December 15, 2014 / Copywriting / Fall 2014 / Five Simple Ideas

5 Simple Ideas for…
 Improving your second draft

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

You have just written a story based on your interview notes and all of the information you gathered during research. Congratulations, you have written what is called a first draft. Now it’s time for round two – looking at the specific words and details in your story and asking yourself, “Is there a better way to say this?” Here are five tasks to help improve your story before you send it to your copy editor.

1. Refine your opening – Leads for yearbook stories are usually feature leads, so it takes one to three paragraphs 
to get into the story. Ask yourself: Is the lead interesting enough to grab readers? 
Has the scene been appropriately set? 
    Does the lead correctly set up the angle the story will take? Circle words that evoke 
the five senses and other strong, storytelling words in one color marker. 
    Then circle the weak words in another color. Go back to your notes and see if 
you have details that will improve the image you are trying to convey in the lead.

2. Identify the angle – Write a 
one-sentence description of the point of your story. Then reread your draft for two things – copy that strays from the point and copy that needs more information 
to make the point, or angle, of your story clearer. Rewrite to add the information to support the angle. If you like the other information, consider how to use it in a sidebar.

3. Recheck sources and research – If 
information from sources seems weak, 
either they didn’t provide enough information or you talked to the wrong people. Go back and talk to them again, 
with more specific questions, or determine better sources to interview. Do additional 
research and observation if you must to provide fuller details.

4. Correct weak transitions – Use one of these five ways to fix a weak connection between two thoughts:

  • Key word – Repeat a key word from paragraph 1 to paragraph 2.
  • Synonym – Use a synonym in 
paragraph 2 for a key word from paragraph 1.
  • Pronoun – Use a pronoun in 
paragraph 2 for a noun from paragraph 1.
  • Main idea – summarize paragraph 1 in 
one word or phrase in paragraph 2.
  • Transitional word – Use a transitional 
word (i.e., numbering, time reference, 

5. Run automatic and manual spell check. Run your software’s spell check on your story. But then, review each word 
and each punctuation mark to make sure they are correct. If you used the word 
“there” when you meant “their,” spell 
check won’t catch it.

As a writer, it’s your job to turn in a story you believe to be print-ready. So take the time to self-edit. Your editors and readers will be glad you did.

Common Core Standards Met


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Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.