One of the hardest parts of writing is editing your own work. Being able to honestly look at our sentences and notice our own bad habits is not easy. Good writers, therefore, are also good self-editors.
Follow these 10 tips then to improve your own self-editing.
1. Read it out loud
Reading your work aloud is an excellent way to highlight various problems.
By reading the words, you can hear syntax mistakes and awkward language. An incorrectly placed comma, for example, will ruin the flow of a spoken sentence. A poorly chosen word will immediately be mentally flagged if heard.
If you don’t fancy the prospect of reading your work aloud, your computer’s built-in text-to-speech functionality will work just as well.
2. Do something else
Resting your writing is one of the most important parts of self-editing.
By putting your work aside for a while, you let yourself forget what you’ve written. Setting aside your piece of writing for a time and coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes allows you to notice mistakes and come back to it from a different perspective.
Putting some space between you and your manuscript makes it feel like it was written by someone else, making your self-editing more objective.
3. Figure out your crutch words
We all have those words and phrases that we over-rely on. Many first drafts are stuffed with over-used words like “definitely” and terms such as “in other words.”
While these aren’t bad in themselves, they are often used as filler or used without thinking.
A good self-editor will scour their document for their own personal crutches and find a way to use them less.
4. Print out your work
Printing your words has the effect of making them real.
By physically holding a piece of paper with your words on them, you are better able to look at them objectively and notice glaring errors.
Often, when we sit at a computer, we simply gloss over issues due to screen formatting and familiarity with a document.
By changing the font and printing the document, we force ourselves to see it fresh.
5. Use a red pen
Editors love red pens.
After you’ve printed out your work, circle, underline, and cross out everything that you see wrong with your work.
While you may feel you have butchered your masterpiece, a good self-edit often means sacrificing some of our favorite sentences and paragraphs.
By editing line by line with a red pen, you’ll take a lot more time than you usually would. As a result, you will catch a lot more mistakes.
6. Follow style guides
When writing for other publications, it’s essential to follow their style guides.
The AP style guide is the go-to for copywriting and general content, with the Chicago Manual being the standard for fiction.
Most publications will have a detailed guide on their website for the formatting and syntax they follow in their publication. These guides will include information on how to reference books and movies, how to format lists, and the capitalization of titles.
By understanding differences in style guides, you become a better editor.
7. Don’t use double spaced sentences
This one is simple. At the end of a sentence, don’t press the spacebar twice.
This was something many of us were taught in school and is a hard habit to break.
If you find yourself still indulging in this old-fashioned way of writing, simply do a “find and replace” on your document. Look for any double spaces and replace them with a single one.
8. Show it to someone
Showing your writing to someone is both horrifying and extremely useful.
By exposing a first draft to a trusted friend or colleague, you can receive valuable insights and outside input. The perspective of other people is also a great way to highlight mistakes and receive constructive criticism.
While the process puts you in a relatively vulnerable position as a writer, the insights gleaned from showing a piece to someone are often worthwhile.
9. Format your document
A well-formatted document is a lot easier to read.
Correctly structuring your work will make it look better, make it easier to notice mistakes, and point out run-on sentences.
Breaking text into relevant paragraphs with 1-inch margins is vital to the readability of your document.
Using a clear 12-point font such as Calibri will also make a massive difference to your self-editing, making the document much easier to parse.
10. Check your spelling
In the age of built-in spellcheckers, this one may seem redundant but always check your spelling.
While Google Docs and Microsoft Word are great at picking up the mistakes of our clumsy fingers and tired minds, it doesn’t necessarily know what you’re trying to say.
It’s important to double-check every correction by spellchecker as they can often make a sentence make no sense at all.
They also don’t necessarily know who you are writing for. While a U.S. publication may favor spelling without a “U,” a British one might prefer you to use one.
Lauren Groff reviews books for Do My Assignment and is an expert at making book lists.