Checking It Twice...

I recently came across a link to the infamous (to me, anyway; I first read it many years ago!) David Ogilvy memo, "How to Write."

It's a classic ("Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.") in which he offers 10 helpful "hints" to colleagues.

It was particularly gratifying to see #7 ("Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.") and #8 ("If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.")

We make it a practice at M&C to always have someone other than the original writer review a piece of copy before it goes out.

There are a couple of obvious reasons.
  • A fresh set of eyes is far more likely to catch a missing word, a typo, or other easily-overlooked error.
  • An outside perspective is also more likely to stumble on a lapse in logic, a confusing construction, or a misplaced modifier ... and if a fellow writer stumbles, I can almost guarantee you other readers will as well. As with typos, it's better to catch these before the client, and allow the client to maintain a more strategic focus.
 But over the past 25+ years, I've seen some other, even more significant benefits as well.
  1. Editing forces you to sharpen your own writing. It's a built-in self-improvement program; watching for "mistakes" in others' writing also helps you become a bit more critical of your own (critical in a positive way, not as self-deprecation).
  2. It's great cross-training for the team. Each client has a unique voice; familiarizing multiple people with that tone helps ensure we're more than one-person-deep on any account. If the primary writer is out – such as with my recent surgery – another writer can step in almost seamlessly. (That's a stronger benefit for service providers, obviously, but can also be applicable within an organization: for example, could your media relations person cover the blog for a short period, if needed? Or volunteer tweets?)
  3. Editing teaches humility. And not just in learning to graciously accept input. A good editor learns that there is more than one way to say something, and is able to let that happen. That involves learning to rise above your own pride/ego/vanity ... those very same self-imposed barriers to listening. And better listeners make better writers. Curb your ego, and I think you'll find it far easier to let a story tell itself.
If you're not currently having someone review your writing, I encourage you to try it. You may just find your own capabilities improving!