You’ve just finished writing and you are fighting an internal battle between pride and insecurity. You need a friend to objectively look at your work and tell you what you did right and what you should cut. If, however, none of your friends are available, or they don’t feel comfortable critiquing your writing, you are going to have to figure out how to edit your work all on your own. While it can be difficult to objectively edit your own work, it can be done. Here are some tips to guide you through the process.
1. Get a Fresh Perspective
When you edit your own writing it can be difficult to catch mistakes. Sometimes your brain corrects typos, fills in missing words, glazes over unclear wording, or compensates for confusing logic.
Here are a few things to try when you need a fresh perspective:
- Put your writing away for an hour or two. This helps you detach emotionally and forget exactly what you were trying to say.
- Read out loud. This will help you catch awkward sentences.
- If you can’t read out loud, read backwards or slowly to identify spelling errors.
- If you’ve been looking at your writing on a screen, print it out and mark it up by hand.
Sometimes writers can be prideful of their work or sentimental about their language. A new perspective allows you to keep your writing fresh and edit mistakes that you would normally miss.
2. Review Your Purpose
There is no point in perfecting a sentence if you have to scrap the entire paragraph later. Before you edit your work, confirm that your content fulfills its purpose.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Who is my audience?
Think about who will be reading your work. What do they need? Why are they reading your article? Have you written something that will help them solve a problem?
Does the article fulfill on the title’s promise?
Make sure you know what your message is. Then make sure your message is clear to those reading your work and make sure your content supports your main points.
If your article doesn’t fulfill its purpose, do you need to change the title or the content?
Have I met the requirements?
Do you need to reach a specific word count, or cite references? Fix that before you start editing.
3. Identify Problems One at a Time
While it may take more time, looking for problems individually makes it easier to avoid missing an error.
Here are a few common mistakes to look for in your writing:
- Typos and Punctuation errors
- Misuse of Homonyms
- Subject/Verb Disagreement
- Redundant Statements
- Changes in Tenses
- Misplaced/Dangling Modifiers
Go through your article and look for errors you tend to make. Maybe you always misspell the word embarrassed, or perhaps you use too many commas. Checking for these problems one at a time will make them easier to spot.
4. Fine Tune and Strengthen
Once you have eliminated errors, you can work on making your writing better—not just correct. Here are a few ways to fine tune and strengthen your writing.
Eliminate filler words
Filler words decrease your authority and add redundancy to your writing. Common filler words include: will, so, just, really, very, quite, pretty, and rather. While these words are sometimes necessary, they can often be eliminated.
Vary Sentence Length
Varying sentence lengths improves the flow of your writing, making it easier for your audience to read. Strike a balance between shorter and longer sentences. Too many short sentences can make your writing feel abrasive and choppy, and too many long sentences can overwhelm your reader and muddle meaning.
Most adverbs are words that end in -ly. They rarely add value to a sentence, so instead of writing something like “Han shouted loudly at C3P0,” you can say “Han shouted at C3P0.” Everyone knows shouting is loud–there is no need to clarify.
Don’t confuse prepositions
People often use prepositions interchangeably but if you say “Yoda lives in a swamp,” he is a much soggier Muppet than if you tell the reader “Yoda lives by a swamp.”
Use active voice instead of passive voice
Active voice is authoritative and easier to understand. Instead of saying “Luke’s plane was lifted out of the swamp by Yoda,” say “Yoda lifted Luke’s plane out of the swamp.” Active voice drives the action and moves the story forward, while passive voice requires the reader to work to understand the meaning.
Avoid unnecessary elevated language
Writing is about communication, not showing off your vocabulary. Use words that are appropriate for the tone and context of your article and that all your readers will understand.
Use parallel structure
When you fail to use parallel structure it breaks the flow of the writing and pulls the reader out of your work. For example, instead of saying “Chewbacca is tall, furry, and has anger issues,” say “Chewbacca is tall, furry, and angry.”
Use parallel structure on both a sentence level and an organizational level. Check your headings to make sure they’re parallel. Whether you use imperative statements, full sentences, or short phrases, be consistent.
Use specific examples instead of generic descriptions
Specifics are always more engaging than broad generalities. To improve your descriptions, use actions instead of adjectives to illustrate situations. For example, instead of saying “Chewbacca is tall,” tell the reader “Chewbacca has to duck to get into the Millennium Falcon.” This illustrates the point visually, while being specific and clear.
Save philosophical expositions for your term papers and get right to the point in your web content. If you can say it in five words or ten words, say it in five. Concise writing is easier to read and more engaging for an online audience.
Go through these steps to learn how to think like an editor. If you take the time to review your purpose, get a fresh perspective, look for problems one at a time, and fine tune and strengthen your work, you can improve your writing skills all on your own.