Timeline: 2 days - 1 week
One of the most important steps you can take to improve the quality of your article is to edit it. If you don’t have the option of a second person looking at it, you can always edit it yourself.
Self-editing can be tricky though. As the writer of the article, you tend to become familiar with the words and it is easy to glance over mistakes. Your brain ends up reading the words as you think you wrote them and not necessarily as what you actually wrote.
In Part II of our series on editing, I’ll share the tips and tricks I use while editing my work.
How to Ace the Self-editing Process
Even if I am asking a professional editor to take a look at my draft, I always make it a point to edit it myself first. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different tricks and here’s what has worked well for me and others with whom I’ve shared these tips.
- Know your why: Why are you writing this article? What do you want the reader to take away from the article? Once you’re clear on what you want to achieve with this article, you can use it as a compass while editing and ensure that every word, line and paragraph adds value to the article.
- Let it sit: Take a break once you’re done with the first draft. Ideally, you should let your draft sit for a few days but try to give it at least a day before you do an edit. This helps you ‘distance’ yourself from your writing and you’re more likely to notice any errors that may have crept in.
- Read it out loud: When I’m stuck on a sentence or paragraph, I read it out loud and I find it easier to figure out what needs fixing. Ideally, you should read your entire draft out loud. However, if nothing else, use this tip to fix those run-on sentences.
- Read it backwards: What this means is that you begin by editing the last paragraph and work your way back to the introduction. Reading the article backwards tricks your brain into believing that you are reading something new. This tip is particularly useful when you don’t have enough time to step away from your draft for as long as you’d like.
- Take a print-out: This is one of my favourite tricks although I do tend to use it sparingly (in the interest of saving paper). Print out your article and edit on paper instead of the screen. I find this trick particularly effective when I am having problems with the structure. If you don’t have a printer handy, try copying and pasting your article onto different software. I usually write in the Notes app on my laptop and then copy the draft to MS Word before I edit.
- Know your writing: Most writers have certain words or phrases they tend to use repeatedly or those that they usually spell wrong. For example, 9 out of 10 times, I spell ‘privilege’ and ’embarrassing’ wrong. Knowing this, I always make it a point to double-check the spelling of my problem words. Make a note of these words so you know to look out for them while editing your work.
- Edit more than once: Time permitting, you should edit your work at least twice. Begin by doing a line-by-line edit and checking for structure and flow. Fix any obvious errors you come across but don’t proofread at this time. Once you’ve revised your article based on the line edit, do a thorough proofread for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
Pro-tip: do another proofread once you’ve published your article. You might find an error (or two) you would have otherwise missed.
- Create a style guide: A style guide can be a lot of work but think of it as work-in-progress instead of a large project you need to undertake. Create your own or use our template (coming soon) to get started. Then, decide on certain conventions for your writing. For example, think about how you will write numbers or dates, or whether you will use the oxford comma or how your headings and sub-headings will be formatted. A style guide will help you stay consistent in your writing and will make the editing process faster.
Now that you know how to make the most out of your editing process, let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to answer as you edit your draft.
What to Look Out for While Self-editing
Here’s a list of some of the major errors you should keep an eye out for. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it will help you fix the most common errors.
- Structure and flow: Does your article have a clear structure? Does each paragraph flow into the next one logically? Are you taking your reader on a journey of discovery? Cut out paragraphs that don’t add any value to the article and mark paragraphs that could do with additional information.
- Consistency: Are your voice and tone consistent? Are you using the same style while writing words, numbers etc.? For example, are some words capitalised in places but not in others? Have you written dates and times in a consistent format?
Pro-tip: Make a note of these styles and create a style guide for yourself. That way you can just look up your manual every time you’re confused.
- Show vs tell: Can you help the reader reach their own conclusion instead of making it obvious? Can you ‘show’ them what you mean instead of ‘telling’ them? Make a note of sentences that could be made more engaging with a little description or the use of a metaphor.
- Word choice: Can you replace a word you’ve used with one which will have a stronger impact on the reader? Could you possibly be using a word wrongly? Are there any phrases that could be replaced by one word which conveys the meaning in a more apt manner? Double-check any words you may not be sure of.
- Repetition: Are you repeating the same words? Most of us have ‘favourite’ words that worm their way into our writing and using the same words over and over can damage your credibility. If you find yourself getting repetitive, use an online thesaurus but make sure you make the correct word choice.
- Active and passive voice: Are your sentences written in passive voice? If you convert them into active voice, do they sound better? In most cases, the active voice will significantly improve your sentences. Sometimes, though, it is better to leave the sentence in a passive voice. Try out both and see which one makes a greater impact.
- Punctuation: Have you used commas correctly? What about the em-dash and en-dash? Punctuation must be accurate since incorrect usage can completely change the meaning of a sentence. When in doubt over the rules, look them up on the Internet.
- Spelling: Have you used ‘there’ and ‘their’ correctly? What about ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Did you check the words you tend to spell wrong? Spelling errors can not only make you look careless but can also convey the wrong meaning to your readers. Unfortunately, using spellcheck is not enough and you have to manually check for spelling errors and typos.
- Inclusivity: Is your content inclusive and not offensive to any marginalised groups? Use the correct pronouns when you are referring to someone else and make sure you haven’t inadvertently used any slurs. Refer to the Diversity Style Guide or the Conscious Style Guide when you’re confused.
- Redundancy: Are you using any redundant expressions, that is, using two words that effectively mean the same thing? One of my pet peeves is ‘free gift’ because a gift, by its very nature, is free. Other common expressions to look out for are ‘return back’, ’12 midnight’, ‘exactly identical’, and ‘repeat again’.
- Sources: Have you cited all your sources? Did you double-check the facts? Are the links accurate? Make sure you’re not plagiarising and have given credit where due.
Ideally, you should keep about a week for the entire process. At a minimum, keep two days, so you have one day to let it sit and another to edit.
Once you start self-editing, you’ll notice a difference in your writing and so will your readers. Make sure you plan around it and schedule your writing accordingly. It’s worth the effort and it does get easier over time. Take a look at the first version of this article and you’ll see how much of a difference just one round of self-editing makes.
If you’d like a second set of eyes on your work but don’t have the budget to get it looked over by a professional editor, you can ask your friends and family for help.
In the next instalment of this series, we’ll share some tips on how to get honest feedback from friends and family.
This article is Part II of our series on editing. You can read Part I here. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll let you know when we publish something new. We’ll also send you our style guide template once it’s ready.