How to edit your own writing

Writing a good essay requires refined critical thinking, which can be improved by experience. But one of the key elements to a good essay is form, and we are here to help you with it. There are numerous forms of writing that we face everyday. The following is an explanation of the process of writing in a simple and understandable way.
An essay can have many purposes, but the basic structure is basically the same. You may be writing an essay to argue for a particular point of view or to explain the steps necessary to complete a task.
Either way, your essay will have the same basic format.
If you follow these simple steps, you will find that writing an essay is easier than you had initially thought.

  1. Select your topic.
  2. Choose the thesis, or main idea of your essay.
  3. Prepare an outline or diagram of your main ideas.
  4. Outline your essay into introductory, body and summary paragraphs.
  5. State your thesis idea in the first paragraph.
  6. Finish the introductory paragraph with a short summary or goal statement.
  7. In each of the body paragraphs the ideas first presented in the introductory paragraph are developed.
  8. Develop your body paragraphs by giving explanations and examples.
  9. The last paragraph should restate your basic thesis of the essay with a conclusion.
  10. After you followed these easy steps your writing will improve and become more coherent. Always remember, form is only a part of the process. You become a better writer primarily by reflecting and analyzing rather than memorizing.

Guidelines on how to revise an essay

The best writers revise. And they revise again. Then they revise yet again. So, given that professional writers revise, it would be wise for beginning and intermediate writers to revise, too. One Professor, when asked how students could improve their writing, said these three words: “Revise, revise, revise.” It’s such a common mantra for writers and artists that a recent online search came up with over 16,000 hits for the phrase!

Revision means, literally, to see again. There are several stages to revision.
The first thing to consider is the goal of revision: Writing to communicate.
In order to communicate well, here are some guidelines to consider while you revise:

  1. Don’t necessarily include everything
  2. Especially for academic writing, include a thesis, which is your answer to a (researched) question or your (reasoned or researched) position on a debatable topic.
  3. Include clear markers or transitions, citation of sources, and other help so readers can follow you along the path of your thoughts (argument, analysis, critique)
  4. Include the main points and the highlights from your research or reasoning that which supports your thesis, and that which might appear to contradict your thesis except that you, as a “tour guide,” will explain why the material doesn’t fit or why the contradictory material is wrong, and that which readers might reasonably expect, given your subject matter
  5. Include support and evidence for each main point, which might be logical reasoning, explanations, data, and arguments of your own; or evidence, arguments, and theories from other sources (properly credited)
  6. Often you should include answers to these questions: who, what, where, when, why and how about the whole topic; about major sources, theories, concepts; and about major developments related to the topic
  7. Make sure the result is clear communication that will be understood by your intended audience

Revision gives new life to your writing. The first stage involves going through the draft and reorganizing main ideas and supporting ideas so that they are grouped in a way that is understandable to your reader. Your organization will usually first put forward stronger points (in an argument), earlier information (for a narrative), or background (in many cases). However you organize, your readers need to understand what you are trying to communicate.
After that, refine your arguments and evidence, your descriptions, and all of the details, so that they give a sense of the writing being of one piece, or a whole. Let one description arise from another, or one piece of evidence support the next. Put all of the pieces in that are needed, and remove those that are not.

Even the most experienced writers make inadvertent errors while revising–removing a word or adding a phrase that changes the grammar, for instance.
Here are some tips to help focus your revision:

  1. Have other readers looked it over? A professor, boss, classmates, colleagues, roommates or friends
  2. Explain to a few different people what you’ve written, same group as other readers
  3. Read more on the topic (new sources, but also revisit already cited sources)
  4. Make an outline or highlight your draft as though it were a reading
  5. Set it aside for a day or two (longer, if possible) and then re-read it
  6. Read aloud to yourself
  7. Read it backwards
  8. Make a presentation. Presenting your paper orally to others often helps shape and focus your ideas
  9. Write a new introduction and conclusion, and then see if the paper fits the new introduction and the new conclusion
  10. The final stage or revision is copy editing, or proof reading.

Tips for editing a paper or an essay

Good editing or proofreading skills are just as important to the success of an essay, paper or thesis as good writing skills. The editing stage is a chance to strengthen your arguments with a slightly more objective eye than while you are in the middle of writing.

Indeed, editing can turn a good essay or paper into a brilliant one, by paying close attention to the overall structure and the logical flow of an argument. Here we will offer some tips on how to edit a paper or an essay.
Tips for editing a paper or essay:
1. Read over other things you have written, to see if you can identify a pattern in your writing, such as problematic punctuation, or repeated use of the same adjectives.
2. Take a break between the writing and editing.
3. Read by sliding a blank page down your lines of writing, so you see one line at a time. Even in editing or proofreading, it is easy to miss things and make mistakes.
4. Read the paper out loud to get a sense of the punctuation, and make any changes to parts that feel unnatural to read.
5. Allow someone else to read over your paper, fresh eyes can see things you will not see.

How to edit your own writingEditing our own writing may not be easy, but it is generally a walk in the park sipping an iced latte compared to the difficulty of editing another person’s writing, particularly if that person is a coworker, friend, or relative. Here are six tips to take the sting out of editing other people’s writing.

1. Ask the writer what he or she expects from you.

  • Should you offer constructive criticism on content, tone, or style?
  • Should you limit your edit to grammatical errors and typos?
  • Do you need to analyze the layout, graphics, or other aesthetics?

2. Agree upon the details.

  • What is the method of editing (i.e., print versus digital)?
  • How many rounds of editing does the writer expect?
  • What is the time frame for each round of editing?

3. Notify the writer of every edit.

Use handwritten marks, strikethroughs (e.g., your you’re), or digital editing tools (e.g., Microsoft Word Track Changes) to let the writer know about every change or edit—no matter how small. Undocumented edits can cause many unforeseen problems.

4. Buffer concerns with gentle suggestions or questions.

  • “This sentence may confuse readers. Consider rephrasing this to say…”
  • “The language here may be a bit harsh. How about…?”
  • “The description on this page doesn’t match the description on the previous page. Could this be an oversight?”

5. Provide straightforward grammatical edits.

Extra comments, such as “This is misspelled” or “This is wrong,” will probably put the writer on the defensive; instead, verbally offer to explain any changes that the writer doesn’t understand.

  • Their There were a lot of people at Lollapalooza this year!
  • The little girl sent a birthday card to her Grandma grandma.
  • My friend and me I went to the new outlet mall.

6. Suggest a professional editor for work-related material or creative content meant for publication.

Not only do professional editors provide grammatical know-how, but we can also offer advice and opinions without emotional attachment.

Looking for more editing advice? Here are my past editing posts, just in case you missed them:

Writing can (and should!) be a creative, uplifting, enjoyable process. However, once the initial writing is complete, the next step is editing your draft. And figuring out how to edit your own writing is usually where the writing process becomes less “fun” and more—let’s be honest—agonizing.

How so? Overly critical authors will be convinced their well-written work is terrible. Meanwhile, overly confident writers will be certain even their least thought-out work is sheer perfection. So how can you effectively edit your own writing?

Here are seven tips to help you objectively improve and edit your own writing:

1. Write Yourself Notes Before You Edit Your Own Writing

Read your complete novel, poem, story, or essay—without editing. Write yourself notes about possible changes you might want to make so you don’t forget them. If you attempt to edit your work as you’re reading it, you’ll get caught up in rewriting and never move forward or see the piece as a whole.

2. Know Your Writing Weaknesses

You’re the only one living in your head, so that makes you the person most likely to catch mistakes specific to you as a writer. Keep a list of clichéd phrases, words you know you overuse, grammar mistakes you’re prone to making, and so forth. When you’re looking at a new piece you’ve written, be sure to check for these red flags.

3. Kill Your darlings, and Show No Mercy

Certain settings, play-on words, or characters that seemed like a great idea when you first started writing may not seem so perfect by the end. When in doubt—cut it out! Be honest with yourself, and don’t shy away from the “delete” key.

4. Go With Your Gut When Editing Your Own Writing

Everything about your finished work seems right… yet it still feels wrong. If you find yourself trying too hard to ignore the inkling that you need to change something, maybe it’s time to listen to your inner critic and take a second look at your work. Even if it means making major changes, trust your writer’s instinct.

5. Create Multiple Rounds of Editing

If the mere thought of editing your own writing makes your skin crawl, break down the editing into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, in each round of editing, focus on a different aspect: One read-through can be just for punctuation, another can be dedicated to specific characters, and so on. This way, the editing will seem less overwhelming and more like a series of easily completed projects you can actually finish.

6. Put Aside Your Work

Sometimes you need to take a break from the process of editing. Step away from the keyboard, put your manuscript on a shelf, and walk away for a while. Don’t return to your self-editing until you feel refreshed and ready. This way, you can look at your work with a clear mind and clearer eyes.

7. Ask for Help

If none of these tactics works for you, you might want to call in reinforcements. Choose a trusted friend or mentor, and ask him or her to review your work for specific issues: spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. This will ensure you get a helping hand that’s not too heavy-handed. You don’t want outside editors making changes you’re not completely convinced need to occur. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your writing!

While the idea of editing your own writing may seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Inside every writer beats the heart of a re-writer! By following these smart self-editing tips, you’ll be proofing and perfecting your writing like an industry expert. Happy writing!

Tell me your opinion: What techniques have you found most helpful in editing your own writing?

How to edit your own writing

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How to edit your own writing

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Related Posts

  • How to edit your own writingHow to Grow as a Writer: 5 Logical Steps
  • How to edit your own writing7 Frequently Asked Writing Questions
  • How to edit your own writingHow to Spot and Avoid Self-Indulgent Writing
  • How to edit your own writing5 Steps to a Thorough Book Edit

Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service that has been helping creative writers make submissions since 1994. Their work is highly recommended in the writing community, and there are TONS of freebies, publishing leads, and writers resources on their website. Check it out!

Comments

Killing my darlings, once I faced up to the absolute need to do it, was, at first, the most daunting of all the editing tasks or run-throughs, but once I got into it, I found it easier than I’d thought, and the projects are much better for it.

I always do at least one run-through for wordiness (but not in my posts!) I once cut 40,000 words from a project without cutting a single scene, simply by cutting out all unnecessary words. I’m still not sure I caught all of them, however.

“Killing your darlings” is the step where a lot of writers get stuck. You definitely need to gather your moxie in order to start! But you’re right: Once a writer gets into the flow of it, cutting out beloved scenes and words is not so hard after all…for the most part.

Cutting unnecessary words is a GREAT tip for writers who are self-editing. I bet many other people would be surprised and delighted to get the same results you did!

I agree with steps number one and two. When I editing, I open my document as a PDF. That way I can highlight problem words and add “sticky notes” with reminders for myself on what is wrong with a scene and how I’d like to fix it. I don’t necessarily go into a draft thinking about clichés that I use, but by the end of the story I can see the three or four times where I used the same phrase. Then I use Word’s Find and Replace function to find the phrase earlier in the text and make a note to change it or use a different metaphor.

We’re glad you agree, Janelle!

It’s amazing how technology can aid writers so much in the editing process these days. Editing via PDF sounds especially helpful!

Writing can (and should!) be a creative, uplifting, enjoyable process. However, once the initial writing is complete, the next step is editing your draft. And figuring out how to edit your own writing is usually where the writing process becomes less “fun” and more—let’s be honest—agonizing.

How so? Overly critical authors will be convinced their well-written work is terrible. Meanwhile, overly confident writers will be certain even their least thought-out work is sheer perfection. So how can you effectively edit your own writing?

Here are seven tips to help you objectively improve and edit your own writing:

1. Write Yourself Notes Before You Edit Your Own Writing

Read your complete novel, poem, story, or essay—without editing. Write yourself notes about possible changes you might want to make so you don’t forget them. If you attempt to edit your work as you’re reading it, you’ll get caught up in rewriting and never move forward or see the piece as a whole.

2. Know Your Writing Weaknesses

You’re the only one living in your head, so that makes you the person most likely to catch mistakes specific to you as a writer. Keep a list of clichéd phrases, words you know you overuse, grammar mistakes you’re prone to making, and so forth. When you’re looking at a new piece you’ve written, be sure to check for these red flags.

3. Kill Your darlings, and Show No Mercy

Certain settings, play-on words, or characters that seemed like a great idea when you first started writing may not seem so perfect by the end. When in doubt—cut it out! Be honest with yourself, and don’t shy away from the “delete” key.

4. Go With Your Gut When Editing Your Own Writing

Everything about your finished work seems right… yet it still feels wrong. If you find yourself trying too hard to ignore the inkling that you need to change something, maybe it’s time to listen to your inner critic and take a second look at your work. Even if it means making major changes, trust your writer’s instinct.

5. Create Multiple Rounds of Editing

If the mere thought of editing your own writing makes your skin crawl, break down the editing into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, in each round of editing, focus on a different aspect: One read-through can be just for punctuation, another can be dedicated to specific characters, and so on. This way, the editing will seem less overwhelming and more like a series of easily completed projects you can actually finish.

6. Put Aside Your Work

Sometimes you need to take a break from the process of editing. Step away from the keyboard, put your manuscript on a shelf, and walk away for a while. Don’t return to your self-editing until you feel refreshed and ready. This way, you can look at your work with a clear mind and clearer eyes.

7. Ask for Help

If none of these tactics works for you, you might want to call in reinforcements. Choose a trusted friend or mentor, and ask him or her to review your work for specific issues: spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. This will ensure you get a helping hand that’s not too heavy-handed. You don’t want outside editors making changes you’re not completely convinced need to occur. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your writing!

While the idea of editing your own writing may seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Inside every writer beats the heart of a re-writer! By following these smart self-editing tips, you’ll be proofing and perfecting your writing like an industry expert. Happy writing!

Tell me your opinion: What techniques have you found most helpful in editing your own writing?

How to edit your own writing

Sign Up Today

How to edit your own writing

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Related Posts

  • How to edit your own writingHow to Grow as a Writer: 5 Logical Steps
  • How to edit your own writing7 Frequently Asked Writing Questions
  • How to edit your own writingHow to Spot and Avoid Self-Indulgent Writing
  • How to edit your own writing5 Steps to a Thorough Book Edit

Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service that has been helping creative writers make submissions since 1994. Their work is highly recommended in the writing community, and there are TONS of freebies, publishing leads, and writers resources on their website. Check it out!

Comments

Killing my darlings, once I faced up to the absolute need to do it, was, at first, the most daunting of all the editing tasks or run-throughs, but once I got into it, I found it easier than I’d thought, and the projects are much better for it.

I always do at least one run-through for wordiness (but not in my posts!) I once cut 40,000 words from a project without cutting a single scene, simply by cutting out all unnecessary words. I’m still not sure I caught all of them, however.

“Killing your darlings” is the step where a lot of writers get stuck. You definitely need to gather your moxie in order to start! But you’re right: Once a writer gets into the flow of it, cutting out beloved scenes and words is not so hard after all…for the most part.

Cutting unnecessary words is a GREAT tip for writers who are self-editing. I bet many other people would be surprised and delighted to get the same results you did!

I agree with steps number one and two. When I editing, I open my document as a PDF. That way I can highlight problem words and add “sticky notes” with reminders for myself on what is wrong with a scene and how I’d like to fix it. I don’t necessarily go into a draft thinking about clichés that I use, but by the end of the story I can see the three or four times where I used the same phrase. Then I use Word’s Find and Replace function to find the phrase earlier in the text and make a note to change it or use a different metaphor.

We’re glad you agree, Janelle!

It’s amazing how technology can aid writers so much in the editing process these days. Editing via PDF sounds especially helpful!

How to edit your own writing

Good editing can transform a mediocre piece of content into something great. It’s one of the most important aspects of the writing process, but a surprising number of writers underestimate its value.

The Importance of Self-Editing

Becoming a good editor of your own work takes time and practice, but it’s worth it. You’ll learn how to improve the structure and style of your writing, communicate more clearly and eliminate grammatical errors.

Companies want copy that reflects well on their business, provides value to their readers and drives sales, so well-edited content will also look more attractive to content buyers.

Are you ready to become a better editor? You may not have access to a professional editor, but you can use the following tips to help you edit your own writing more effectively.

1. Read Your Writing in a New Format

If you typed it, print it out. Alternatively, convert your Word document to PDF format, or change your text to a different font, color, and size. These techniques will help you see your content from an “outsider’s” perspective and give you a more critical eye.

2. Take a Break

Let your writing rest for a few hours or overnight. Putting a literal distance between you and your work also creates an emotional distance. When you return to it, you’re more likely to spot awkward phrases and obvious mistakes.

3. Read it Out Loud

To discover the rhythm of your writing, read it out loud. The best writing sounds smooth, so if you find yourself stammering through poorly worded sentences, you know it needs improving.

4. Remove Uncertain Language

Good communication sounds authoritative, so avoid wishy-washy sentences. If you use phrases like “seems to be” or “could be a reason for,” you sound indecisive and it weakens your message.

5. Avoid Repetitive Phrases

Try not to rely on certain words or phrases to make your point; readers will notice when you repeat yourself. Aim for variety. Use a word frequency counter to find repetitive words and scan a thesaurus to find alternatives.

6. Eliminate Filler Words

Use your word processor’s find functionality to search for “there,” “here,” and “it” to find redundant words and phrases. For example:

It’s fun to edit your own writing.

The sentence formation weakens the writing with unnecessary words that lack focus. This is more effective:

Editing your own writing is fun.

7. Remove Weak “To Be” Verbs

Using versions of the verb “to be” can weaken the words that follow. Replace “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “been,” and “being” with stronger alternatives. For example:

Weak sentence: They were not enjoying the editing process.

Strong sentence: They hated the editing process.

Stronger sentence: The editing process repulsed them.

8. Remove Weak Adjectives

Weak adjectives also spoil your writing. When describing nouns and pronouns, use more powerful adjectives and avoid the words “really” or “very.”

Weak sentence: He was really scared of snakes.

Strong sentence: He was terrified of snakes.

Stronger sentence: Snakes terrified him.

9. Use Grammarly to Find Mistakes

The Grammarly proofreading tool looks at spelling and grammar mistakes and checks more than 250 advanced rules to find mistakes such as double negatives, run-on sentences, and dangling modifiers. After you’ve used Grammarly a few times, you’ll start to see common weaknesses in your writing.

10. Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style Online

The well-known writing guide to style, usage, and grammar is now accessible online. If you write for a living, consider paying for an annual subscription. It’s currently $39, but with advice covering every aspect of the mechanics of writing, you’re investing in your future as a writer.

11. Separate Your Editing Tasks

If the thought of editing your own work terrifies you, break down the tasks into a series of manageable steps. In the first read-through, check your ideas flow logically. In the next read-through, look at sentence structure, and so on.

An editing checklist will help you clean up your writing and spot common mistakes. Here’s an example of a basic checklist to get you started:

The big-picture edit:

  • Do you have a strong introduction that hooks the reader?
  • Does the content flow logically?
  • Does the ending sum up your main points and include a call to action?

The second edit:

  • Are there any sections where you repeat your ideas?
  • Does each paragraph contain just one topic?
  • Are big chunks of text broken up with subheadings and paragraph breaks?
  • Do you use data, statistics, and quotations to back up our points?
  • Do sentences vary in length?
  • Is all spelling and punctuation correct?
  • Can you replace weak verbs and adjectives with stronger ones?
  • Do you use the passive voice?

Your editing checklist should be tailored to your strengths and weaknesses, and you can adapt it over time to your particular needs as a writer.

Become a Better Editor

Self-editing is a key part of the writing process. It can transform average content into great content that people love to read. As you become more aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, your editing skills will also improve.

Use these editing tips for your next writing project. Your content will be more enjoyable to read, have more impact on readers, and you’ll increase your marketability as a writer.

How to edit your own writing

As a Los Angeles native, I know a thing or two about sitting in traffic.

I’m talking about physically sitting in your car while stopped in traffic on the way to your destination — not the traffic you talk about when people visit your website.

But the two different types of traffic may not be as unrelated as you think, especially as you edit your own writing for your site.

The problem with editing your own writing

It’s a lack of objectivity.

One of my favorite observations about traffic jams is that sometimes you’re the one accidentally blocking an intersection with your car — making it difficult for other drivers to move forward on the road — and sometimes you’re the one honking at the person blocking an intersection.

If you drive on a regular basis on crowded streets, you fluidly move between these two roles.

While it’s easy to recognize another driver’s mistakes, and criticize her shortcomings or behavior that has frustrated you, it’s difficult to objectively observe and accurately assess your own actions (and possible missteps).

When you block an intersection, you don’t necessarily regard yourself in the same disapproving way you regard another driver when he blocks your path.

The same lack of objectivity is present when you write and edit.

The discerning taste of an onlooker

As you develop your content marketing strategy, you need to evaluate your writing with the discerning taste of an onlooker.

The problem is, you can’t magically become another person with an objective outlook.

However, there is a way to review each sentence you write like an outsider who can effortlessly identify an issue.

This technique will help you categorize sections of your writing so you can focus on improving the weakest parts of your text.

How to edit your own writing

You can use the Traffic Light Revision Technique (TLRT) to edit your own writing once you’ve finished a draft.

If it’s still a rough draft, you can use this method to expand, copy edit, and finalize the text. If it’s a final draft, you can use this method to proofread your content.

Put your writing in a word processor that allows you to highlight the text with different colors, like a Microsoft Word document or Google Doc.

Follow these five steps after you’ve saved your current file.

1. Make a copy of the document

Include “TLRT1” in the file name when you save this copy.

Now you have the original document and a version you will mark-up first before you edit.

2. As you examine each sentence, highlight it with green, yellow, or red

Use green if you think the sentence is the best it can be. Choose yellow if you think minor modifications will make the sentence stronger. Select red if you think it should be completely revised or removed.

Try these useful keyboard shortcuts for selecting text to highlight.

Don’t change the text yet.

3. Make another copy of the document

Include “TLRT2” in the file name when you save this copy. The “TLRT2” version will be the file you edit.

Before you edit the document and change the colors, you want to save the original marked-up “TLRT1” version for future reference.

You can learn from the “TLRT1” document with the green, yellow, and red text. It will help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, so that you actually improve your skills while you edit your own writing.

4. Edit the yellow and red areas

You may also need to edit green text to accommodate the changes you make in the red and yellow portions, but don’t waste time repeatedly reviewing the green text you already regard as solid content.

As you revise the weaker sections, change yellow and red portions to green.

5. Proofread each sentence from the beginning

Once all of your text is green, you should be able to read it from the beginning without making any edits.

If you still need to change parts of the text, consider highlighting those sections in yellow or red. Take a break and correct those areas at a later time, until everything is green.

When you have trouble identifying whether a sentence should be green, yellow, or red, ask yourself:

If your sentence is vague or assumes your reader knows something she may not actually know, you will likely benefit from a revision.

Eyes on the road

While the Traffic Light Revision Technique won’t prevent you from making a driving faux pas, it’s a way to edit your own writing like an Editor-in-Chief who aims to transform limp language into crisp content.

As you practice over time, it’ll become easier to review your drafts as if you were a member of your audience — and strengthen your good ideas or cut out irrelevant parts accordingly.

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Like most newspaper reporters, I got into the biz because a) I love writing and b) I’m pretty good at it. But it’s a sobering profession. You file your masterpiece, only to find your editor thinks it’s two dozen “tinks” shy of publishable. Repeat this scenario a couple hundred times, and you’ll find you’ve grown some thick skin. You’ve also gotten pretty darn good at self-editing. So, I’m here to impart some wisdom on the art of quickly perfecting your own work—how to hone, trim, and morph clumsy words and phrases into a clear, concise message that will wow your audience.

It could be a company memo, a PowerPoint presentation, an email, or a report—but no matter the medium, these quick editing skills will always come in handy. Some other bonuses of good self-editing skills: People are less likely to misunderstand you, and bosses and peers will pay more attention to the meat of your message.

So here we go. Let’s say you’re working on a personal assessment for your annual performance review . You’ve written the first draft, but you want to make sure it’s in perfect condition before you submit it. Here’s your game plan:

Print Out Your Work

Always do this. Always. It’s a pain, but when you’re talking performance reviews, that 20-yard hassle of a walk to the printer could mean the difference between a 4% or a 5% raise.

Here’s why: As any writer or editor will tell you, critiquing someone else’s work is much easier than deconstructing your own, because outside eyes bring a fresh perspective. To approach your own work critically, you need to simulate this “outsider” perspective by viewing it in a form other than the one you wrote it in.

If you typed it, print it out. Give it a quick read-through, then wield your red pen and start slashing. (Ruthlessly. More on that below.) If you hand-wrote the first draft of your evaluation, type it up, print it, and analyze. That’s right—either way, you should still be heading over to the printer.

How to edit your own writing

One key factor that separates mediocre writers from good ones (and even good from great) is the quality of their editing.

If you’re working for a big magazine or publishing house, you’ll have an editor who goes through your work, checks for any clumsy or ambiguous phrasing, and fixes any typos – but if you’re working on your first novel, or publishing posts to a blog, you’re almost certainly going to be on your own.

It’s hard to edit your own work. You might end up skipping editing altogether because you hate it – or you might spend hours trying to get a piece right. These eight tips will help you develop your editing skills:

#1: Don’t Edit While You’re Writing

You’ve probably heard this one time and time again: don’t stop to edit while you’re writing. It’s great advice, though many writers find it hard to stick to.

It’s fine to pause and correct a typo, or restart a sentence, while you’re creating the first draft – but don’t keep going back to delete whole sentences or paragraphs.

If you really struggle to write without editing, try Write or Die, which forces you to make forwards progress by deleting your words if you stop typing for too long.

#2: Put Your Work Aside for a Few Days

Try to build extra time into your writing schedule, so that you can let your work sit before editing. With a short piece like a blog post, a day away from it – or even a few hours – is enough. If you’ve written a whole novel, try to put it aside for at least a week or two before starting the editing process.

By doing this, you make it easier to see your work afresh. You’ll come up with new ideas, and you’ll find that you can spot chapters that don’t fit, plot holes, inconsistent characterization and other big-picture problems.

#3: Read Through in a Different Format

Physically turning your words into a different format can help you spot problems or mistakes more easily. You might want to print out a blog post before editing it, or transfer your novel manuscript onto an e-reader device.

Often, it’s useful to take a look at your work in its published form (or as close to it as you can get). If you’ve got a blog post, for instance, you might use your blog platform’s “preview” function to check it out. If you’re writing an email newsletter, you could test it by emailing it to your own account. Sometimes, you’ll notice problems that didn’t stand out before, such as too many short/long paragraphs or glaring typos.

#4: Edit for Structure and Content First

Too often, writers start their editing by polishing up every sentence – and then end up cutting out huge chunks of their material later. It’s much more efficient to do your big picture editing first: that means looking for:

  • Chapters or sections that need to be cut out – perhaps they’re too advanced for the piece, or they’re a tangent to the main point
  • Missing information that you need to add in, like a whole new section or chapter
  • Scenes or sections that need to be radically revised

Major cuts, additions and rewrites need to happen before you start digging down into the individual sentences and words.

#5: Cut Out 10% of Your Words

Once you’re broadly happy with the shape and flow of your piece, it’s time to cut. Most writers over-write: we use more words than we need, and we weaken our argument or story in the process.

Do a word-count for your whole piece, and try to cut 10% of the words. If you’ve written an 800 word blog post, for instance, aim to cut it to 720. Look out for:

  • Repeating the same point several times – unless you’re deliberately doing this as a rhetorical device, it’s probably unnecessary. Trust that your reader will get it the first time.
  • Wishy-washy phrases like “in my opinion…” or “it is my belief that…” Occasionally these are warranted; often, you can simply cut them out.
  • Unnecessary adjectives. Don’t tell us “John said loudly” if you can say “John shouted”.

#6: Use Spell-Check – but Use Your Eyes Too

Always run your work through a spell-checker. That might mean using a browser plugin, or simply writing in Word or another word processing program so that you can check for red wiggly lines.

Don’t rely on spell-check to catch everything, though. Some errors will slip through – missing words are a common one, as are homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently, like “which” and “witch”). Sometimes, spell-check will pick up on words that are actually correct – mine has some bizarre ideas about “its” and “it’s” – so don’t blindly follow every suggestion.

#7: Read Your Piece Backwards (or Slowly)

It’s tough to proof-read your own writing: by this final stage of editing, you’re so familiar with the words on the page that mistakes just slide past you. One trick for better proof-reading is to read backwards from the end of the piece.

If you find reading backwards too awkward, then try reading s-l-o-w-l-y. That might mean running a pencil along each line as you read, or increasing the font size so that you don’t see so many words at a time on your screen.

#8: Let it Go

Finally, to edit well, you need to eventually stop! If you find yourself taking commas out and putting them back in, or rewriting the introduction one way then changing it back, then you’re done: it’s time to put your work out into the world.

If you’re like most writers, you’ll never feel entirely confident about your work. You’ll have a nagging sense that it could still be better. But perfection is an unattainable target – so settle for good enough. Even if a few imperfections remain, a published piece is infinitely more useful to your readers than a piece that sits on your hard drive forever.

Do you have a great tip for editing? Add it in the comments below…