Tips on How to Self-Edit


Writing at any level can be a daunting prospect. Whether you are a college student writing an essay, or a scientist submitting a paper to a peer-reviewed journal, you will probably at some point start to wonder if the style and content of your manuscript is as good as it can be. Thus before you even start, make sure that you understand the instructions and the target audience. That will determine the writing style, the length and the format of the paper.

Self-Editing Guidelines

It is a good idea to follow these guidelines right from the start, as making corrections later can be time consuming and can lead to omissions. The specific format will determine the style of the headings used, line and paragraph spacing, use of tabs, etc. But most importantly it will dictate the presentation of in-text citations and references. There are many formatting styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.) with instructions and examples of formatting, citation, and referencing specifics available online. Peer-reviewed journals and some universities may have their own standards. They also stipulate if running heads should be used, determine page numbering style, recommend layout of the document, specify required sections, etc.

Once your writing is complete, the first step is to use spelling and grammar check to correct the most obvious mistakes, such as typographic errors, using double spaces, etc. However, bear in mind that some suggestions may not be correct, and not all mistakes will be caught. After correcting the “crude” mistakes, you should concentrate on the overall presentation. Are the sections laid out in a logical manner? Does the writing flow from one paragraph to another? Is it repetitive? What style is used? Some writing standards recommend use of active vs. passive voice. For example: instead of “participants were given three hours to complete the questionnaires,” which is passive; active alternative would be “the participant took three hours to complete the questionnaire.” This is a matter of preference and personal style, but it should be used consistently throughout the document. Another important aspect is avoidance of specific gender (unless it is required by the study). Careful choice of words when referring to race is also necessary. Using Caucasian instead of white is currently deemed more appropriate. Similarly, the content should not be offensive, disrespectful, or derogatory. Other aspects of writing that are often contentious are: use of numbers, presentation of decimal points, dates, and statistical terms.

It is hard to summarize all important points in a short article. But the main point to remember is that you should always strive to follow the specifications from the beginning, and only rely on spelling and grammar checks as a last resort. Carefully proofread your document for any omissions and mistakes, and aim to have a colleague or a friend  review your work. This will help identify any unclear aspects of your writing, as what you deem obvious may not be to somebody not familiar with the subject of your work. Finally, it is, whenever possible, ideal to seek help from a professional editor, as they have all the necessary expertise your document requires. At we pride ourselves on not only offering high-quality editing services, but in ensuring that each document is assigned to the most appropriate editor, based on their academic and professional background.

When writing on any topic, first and foremost, you must decide who your target audience is. That will determine the scope of your work and the level of detail you need to present. If writing a scientific paper, the assumption is that your readers will be experts in the field and you need to introduce the subject with only a few sentences. This is followed by a quick review of the work carried out in the related field, before moving onto your study. This is where your focus should lie, and you must describe your work in a manner that is easily understood.

Once the paper is complete, you may think that the hard part is over, but this may not be the case, as the content should be carefully edited before submission. Here are some tips on how to do that the most effectively.

  1. Leave some time between writing and editing, as this will ensure that you approach the text with a fresh mind. This is essential, as familiarity with the content may result in reduced attention to detail, causing you to miss even the most obvious mistakes.
  2. At the start of the edit, make sure that the correct version of English (e.g., American, British) is selected in your Word processor, as this will affect the spelling of some words and usage of expressions.
  3. Ensure that “Check spelling and grammar” is selected, as this will highlight any misspelled words and issues with sentence structure. It is surprisingly easy to reverse letter order or misspell words when writing about one’s work and focusing on the facts one wishes to convey.
  4. Check to ensure that all terms and acronyms are defined at first usage (except for the well-known ones, such as US, UN, etc.) and are used consistently throughout the text.
  5. Make sure that your style guide of choice is consistently followed, especially when formatting citations and references. This applies to the presentation of the entire document and affects usage of direct quotes, punctuation, paragraph spacing, indentation, etc.
  6. If writing on a subject that will have wider readership, ask several friends or colleagues of different backgrounds to read your work to see if it can be easily understood.

Finally, seek editorial input, as these experts will quickly address all of the above, leaving you to focus on your work! This is by far the most effective way to ensure that your work is presented in the best possible light and will likely lead to expedient submission.

Frequently Asked Questions

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