Green Light

Here’s one pastime that’s always a pleasure for me: Hunting for new tools and approaches we can all fruitfully use to improve our writing. My search just turned up approach that sounds playful as well as productive — a winning combination.

According to Stephanie Flaxman, Copyblogger Media’s editor-in-chief, one of the biggest issues we face in editing is looking objectively at a text we’ve been working on so that we can identify problems in our prose and correct them. Nothing new here — this is a thorny aspect of editing and revising I’m sure we’ve all experienced.

But help is at hand! Stephanie ( has come up with a simple technique to help us evaluate our writing as an “outsider” and focus on improving the weakest parts of our text. She calls it the “Traffic Light Revision Technique” (TLRT). If you’re working on a rough draft, you can use this approach to revise and copy edit; if you’re working with a final draft, you can use it to proofread your text. Here’s how this editing strategy works:

If possible, put your writing in a word processing program that allows you to highlight the text in different colors, for example, a Microsoft Word document or Google Doc. Or you, can go the old-fashioned route (probably my choice), and pick up three highlighters in green, yellow, and pink/red. Then save your file and take these five steps:

1. Make a copy of your document and title it “TLRT1” when you save it. Now you have an original and a copy that you will mark up but not edit.

2. As you review each sentence, highlight it in green, yellow, or red. Use green if you think the sentence is the best it can be; use yellow if you think minor changes will make the sentence stronger; and use red if you think it should be completely revised or removed. Don’t change the text yet.

3. Make another copy of the document and call it “TLRT2” in the file name when you save it. This “TLRT2” version is the file you’ll edit. Be sure to save your original marked-up “TLRT1” version for future reference. It will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Now, tackle your revisions using the TLRT2 copy. Start editing the yellow and red sections. As you make changes, you may also need to edit green text to accommodate your revisions, but don’t waste time reviewing green text you believe is solid. As you revise your weaker sections, change the yellow and red portions to green.

5. Proofread each sentence from the beginning. Once all your text is all green, you should be able to read it through without making any edits. If you still need to make changes, consider highlighting those sections in yellow or red again. Then take a break and then correct those areas. Keep going until everything is green.

This sounds like a revision technique worth exploring. If you use it and find it helpful,
I’d love to hear from you about it. Write on!

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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