The First Edit: Where to Begin When Editing Your Book?


Summary: A list of resources and suggestions to perform the first edit of your book. Resources include the tools of your word processor, and the style guide that you are using. Suggestions include looking for shifting verb tenses, identifying your best writing, and clarity of dialogue.

So you’ve finished the first draft of your book and you’re ready to start your first edit. Where do you begin? Here’s a list of suggestions and resources to help you get through your first edit, and ultimately give you a cleaner, more readable draft.


The spell check of your word processor can catch several small errors that you may not have noticed the first time around. Be careful when implementing these tools. When selecting “correct” words to replace a word that has been misspelled, don’t simply choose the first word presented on the list. You can make your document even more difficult to read, if you let the word processor do your thinking for you. If you’re not sure which word is the correct choice, is an easy-to-use online dictionary to help you make those decisions.

The grammar check of your word processor is another tool you can use to clear up common errors like unnecessarily repeated words, and the occasional improper comma use. A grammar check will not catch all errors in your document, and often it can recommend altering sentences in ways that convey a meaning that you did not intend. Read through suggested changes carefully before accepting a grammatical suggestion. If your word processor is flagging a sentence for you, there’s a good chance that it needs some revision. Try fixing it on your own before letting your word processor make a change that may not be the right one. If you find that your word processor flags the same sort of errors repeatedly, you can research the grammar mistakes that you are making, and learn about how to prevent these errors in future writing projects. The Purdue Online Writing Lab ( has an extensive website devoted to grammar and citations. Try looking up your grammar error on their site and learning more about how to write correctly.

When proofreading your citations, make sure to look specifically at the formatting rules that your style guide requires. The placement of commas, periods, and quotation marks all need to be done in a predetermined order.

Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

Modern Language Association

Each organization has their own style guide available for purchase. Once you have formatted a few of your citations correctly, you may feel like you’ve got a good grasp of how the rules work. However, make sure that you review each one carefully.


The minute details of book editing can be overwhelming. Once you’ve used your spell check and grammar check, start the real work of your first edit, and read through your document from start to finish. If you have the resources, print out your document to read it and make corrections on the paper itself. When you return to the electronic copy of your book, you can make the changes in a more methodical way, which should enable you to make even more positive changes to your writing. If you prefer to work in a completely paperless environment, make sure to save your new draft as a separate document. Often the changes that you’ve made will alter your book in ways that you may not appreciate in the long term. If you have saved your first edit under a different name, you can always return to your original and compare the changes that you’ve made from one to another.

Here are a few things to look for when performing a first edit of your writing:

Changing verb tenses: Your word processor grammar check will not notice if you switch from past tense in one sentence to present tense in the next sentence.

Repeated use of terms like “he said,” “she said,” “he replied,” etc. When possible, eliminate those sorts of phrases from your writing. You will want to make it clear who is speaking to whom, but in long conversations between two people, the context of the sentence will provide clues about who is speaking. In those cases, the “he said” phrases only serve to slow your reader down.

Where is your creative voice the strongest? Where is it the weakest? As you go through your first edit, look specifically for the places where you feel that you’ve written things exactly the way that you imagined them. Once you find those writing successes, print them out and keep them handy while you edit the rest of your document. When you find the weak points of your book, re-read your successful excerpts and use them as inspiration to strengthen the weak parts. This will provide consistency of style, and an overall improvement in your book.

Once you complete the first edit, your book should be a clearer, more engaging work of which you should be proud! Remember that professional help is only pennies per word, or a couple of bucks per page so regardless, always hire a professional editor for your final review.

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