Self-Editing Can Improve Your Writing

Posted February 15, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 2 Comments

Though self-editing is never a substitute for professional editing, there are ways you can improve your writing on your own. In this post, I’ll give you six tips to help you self-edit more effectively. Ready? Here we go!

1. Identify the purpose of and audience for your writing

Do this before you start editing. Once you know why and who you’re writing for, you can compare these against your writing. Did you fulfill your purpose? Is your writing appropriate for your audience? Use at least one editing pass to consider these questions.

2. Learn your quirks and writing weaknesses

I define quirks as words, phrases, or writing habits you frequently use. Though quirks can be weaknesses, quirks are also indicative of your own personal writing style. Never sacrifice your writing style for the sake of “perfect” writing.  Spend a few editing passes addressing your quirks and weaknesses. If you don’t know what your quirks are, now is the time to learn.

3. Target common problems

Sometimes the very little mistakes (think ones like they’re/their/there or then/than) make the biggest negative impact. Devote an editing pass to checking these problems. If you don’t know what your most common grammar mistakes are, start with Copyblogger’s 15 grammar goofs. These cover most of the common problems that I see. {For other grammar help, visit my writer’s life board on Pinterest.}

4. Read aloud

Reading aloud forces your brain to process your writing differently and doing so will allow you to catch more mistakes than reading silently will. It’s a little bit like magic.

5. Read from the end to the beginning

Like reading aloud, reading your writing from the end to the beginning forces your brain to process the information differently. I do advise caution with this tip. It involves reading sentences out of context, and any changes you make may not work when read from beginning to end. Reread any changes you make to avoid this. I’d also suggest only using this on short pieces of writing.

6. Give it time and separation

This tip is my favorite self-editing practice. Why? The biggest problem with editing our own work is that we know what we meant to say. When I give myself time away from my writing, I can come back to it with new eyes. I tend to write my posts well in advance and then reread them the day before they publish. I invariably catch a mistake or two. The paragraph below tells you all the changes I made when I gave this post time and separation.

(2/14 editing pass: I went through and changed tactics to tips. When I was writing, I kept using tactics, but eventually decided tips worked better. Between writing and editing, however, I forgot to make the change. In tip #1, I originally had “for whom you’re writing.” I thought it sounded kind of pompous and formal, so I changed it to “who you’re writing for”–my post on March 5th will talk more about that. And lastly, I had an errant word in tip #6. No idea how it got there.)

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2 responses to “Self-Editing Can Improve Your Writing

  1. Reading your writing out loud is the number one tip I tell people who are trying to be better writers overall. It helps me find any typos, or a big tendency of mine, to repeat the same word too often in the same sentence or paragraph.

    I think your first point is also a good one. Another trick I try to do, when trying to create more engaging content, is to ask myself at the very beginning just why I’m excited about a certain topic. Sometimes I have to dig deep to find an interesting way to present a topic, but when that’s lacking, the reader will immediately pick up on that boredom.

    (Totally self-edited out the word “just” three times in this comment, hah)

    • Oooh. Nikki, I love the trick of determining why you’re excited about a topic. Sometimes I have a disconnect between why I’m excited about a topic and the tone I adopt when I write. This post, for example, originally came out with a very teacher-like tone. It was long-winded and not very fun. I scrapped it and started over with a different frame of mind.

      Heh. “Just” is an easy word to use a lot. It just fits. And yes, I went there. 😉