How to edit your own writing: 8 tips for self-editing
Including your free printable self-editing checklist (PDF)
You've finished writing your report, dissertation or novel. What's next? Well, now you can start the self-editing process. Why self-edit? A self-edit is not a replacement for a professional proofread or edit, but your budget will go further and you'll end up with a better final piece if you take your writing as far as you can on your own before sending it to an editor. The eight tips below will help you edit your own writing.
1. Put it to one side for a few days (or more if you can)
Yes, you read that right! You need to step back from your work for a while before starting the editing process. When you return to it, you'll be reading it with fresh eyes and will be more likely to spot errors.
2. Edit in multiple rounds
Split your self-editing process into separate tasks. Focus on one task at a time.
Check the structure. This concerns the outline of your text. Is everything in the right order? Do the ideas flow logically? Is there one clear topic per chapter/section?
Check the readability. Have any details been missed or not explained fully for readers unfamiliar with the topic? Is there too much detail that isn't important? Have any details been repeated? Are there any sentences that are awkward or don't make sense?
Check the spelling, punctuation and grammar. Have the appropriate words been used for the intended audience? Is there any repetition of words or phrases?
3. Read it out loud
Reading out loud is the best way of checking for awkward wording. This will also help you catch any missing or repeated words. If you don't want to read it out loud yourself, you can always use Microsoft Word's inbuilt tools to listen to your documents.
4. Read it in a different format
If your text is typed, print it out or convert it to PDF. Alternatively, you can change the text to a different font, size or colour. This will help you to look at it differently and make it easier to spot errors.
5. Don't be afraid to cut
Look at each chapter, section or paragraph. Can any be removed without affecting the plot or overall meaning of your document? Don't be afraid to get rid of unnecessary text.
6. Find someone objective to read your work
Ask a friend, critique partner or beta reader to read through your work to get an unbiased opinion of your text. They can help point out any bigger issues with the structure and readability before the more detailed editing at sentence and word level is carried out.
7. Create a style sheet (or download one of my free style sheet templates)
Are you writing for a British or American audience? Do you want to use the Oxford (serial) comma? And what about quotation marks? (Single or double?) A style sheet will help you keep your text consistent.
8. Save the proofreading for last
You've been through your text and edited for structure and readability. Now you can go through it for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. To catch repeated words and spelling errors, use a ruler or a blank sheet of paper to read your document one line at a time. Or you could read it backwards one word at a time.
However you chose to edit your text, find a self-editing style that works for you.