With years of experience writing and editing business material, Zabrina Shield, an in-house editor for a leading law firm shares her useful tips for editing business books.
With hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘how to’ guides for business published each year, how can you make sure your ‘business book’ stands apart from the rest? It can be pretty terrifying even to try! I always think of any business writing as a proposal, something through which you want to engage the reader, to make them take a certain course of action. You’re not just informing or speaking to the reader, you’re writing to persuade.
Once you have your business book manuscript (and congratulations for getting this far!), there are a number of essential elements to look out for at the editing stage – to make sure that your book is packed with a persuasive punch. I’ve also thrown in some general helpful hints for editing, to make sure you get off on the right foot.
Once you’ve finished writing your book, you should always take a break before you begin editing. If you are not working to tight time frames, I would recommend a good few days before even glancing at your painstakingly crafted words. Edit your manuscript with fresh eyes – it will prevent you from reading what’s in your mind, rather than what’s on the paper!
Review a hard copy – be kind to your eyes. I am a firm believer in editing and proofing manuscripts in hard copy. It’s much easier to search for inconsistencies and to spot those glaring typos and spelling mistakes. And sometimes, it’s just good to get away from those screens.
In any business writing, it’s essential to get to the point. Cut jargon. Keeping paragraphs short and limiting each paragraph to one idea can be a great help to keeping things clear cut.
Thomas Jefferson said it best, ‘The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do’. Keep it short and simple. Writing in the active voice (subject-verb-object) and not the passive voice (object-verb-subject) is a good way to reduce length, and more often than not, it’s much more direct. If you’re struggling to reduce length, look out for that passive voice, and rework the sentence using the active voice. Remember to write smarter, not longer.
For business writing to work, you have to adopt the point of view of the reader, emphasising what they want, or need, to know. To communicate your messages effectively you need to include evidence demonstrating that what you are recommending, works. But remember that you are writing to another person, keep it informal but informative.
Any evidence used to support your assertions or guidance needs to be put into context. At times raw data is essential, but wherever possible, give data meaning, don’t let it stand alone. For example, turn a figure into a percentage if that is the best way to get your point across.
Double check facts, figures and any company or business names. When writing to persuade, accuracy is all the more crucial. As I’ve learned, the smallest of inaccuracies can have a huge impact on whether or not you can persuade. If you get a figure wrong, how can the reader believe anything else that you’ve written? Inaccuracies of this kind are the quickest way to undermine your expertise, and success of your book.
Consistency goes hand in hand with accuracy. Again, if your business book is not consistent throughout (for example in terms of headings, subheadings, using capitals, US vs UK spelling, among others) then the reader will ask if you are best positioned to be giving advice in or on business.
When editing, make sure to consolidate your manuscript, moving like and like information together. Try to avoid having similar information in a number of sections. Most business books will be structured to dip in and out of – rather than something to be read in its entirety. For this dip-in, dip-out structure to work, each section must be self-contained, with all relevant information presented in that same, one section.
Checking the basics is a must. In addition to these editing essentials, don’t forget to check the basic punctuation and grammar. Spellchecker is always a good start (but is no place to end). When going through these basic checks, it’s a good idea to have a system so that you are looking for one type of problem at a time, for example, taking spelling first, then sentence structure, etc. Create a ‘basic check and proofreading’ check list.
All too common we (writers) read what we meant to write, rather than what we’ve actually written. Once you’ve gone through these editing essentials and the basic ‘checks’, proofread your manuscript, and then proofread again. My top tip: get someone else to proofread. Don’t be afraid to share!
For more tips on how to edit and proofread your manuscript, check out these articles:
Let us know if you have any of your own tips by leaving your comment below.