And if you don’t want to be stuck with this unenviable task every time, ask your manager to organise training in document creation for their team.

The Marginal Notes exercise is my all time favourite writing tip. To download the full explanation, case study and cheat sheet, subscribe to my newsletter.

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