Arguably, the main goal of writing is simply to get your message across to the audience as clearly as possible.
How do you reach that writing goal?
First you must first clarify your chosen audience because this will determine how your message needs to be delivered in order to meet its mark:
To communicate to your chosen audience you need to understand them - their level of education and knowledge of the topic you are writing about; the writing style they prefer; whether they like or need illustrations along with text; the length of publication that audience will want to read. Arguably, the better you know your audience, the more chance you have of getting your message across to them as clearly as possible.
If your chosen audience is the same demographic as yourself, you will already share a certain understanding. If your chosen audience is not from your demographic you'll need to gain that understanding by:
Now you've clarified your audience and their needs, you can put that out of your mind and put on your creative hat to write your 1st draft with the sole aim of getting the information out of your head and onto the page.
Depending on what you are writing, this may be like violently vomiting out what's been churning around in your stomach for days or weeks or months or years; or it may be more like your body methodically putting to good use well-digested food and ejecting the rubbish into the toilet as you go. Or it may be like something entirely different depending on who you are and what you're writing. The end result - your completed 1st draft - may be so rough you can hardly read it; then again, it may read beautifully, especially those passages that fell out of your pen like a river. Parts will have come out back to front and don't quite make sense; some sections may be awful and others hit the spot.
Congratulations: you have achieved the extremely challenging goal of penning your 1st draft.
To commence the first self-editing stage - the 2nd draft - put on your editing hat and big picture view of your overall message and how to best get that message across to your chosen audience. Don't be too precious with your words: don't be scared to get rid of them if they're not useful. Slash and burn - remembering that if you regret slashing or burning something you can always go back to the 1st draft and find it and put it in again. Use words that will have meaning for and win over your reader.
The value of your story, your message, is its ability to meet its mark. Edit your manuscript so that 1) it will be clearly understood by the reader, 2) it engages the reader until the last page, and 2) the reader afterwards thinks about it and talks to others about it - because they really got your message.
Once you have self-edited your manuscript once (including rewriting if necessary), you may need to:
Remember: the most important part of your brief as self-editor is to get your message across to the reader as clearly as possible. And the most important part of your chosen editor's (and proofreader's) brief is also to get your message across to the reader as clearly as possible.
Unsurprisingly, part of your chosen publisher's brief - or your goal as self-publisher - is also to get your message across to the reader as clearly as possible.
Other publication goals may include:
For more information about the difference between self-editing and editing see: Why writers need editors
For a description of the different types of editing see: The three stages of editing
For information about how to choose an editor see: Choosing the best editor for your project
For general information about proofreading see:What is proofreading?
This article is based on my own experience over the past 20 plus years, writing, editing and proofreading reports, policy documents and my own and others' publications; self-publishing non-fiction hardcopy publications; and publishing my website and articles online. Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading.