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How to Edit Your Own Writing


The editing process is essential to good writing. But many entrepreneurs skip editing altogether. They’re either pressed for time to get that email sent, or blog published quickly, or—I hope this isn’t you—they’re just plain lazy!

Why editing is vital
– Simply put, it’s less than impressive to receive written material only to find it riddled with typos!

– You want to send out clean, professional writing void of typos, grammatical faux pas, and punctuation errors.

– The editing process makes you a better writer.

– When readers find blatant errors in your writing it’s like finding a hair in their salad—it ruins the whole meal!

Here’s what editing entails:

  • Checking grammar, spelling, syntax, and sentence structure (proofing).
  • Assessing the development, flow and logic of the work.
  • Assuring the accuracy of the content whenever possible.
  • Offering corrections, changes, and suggestions that you can accept, reject, or modify.

Editing is no small task. It requires considerable knowledge and experience as a writer, plus an eye for mistakes, subtle nuances, and the ability to get into the writer’s head. Especially if you’re editing your own work, it may be harder than you think, but it is possible to do well, and it can save you some money.

Pros and cons with hiring a good editor

Without a doubt, hiring a good editor can improve the quality of your writing. There’s nothing like having a second pair of eyes to scrutinize your work. They’ll catch things you didn’t see and perhaps add that extra special “sauce” that really enhances your writing.

But there are also a few risks with hiring an editor:

How much skin do they have in the game?
To what extent will they edit in your voice?
How well do they understand your audience?
What if you don’t agree with them?

Frankly, some writers absolutely need an editor, or certainly an additional pair of eyes on their copy. Editing is either not part of their skill set, or their time is too valuable and hiring an editor makes good business sense.

But if you’re someone who’d like to learn how to edit your own work and improve your writing skills, here are some practical tips.

How to edit your own writing

1. Separate the editing process from the writing process. You might argue that you’re already editing as you write, so why would you need to separate those processes? To some extent, we all perform some editing as we write. However, the two skills – writing and editing – are quite different. While writing is chiefly a creative process, editing is evaluative.

Remember the rules of good brainstorming?

You never mix evaluation with the generation of free-flowing ideas. The same is true with writing and editing. So, after you’ve written a piece, you want to “put on a different hat” as an editor to examine your work.

Personally, I try and leave a time gap of at least 24 hours between editing and writing so I can have the benefit of looking at my copy with fresh eyes.

2. Check for typos, grammatical errors, and misplaced punctuation. In the editing process, read through your work at least twice. This first time through you’re looking for technical writing issues and problems. You will do a better job of editing if you separate this process from those in your second read-through.

In order to perform this part of the editing process well, you’ll want to have some resources at hand for reference. For instance, do you know the difference between “affect” and “effect”? Or how about when to use “further” as opposed to “farther”? How about the proper placement of commas, or where to place punctuation with respect to quotation marks?
Also, check the agreement between verbs and their nouns.

If these are issues you need some help with I’ve included a handy reference list below.

3. Assess the development, flow and logic. On your second read of the document, put on the hat of a reader. How does the document flow? How well is the topic developed? Is it logical and easy to follow?

In this read-through, also look for superfluous words or phrases that you can eliminate. Simplify to the extent possible. Split lengthy, difficult-to-read sentences into two or more sentences. Keep an eye out for passive voice and try to make those sentences active instead. Is the use of pronouns consistent throughout? Did you use terminology your reader will understand?

I recommend doing this read through by reading aloud. You’ll be surprised by the number of improvements you can make if you switch from reading silently to using the speaking aloud technique. Remember the rule here: If it’s difficult to read aloud, there’s probably a better way of phrasing it.

4. Don’t trust an online grammar tool! Whether it’s the built-in application in Word, or a separate tool like Grammarly, don’t trust the grammar applications on your computer. These applications are designed using algorithms that can’t possibly detect all the nuances of writing. They may be helpful for catching a common typo or misplaced comma, but often they’re flat out wrong! Use your judgment and the reference books listed below. Also, trusting these tools indiscriminately makes you lazy!

5. But, don’t be the grammar police! I once made the mistake of hiring a high school English teacher to edit my writing. She was what I would call a “grammar police.” Her view of the English language was one of strict rules with absolutely no wiggle room.

The truth of the matter is, all language is constantly in flux and doesn’t stick to a rigid set of rules. Our language is fluid and the grammatical rules and conventions for writing have changed and are changing. For instance, the current trend is to eliminate commas that were once thought necessary. Also, if you were taught to put two spaces between sentences when writing, that is now considered “old school” and only one space is preferred. The meanings of some words have changed too. So please, use some common sense when editing.

Resources

Some great resources for improving both your writing and editing skills include:
✒ On Writing Well by William Zinsser. An entertaining and helpful read!
The Copywriter’s Handbook. A useful back-to-basics guide to help you write every kind of copy
✒ A Manual for Writers by Kate Turabian. This book contains an easy reference system for finding answers to your grammar
and formatting questions.
Everybody writes by Anne Handley. This book is a must-read, crammed full of ways to improve your content writing

After using the above resources for a while, you’ll become more and more proficient and find that you need them less and less frequently.

Editing your own work isn’t easy to do, but it can improve your writing skills. Even if you choose to hire an editor at some point, you may want to try your hand at editing for a while simply to become a better writer.

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