When Editing No Longer Helps

Error Whether you work in communications in a corporation, an agency, a not-for-profit or the public sector, you’ve probably encountered people who don’t know when to stop editing.

Editing is one of the most important stages of the writing process. With even one round of editing you can see drastic improvements in quality. You can see your writing improve from being average to being good. From just another release on the wire to something that’s worth writing about. From the delete button to the ‘I’d like an interview’ email.

With each subsequent round of editing, the return on your time investment will likely get incrementally smaller. At some point you need to make the call to stop; to accept that it’s just not worth making more edits. Ideally, that’s the point where the improvement will be worth less than the investment in time.

Working in the public sector, time was of little object. The focus was on producing the best product while balancing all of the competing interests. I would frequently see materials on version 20 or higher, half way through the approvals process.

On the agency side, it’s a different story. Consultants typically bill by the hour, which means you need to make a call on when additional investment simply isn’t worth it for the minimal benefit. Sometimes that means telling your client that their best course of action is for them to stop making changes, which isn’t always easy.

How do you know when that’s the time? There’s no hard and fast rule, but these are useful indicators:

  • When you see the piece beginning to revert to previous versions
  • When you see changes that could be produced with a thesaurus
  • When you see people tinkering with minor wording deep in the release
  • When you see the work increasing in length unnecessarily
  • When you see information irrelevant to the topic being added

If you start to see any of these signs, think – are they improving the release, or are they just changes for the sake of it? It might be time to put the writing to bed and move on.

What other signs do you look for?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.