Guest post from James Adams
Every good writer knows the value of an editor, a second pair of eyes to read what you’ve written and provide honest feedback. Realistically, though, it’s not always possible to have someone edit your copy. Maybe the deadline is too close. Maybe you can’t afford to hire an editor. Or maybe you’d rather bask in the glory of having produced a work entirely your own. Whatever the case, is it possible to self-edit your copy? Yes! Here are five keys.
1. Make an initial pass – Read through your copy and see what jumps out at you. Is anything missing? Are any words, sentences, or even paragraphs redundant or unnecessary? Does anything strike you as not quite right? Trust your instincts in this regard. At the very least, mark everything that you notice. Then review these marks one-by-one, revising as needed or making a conscious decision not to change the text.
2. Forget about it – Let as much time as possible go by. Move on to something else for a few days or weeks. When you come back to your copy, you’ll be amazed at what this distance does for your clarity! Why does this work? Because when you first write something, you have in mind everything you know about the subject and what you intend to write. When you read it, your mind fills in the gaps, as it were, and you may not notice holes in the logic or sentences that are unclear. Everything makes sense to you, at the moment, but as time passes some of those details will fade from memory. Then you can take a fresh look at the text and likely spot problems that you didn’t notice the first time.
3. Make your copy look different – If you’ve been editing your work on a computer, try printing it out. If you’ve already been editing in print, change the font. Print it on a different color of paper. Make the margins larger or smaller. Each of these changes, while seemingly minor, accomplish the same goal: tricking your brain into thinking that you’ve never read this before. That, in turn, contributes to reading it objectively.
4. Make a checklist – Have a standard list of things to check, including:
- Spelling: Use a spell check program.
- Grammar: Verify your use of their vs. they’re, its vs. it’s, affect vs. effect, and so forth. Hint: Make a cheat sheet of rules for the types of mistakes you commonly make. Then refer to it as you edit.
- Cohesiveness: Does each sentence logically follow the previous one? Does it begin with a familiar word or concept and end with something new?
- Coherence: Does the first sentence in each paragraph identify the topic? Do the rest of the sentences in the paragraph hang together? That is, are they all working toward the same goal—developing the topic sentence that the paragraph leads off with?
- Clarity: Have you made it clear who did what by favoring the active tense wherever possible? As an example, instead of writing “A ball was tossed by Chris. It was caught by Joe.” you could write “Chris tossed a ball, and Joe caught it.”
5. Read aloud – Reading your copy out loud helps you spot missing words and punctuation because it forces you to see each individual component. Reading aloud also helps you to know whether your text flows or is jilted. This is important, for even when readers glance through your text silently, their minds will “hear” the words. Naturally, text that flows well is more enjoyable to read.
Undoubtedly, there is no substitute for a good, real-life editor. But in a crunch, the above keys will help you to successfully edit your own work. In fact, if you make it a habit to always take these steps—even when you plan to turn your work over to an editor — you will consistently produce better copy and improve your reputation as a writer.
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