How to Use the 80/20 Principle to Perfect Your Writing

Turbo-charge your writing by using the 80/20 editing process, which is used in professional newsrooms.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #420

Bernice sent her blog article, entitled “Inviting Audrey: 6 Safety Tips for Carnivorous Plants At Sleepovers,” to Melvin. Putting aside his laser show programming work, he scanned the article. His comments were to reorder the flow of her paragraphs, and to fix a couple places where the language was too wordy. Notice he didn’t comment on how to do it, just that it needed to be done. After 10 minutes, it was back to Bernice for another hour or so of careful rewording.

Use 80/20 with Your Boss

Doing editing passes of equal length between two people makes sense when they both have time. But when one person is in a position of power or has more important responsibilities than filling their day with editing your work ad nauseam, you have to unbalance the work to make your end effort heavy. That’s where 80/20 editing really shines.

Melvin also needed help reviewing his work on the laser show. However, Bernice was not only busy with her blog post, but also with managing the preparations for the sleepover and running the Green Growing Things store. She had no time to do substantive edits on his laser show. So instead of making really specific color suggestions or movement changes, she made broad suggestions for the first passes. Make the swooshy bit more … swooshy!

80/20 editing saves both you and your editor time, without sacrificing quality. 

80/20 editing saves both you and your editor time, without sacrificing quality. Making a 100 percent perfect draft the first time may sound like a service to your team, but that would only be true if you could actually do it. You can’t. Save yourself the time of nitpicking right away, and save copy edits for a final pass. As higher level things change in the article during early passes, more typos might show up or get moved around. You can fix small errors in one fell swoop at the end. That way you don’t have to bother your boss with small stuff, just the concepts they really care about making it into your writing or work.

But you don’t just have to do it between boss and employee. You can do the 80/20 editing method at the same time between two people.

Dovetail the Method with Your Equals

You can use the 80/20 editing method with one piece of work. Or you can do two pieces of work at the same time. 

While one person on your team is doing your 20% editing pass, you can do theirs. Then you swap, work on the 80% changes you need to make based on their suggestions, and then swap again.

In fact, the careful listener will notice that’s what Bernice and Melvin were doing inadvertently. Melvin was finished working on his next 20% edit of Bernice’s blog article, while Bernice was finished working on her 20% pass on his laser show. The rushed towards each other’s office to return the document, bumped into each other in the hall, and swapped a quick kiss (this is the romantic part of the show. This is the only personal productivity podcast available with both romance and carnivorous plants). They also swapped drafts, and moved on to the next stage of editing. With a couple of passes, they get their writing done, it’s high quality, and they have time leftover to clean out the supply closet together. With the door closed. For no particular reason. It’s so much fun working with your shmoopie!

By using the 80/20 editing method, you too can streamline your editing process by easing the load on overworked members of your team, keeping busy work off your boss’s desk and improving the handoff between your teammates. On each pass, get 80% of the way towards the remaining quality level, and give the 20% of editing feedback that will get 80% of the way on the next pass.

The Green Growing Things Greenhouse Pink Floyd Laser Show Sleep-Over Pillow Fight Extravaganza Fest 2016 went off without a hitch! They brought along an Audrey II, took appropriate precautions, and a good time was had by all. The Audrey II struck up an unlikely friendship with Bernice’s cat, and now they go everywhere together. It’s absolutely adorable, and the neighborhood has been extra-free of rats, cockroaches, and politicians.

This is Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. I run webinars and other programs to help people be Extraordinarily Productive, and build extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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