Are you a student or a writer looking to finish some top-notch work but can’t afford to hire an editor? Even if you could, practicing self-editing techniques will help you become a better writer.
I use most of these techniques to help polish my own writing before sending it to my editor, which brings down the costs. Below are 11 tips for editing your writing to hone your craft and a cheat sheet you can download.
How Hard is it to Self Edit?
A lot of writers practice self-editing because it helps them master their craft. Avoiding passive voice or filler words are just two examples of writing editing techniques you can learn. The following checklist contains guidelines and examples that will show you how to self-edit your work.
The Importance of Self-Editing
Developing your language skills through the process of self-editing is beneficial. It is less likely that you will develop your writing skills to the highest possible level if you simply rely on other people to point out and correct your errors in writing.
You are laying the groundwork for future growth and development in yourself by cultivating the ability to edit and enhance your writing and focusing on consistently improving your writing talents.
When you are in a situation where you cannot rely on others for immediate assistance, self-editing can help you achieve success.
Do You Still Need an Editor If You Self-Edit?
The answer is not straightforward and depends on various factors. Sometimes, you might still need an editor even if you self-edit. In fact, I highly recommend it, even if you have extensive editing skills. It’s just too easy to make careless errors and miss it with your own eye because you’ve written the piece and have likely read it over a dozen times already.
For writing meant to be published and made available in academic or legal contexts, for technical writing and pieces of text meant for selling, you should turn to a professional editor. For example, I would never publish a book without having an editor look it over first, no matter how confident I am in my self-editing skills.
How to Edit Your Own Creative Writing
These tips work well for me, so hopefully, you can utilize them with your own work.
Read Your Writing in a New Format
Convert your writing to a new format to gain clarity and a better overview of your work. If it was typed, you should print it out. Alternately, you may convert your Word document to PDF format, or you could alter the color, font, and size of your text. These strategies will give you a more critical eye and help you see your work as if an “outsider” read it.
Take a Break
Attempting to do everything at once is a common mistake amongst novice writers. Give your writing time to rest, whether a few hours or the whole night or even a few days. Creating a psychological divide between yourself and your work requires physical and symbolic separation. After some time away from it, you will be more likely to notice odd sentences and apparent errors in them.
Read It Out Loud
When you hear your writing aloud, you can catch things like clumsy wording, repetition, and other issues that detract from the flow and clarity of your work. A writer may not know their writing has poor sentence structure or that their main argument is unclear until they hear it read aloud.
Take advantage of text-to-speech software if it’s too much to read. There’s actually a free option built-in to Microsoft Word.
Remove Uncertain Language
A good writer masters their topic, leaving no room for uncertain phrases. If you want to communicate effectively, you should avoid using statements that sound indecisive. When you use terms like “seems to be” or “might be a reason for,” you come across as undecided, which makes your message appear less convincing to the listener.
Avoid Repetitive Phrases
This is a common problem with writers trying to meet the word count of those looking to make a point in their text. You should avoid repeatedly using the same words or phrases to make your argument since your audience will notice if you do this. Use a word frequency counter to identify repeated words, then look through a thesaurus for potential replacements.
Eliminate Filler Words
If your text is comprehensive while eliminating some of the words, those are known as “fillers.” A word processor can help with that, and it will help you find redundant words. Most of the time, words like “it” or “there” don’t belong in your writing.
Remove Weak “to Be” Verbs
New writers use variations of the verb “to be” quite often, thus weakening the following words (hence the concept of “weak verb”). For example, instead of saying, “They were not fans of the band,” you could say, “They disliked the band.”
Remove Weak Adjectives
Weak adjectives decrease your writing quality. “Very” and “really” are two perfect examples. Instead, you can use more powerful adjectives to replace them. You can use fewer words and still give your text an impact.
Use Grammarly to Find Mistakes
Grammarly is a must-have tool for both writers and editors, and I always sing its praises. The Grammarly proofreading tool checks for spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and more than 250 advanced rules to uncover the mistakes such as double negatives, passive voice, and hanging modifiers.
After some practice with Grammarly, you’ll start to recognize patterns of error that crop up frequently in your writing. Bad writing habits like run-on sentences and inconsistencies are easy to fall back on during the writing process.
Use the Chicago Manual of Style Online
The online version is available to writers at any time. Subscribing for a year may be worthwhile if writing is your profession. Priced at $41 at the moment, it’s an investment in your future as a writer because of its comprehensive guidance on writing mechanics.
Separate Your Editing Tasks
If the idea of editing your work fills you with dread, try breaking the process down into several phases that are more doable for you. During the initial pass, you should ensure that your ideas flow logically. When you go back through it, pay attention to sentence structure.
Writing Editing Checklist
Keep these points and editing tips on hand and refer to them when self-editing. It’s one I have next to me whenever I’m editing, and it’s helped me avoid some big mistakes and improve the flow of the story. I’ll include a handy bullet list below so you can download it.
Spelling and Grammar
Software or a document editor with built-in spelling and grammar error detection is the best course of action. Using Grammarly, the Word spell checker or similar aids will underline your misspelled words and grammar mistakes and make correcting easier in any piece of writing. Make sure to check your punctuation too.
Your sentences get cluttered with filler words that contribute no additional sense. As is the case with excessive use of passive voice, they lessen the impact of your work with weak sentences and make reading it more difficult for your audience.
There is something wrong with how you write your email if the recipient needs to finish it by consulting a thesaurus. You’re making it too difficult for them if they become bogged down in lengthy sentences and cannot take a breath in between them.
It’s time to condense that excessively complex and pompous locution into something more digestible. Stick to the basics.
That doesn’t imply you have to write dully, though. There is room for imaginative expression. There is room to act in a lighthearted manner. However, you shouldn’t make it solely about the “art” of writing. Not the place to say something like that in email marketing.
Your primary goal should be to assist your audience in realizing their full potential. The most effective method is communicating as clearly and straightforwardly as possible.
Fancy words can make writing more beautiful, but using them doesn’t mean you wrote a good piece. They don’t belong in just any type of written content. When reviewing gardening tools, using words like “preposterous” is overkill.
The subject of a sentence acts upon it in active voice writing. Verbs, the workhorses of any well-formed sentence, denote this action. Although the use of passive voice is not strictly forbidden, it is recommended that you maintain an active tone in your writing to encourage your readers to continue reading.
If you want to ditch passive voice, keep in mind one popular detective-movie question: who dunnit? Who manufactured the product? Who left the door open? Who edited the manuscript?
It is easy for editors to spot passive voice, but it can be challenging for writers to see it in their work. Your writing will be more effective once you have mastered the skills necessary to recognize and correct these occurrences.
Repeating words over and over again showcases one thing: you need a better command of English vocabulary. A thesaurus is integral to making the text sound good to the reader. Synonyms are essential in this situation.
I’m guilty of this. My editor used to do an entire pass-through just for my repeated words and fire the manuscript back to me before she continued editing. Now I do a search-and-replace in Word for my ‘vices’ before sending it out.
Any lengthy phrases can be written using suitable grammar. However, because lengthy sentences frequently include several concepts, it is simple for the reader to become distracted by them. If you end up with long comma sentences, try to give each idea a sentence of its own.
Phrases You Can Replace in One or Two Words
Using too many words or phrases to create a simple idea is called circumlocution. In your writing, you should never resort to using circumlocutions if at all possible. The only instance you can break this rule is if you believe that your audience is incapable of dealing with a confrontation with the matter at issue and that you need to sugar coat it with a euphemism.
Here’s how to avoid it:
- Before beginning a conversation, give yourself some time to reflect.
- Before you say something or after you’ve said something, think of ways to rephrase it with more straightforward language.
- Studying new vocabulary and phrasing can enable you to express yourself more clearly and concisely.
Sentences and Paragraphs Starting the Same Way
Anaphora is a writing technique that repeats a term in consecutive verses, sentences, or phrases to get a poetic effect. Google doesn’t like that. You should avoid this, especially if you are a web content writer.
A paragraph that begins with numerous successive sentences with the same word will not be a pleasant reading experience. Visitors to your website would become frustrated and click away.
Therefore, even though three identical sentence beginnings might not appear relevant to you in terms of SEO, it’s essential to remember that the essence of an all-encompassing SEO strategy is providing your readers with the most awesome content possible.
Sentence Structure Variety
Your writing may appear to be one extensive list if it has an excessive number of short sentences while becoming confusing if it contains a disproportionate number of long sentences. It is challenging to establish a balance while also varying the sentence forms you use, but the work is well worth it.
Always look for a pattern of successive sentences that begin in the same manner; this can have the unintentional consequence of making you sound like you are going on and on.
Consistent Verb Tense
Decide whether you should write in the past or the present tense for your piece, as well as the perspective from which you will be telling it. Many of your readers will become confused if you flip between tenses and points of view in a way that is not intentional.
Of course, some narratives are intentionally written from different timeframes or points of view. If this is the case with your story, you must be sure you use the appropriate one at the right time.
Ensure that your paper’s first sentence sets the mood you desire. The tones you select will change depending on the topic at hand. However, refrain from switching tones in the middle of a composition. Read your text carefully when you finish. Look for tone shifts and fades and correct them.
“Very” and “Really”
These two words will make your writing look weaker with wishy-washy sentences. When you overuse “very” and “really,” the writing becomes dull, impersonal, and filled with unnecessary words.
To avoid using very + adjective, consider a single-word replacement. For instance, turn “very cold” into “freezing.”
“Really” is an adverb that can modify not just adjectives but also verbs. It can also modify adverbs. Therefore, when it is used as an intensifier for an activity, you should alternate using it with a different word, such as truly, strongly, or greatly, while speaking about the action.
A phrase that was once original but has been so overused that its original meaning has been lost is an example of a cliché.
Give some thought to the deeper meaning of the cliché. Use a dictionary to find words or phrases similar to the one you want to replace but not the same. Clichés are mostly unneeded filler in writing; you can eliminate them from your text.
When it comes to good grammar, it’s less about coming together and more about striking a balance. The concept of parallelism in grammar refers to two or more phrases or clauses within a sentence that share the same structure as the rest of the sentence’s grammar.
Your writing has the potential to become more powerful, fascinating, and understandable by utilizing parallelism.
Connecting ideas that are related to one another and highlighting the connections between them is helpful. When a grammatical pattern has been established, the reader does not need to exert as much effort to comprehend your meaning and the concepts you are attempting to convey.
You are aware that some believe that using jargon will make their work appear more intelligent, but you know otherwise. Good writing should not leave the reader feeling confused because of awkward phrases. If a reader needs to use a dictionary to complete a phrase, there is space for growth in the writing you provide.
To ensure that your idea is understood, it is important to utilize language familiar to the audience. There are thousands upon thousands of words in the English language. A jargon-filled expression can almost always be replaced with something simpler and more widely used if you look it up in a thesaurus.
One way to utilize language that “protects” your statements is through the practice of hedging. Your arguments have a better chance of being taken seriously if you use language that displays an appropriate amount of caution. It also illustrates the level of certainty you have with the evidence stated.
To make your text look nice, you must edit your formatting. This includes consistent fonts and sizes for headings, subheadings, and paragraphs. Make sure you use identical bullet points across the entire piece. Consider industry-standard typographical conventions throughout your document (including bold and italic text).
There are a lot of good writers with potential out there who can’t avoid writing in passive voice or tell the difference between “its” and “it’s.” Editors that spot these mistakes are less likely to want to work with them.
The editing process is essential on many levels, but it takes a long time to master. Luckily, our checklist will guide you through the process and remind you what to look for when finishing a written piece. Also see our post on the best books for proofreading.