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January 20, 2022
Ten Editing Tips for Busy Managers
By Aine Greaney

In these times of scaled-down staffing, program managers and CEOs often do double-duty as organizational writers, generating grants, requests for proposals, editorials, and newsletters.

As they juggle priorities and well-packed day-planners, they are often working so close to deadline that there’s little time for multiple drafts or an in-house editing review process.

Yet from healthcare to education to social services, every administrator knows that communication is key to conveying organizational messages to constituents, funders, and the general public.

Long-term employees or board members in particular are sometimes too close to their own mission and organization to evaluate the public readability and coherence of their written messages. Many mid-size to smaller nonprofits operate without a separate public relations or communications department, so nonprofit managers are often going it alone, giving their best shot and hoping that the mission and message aren’t lost in the writing.

Deadlines aside, before sealing that envelope or clicking that “Send” button, it’s crucial to check the document. Then check it again. And yes, that goes for electronic messages, too.

Here are ten useful editing tips:

  1. Take a highlighter to those adverbs and adjectives. How many do you really need? Example: “We are fully accredited.” (Is an institution ever half accredited?) “We sincerely hope ...” (Let’s hope there are no insincere hopes.) Where possible, delete the adverb or replace the adverb-verb combinations with a stronger verb.

  2. Scan your document for jargon and over-use of technical terms or acronyms. Even when your audience is a sister agency, use and explain terminology as if your reader is external to the organization. Consult a style manual for the use of acronyms within a narrative (see Resource List below).

  3. When you have completed that first draft, ask yourself: What parts of this document can be cut without sacrificing the clarity or meaning of my message? Then, once those final cuts are made, heighten message effectiveness and readability by using indents, bullets, or underlines.

  4. Scout out those clunky or pretentious words or phrases, e.g., “We plan to utilize ...” (use). “We serve some 10,000 clients ...” (Delete “some.”) “We wish to thank you for ...” (Thank you for your contribution.)

  5. Don’t rely on your computer’s “spell check” function. Instead, perform a hands-on review for these common errors: apostrophes, plurals, commas, over-use of capitals, and incorrect subject-verb agreement. For the latter, take particular care with collective nouns: “The committee is meeting to set the agenda.” And watch the use of “none.” “None of the board members believes this budget will work."

  6. Keep a dictionary and style manual on your office bookshelf or among your bookmarked web sites. Most are extremely easy to follow and offer good examples of usage in context (see Resource List).

  7. Go out for a walk or lunch. By taking a break between reading and editing, you develop a more critical eye for your own work.

  8. Pay particular attention to names, addresses, and professional titles. Your annual fund donor, Ms. Lucille Balle, Ph.D., is feeling neither philanthropic nor amused when she suddenly becomes Mrs. Lucy A. Ball. Check all usages of Ms. Balle’s name and title within your document.

  9. Check your subject-verb-object sequences. Active voice is much more readable, engaging, and persuasive than passive voice.

  10. We often distribute our documents for program-specific contributions or review by colleagues or board members. However pressing your deadline, avoid sending the pre-edited or draft version. Your internal colleagues are also your reading public, and they will respond with greater clarity and diligence if your part has been completed professionally. Distributing an edited version also enhances your on-the-job image.

Resource List

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (Longman Publishers)

Diana Hacker’s A Pocket Style Manual (Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press)

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (Addison Wesley)

Jane C. Geever’s Guide to Proposal Writing (The Foundation Center)

Common errors in English,

Mary A. Devries’ The Business Writer’s Book of Lists (Berkley Books)

Aine Greaney is a freelance writer and editor for nonprofits. Call her at 978-463-3599 or email
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