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.
Related: 25 Tips for Editing Your First Draft
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?
The third edit:
- 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.