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Writing

How to Self-Edit: 10 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 13, 2020 • 3 min read

Editing is part of the writing process, but self-editing is difficult for many writers, as some find it hard to objectively read their own work. However, if hiring an editor isn’t an option, you can improve your own editing skills to increase your writing’s readability.

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10 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

Great writing doesn’t just happen the first time you sit down to write. Whether you’re looking for a cost-effective editing option or just want to do the editing process yourself, here are a few editing tips to help bring out your best writing:

  1. Print it out. Reading your words on the printed page can help you find spelling mistakes, sentence fragments, and run-ons more easily than trying to track them down on a bright computer screen; you can even change the formatting of the text if that helps you look at it differently. Use a red pen (or any other vibrant color) to track changes or edits along the way.
  2. Read aloud. Hearing how your writing sounds can also help you listen for lines that don’t sound right, like wishy-washy sentences, overuse of particular phrases, and unnecessary words. Sometimes a writer doesn’t realize that their sentence structure is poor or that their main point isn’t clear until they hear it read aloud (you can even use a text-to-speech program or ask someone else to read it back to you while you jot down things you notice).
  3. Take a break. Walking away from your writing project for a period of time and coming back to it with fresh eyes can help you gain a fresh perspective by creating an emotional distance between you and your work. If you’re finding it hard to be objective, give it space—when you return to your own writing, you may find yourself with an entirely new outlook.
  4. Keep your voice active. With active voice writing, the subject of a sentence is performing an action. That action is represented by a verb, which is the part of speech that anchors all complete sentences. While passive voice isn’t completely forbidden in a piece of writing, it’s usually a good idea to keep your tone energized, as it keeps your readers reading.
  5. Edit line by line. A good editor will systematically go through a piece of writing line by line, and that is what you should do as well. It may take time and be a painstaking task, but if you’re editing your own work, you’ll need to look closely at the words you’ve written to find any outstanding issues like grammatical errors or typos.
  6. Get familiar with style guides. Professional editors may come equipped with extensive editing skills, but it’s possible to learn what they know. Look up which writing style guide applies to your writing (if you’re copywriting, you’ll likely want the AP style guide, whereas fiction writing will use the Chicago Manual). Follow the proper guidelines laid out and add them to your editing checklist: Are all the commas where they should be for this particular piece? Are words properly italicized or quoted? Knowing what to look for can not only expand your editing experience but help you become a better writer.
  7. Avoid clichés. While they appear in good writing every so often, clichés are mostly boring unless you have a unique spin on them or can integrate them in a way that doesn’t seem tired.
  8. Embrace re-reading. Editing isn’t a one-off process, and chances are you’ll need multiple read-throughs in order to find all of your weak sentences, grammar mistakes, punctuation errors, and spelling errors.
  9. Mind your syntax. Be on the lookout for issues with grammar and word choice. Certain words can change the whole mood or feeling of a piece, and using weak verbs and weak adjectives will only exacerbate that. Make sure your writing feels strong and clear, and use a thesaurus with caution. If you’re not exactly sure how to use a word, don’t.
  10. Save the proofreading for last. Whether you’re copy editing for content marketing or writing the first draft of a memoir, proofreading is the very last step you should take when self-editing. As you go through your piece, you’ll be re-writing sentences and paragraphs, so searching for grammar errors or doing a spell check before your final draft will only waste more time. It’s okay if you spot errors along the way (you don’t have to ignore them), but don’t make it the first step you take when tackling your own editing.

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