You’ve finished writing your book, article, ad copy, or dissertation. The hardest part is over…or is it? No good writer nowadays can succeed without editing, and self-editing is a part of good writing. This article will reveal a professional editor’s tips on how to self-edit effectively without killing yourself over it.
To self-edit, you need to know two things: what to look for, and how to distance yourself from your work. The secrets of effective self-editing are to follow the editing basics…and to review your book, article, or ad copy as if someone else wrote it.
When a professional editor edits any writing, she or he keeps three general questions in mind:
1. Is the writing clear?
2. Is the content accurate and appealing to the reader?
3. Is the writing correct regarding grammar, spelling, and structure?
These are the Three C’s of good editing: clarity, content, and correctness.
Clarity is the heart of all communication, including written work. The most common problems with clarity result from the use of:
Long sentences with multiple clauses. With long sentences, it is hard to keep track of information, not only for the reader, but also for the writer, whose work may suffer from grammatical errors and ambiguity as a result of having too many verbs, subjects, and pronouns, not uncommon in long sentences, such as this one.
Double negatives. It is not easy not to use negatives in a less than frequent manner, but it is not unexpected if such sentences confuse the reader.
Ambiguous pronoun references. Do the readers know what they refer to?
To improve content, avoid repetition and wordiness. A professional editor always asks: “Could the ideas in this writing be organized or stated differently to convey the meaning better?”
Correctness is important, not only because errors prevent clarity, but also because they make the writing—and the writer—look sloppy. Few readers would trust a researcher or a copywriter who did not even bother to use a spell-check.
Borrow a Reader’s Eyes
“Borrow” the eyes of a reader—someone who is seeing your work for the first time—and revise your writing with the Three C’s in mind. The first two tips will help you step out of your role as the writer and become the reader.
How to Self-Edit Your Writing
Tip 1. Do not start revising your work right away.
Once you lay down your pen or take your hands off your keyboard, stop thinking about your work. Take a break. Call a friend. Watch a movie. Do NOT get back to your text until a few hours (or days) later. Then start reading your work slowly and carefully.
Tip 2. Find a way to see your text in a new light.
Many professional writers find it helpful to have a hard copy of their work when they self-edit. Paper usually reveals more weaknesses of writing than a computer screen does. Read your text out loud and/or reading it backwards, from the last paragraph to the first. These are other good strategies to get a fresh perspective on your writing.
Tip 3. Pay attention to the editing basics.
Make sure the Three C’s are in good order in your writing.
Tip 4. Use free help.
Do you write “president” or “President”? Is it “that” or “which”? For basic self-editing, your spell check program may be a good starting point. Dictionaries and style manuals, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, can help with more advanced editing issues. Blogs and online reference tools may offer valuable tips on grammar and style. Make sure to use the tools and services available to you on the Internet or in your local library.
Self-editing is a part of good writing. By following the suggestions outlined in this article, you can learn how to self-edit like a pro. Just don’t kill yourself over it and remember: You can always hire a professional editor for a final review of your work.
Originally posted 10/8/2010 and happily updated 10/27/2017. Thanks for reading!