How to edit a dog’s breakfast

If you’re looking for tips on how to clean up after your dog, sorry. This post is about editing a dog’s breakfast of a document.

As discussed in my post, Three key things to ask before you ‘tidy up’ a document, I talked about the key questions you need to ask before you edit a document you’ve been told needs a ‘quick tidy-up’.

  1. What is the purpose of this document?
    • Is it to inform the reader, raise an issue for further discussion, celebrate a success or…?
  2. Who is the intended audience?
    • Is it your boss’s manager, the Board, the general public, external stakeholders or…?
  3. What do you want the reader to do after reading it?
    • Do you want them to take a course of action, start an investigation, acknowledge your report or…?

An editing short-cut

Once you have the answer to these questions, you roll your sleeves up, crack your knuckles and get down to business by doing what I call the ‘marginal notes’ exercise.

The ‘marginal notes’ exercise is something I learnt years ago from one of my Professional Writing teachers. In essence, you write a short summary in the margin that describes what’s in each paragraph and work out how to restructure the information so that it flows better and only includes elements that answer the three key questions above.

Break down the text

For example, when you read the first paragraph, you decide that it’s about, say, the 2020-21 results. You write this in the margin (Track Changes in Word is good for this) and go on to the next paragraph. By the time you’ve been through the whole document, it will become clear what is relevant, what needs to have more information and what needs to be deleted.

Click here to read my full article on how to do the marginal notes exercise and see the case study.

Click here if you want to see pictures of cute puppies.


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