Editing Tips for Writers

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editing tips

Writers rarely write perfect first drafts—if I had to make an educated guess, I’d say 99% of the time, first drafts are full of rhubarb.

Seasoned writers have come to terms with this reality. In fact, they understand that first drafts—and sometimes, a few subsequent ones—are for transferring rough ideas and plots onto paper (or their word processor).

So, a writer has two options: hire a professional editor or edit their writing on their own. For a lucky few, there’s a third option which involves asking “generous” writing buddies to help them clean the chaff out of their writing.

But if you go with self-editing, then you have to make sure you have to do a very tidy and thorough job.

Read on to discover some helpful editing tips for self-editing writers.

Why Place So Much Focus On Editing? Isn’t The Content More Important?

Yes, the content you put out is very important. The writing part of content creation is of the highest importance and you should give it your all.

But… you’ll be doing yourself some great damage putting out content that lacks structure, has a bland style, and fails to effectively get the point across.

Whether you are a business, a freelance writer, or a fiction writer, you want content that reflects well on your brand and offers value to clients and readers.

You can’t churn out content that good by focusing on the draft writing only. You need well-edited content which is well structured, reflecting a unique style, and which looks attractive to other businesses, clients, blog readers, etc.

If you don’t think that you can self-edit, then it’s better to hire a professional editor. Otherwise, you can utilize the editing tips here to help you become a better editor.

Is Editing the Same Thing as Proofreading?

editing vs proofreading
A quick and simple overview of the difference between Editing and Proofreading.

Editing and proofreading are two different stages of the revision process.

Proofreading is the final check and involves surface-level checks. What a proofreader basically does is correct a couple of surface errors such as grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and other language inconsistencies and mistakes.

On the other hand, editing tackles issues in the very marrow of your writing. Editors use a proactive approach to revision; they look at things that potentially improve the overall quality of your writing. They usually provide changes and suggestions in relation to language use and expression.

Once an editor does a thorough job, your language is sharper and more consistent, and there are improvements in the readability, clarity, and tone of your writing.

Looking at the brief explanations, you can see that although the two are related, their differences are obvious: a proofreader handles surface errors (but still occupies an essential role in revision) while an editor audits and polishes your text to improve writing quality and ensures your writing conforms to style and formatting conventions.

Which One Should I Do? Proofread or Edit?

As I said, editing and proofreading are different tasks.

Editing affords you the chance to make your writing better, whilst proofreading is meant to provide the final scan that guarantees you perfect finished work.

It’s ideal for a writer to seek editing services before the text is finally proofread, just before submission or publication. While this is the ideal convention, many writers can’t afford both services.

It’s okay if you are willing to acquire only one service. But you need to be careful when choosing which of the two to sacrifice.

If your writing comes across as having a lot of room for improvement in the aspects of expression, language use, and adherence to specific writing conventions applicable to your writing, you need to opt for editing.

If you feel like your writing is of standard quality, then you need to check for small mistakes that might have crept in undetected—you need to proofread.

22 Tips To Help Edit Your Writing

1. Take a Break

taking a break
When you return to your writing after taking a break, can help you gain a fresh perspective.

Apart from the reason that this is a deserved break, taking time off will help you lose all the “adrenaline” and emotions which engulfed you whilst writing. After a few hours or days off, you’re more likely to recognize the so-not-obvious inconsistencies and obvious mistakes.

2. Read it Out Loud

Hearing your writing helps you discern the rough parts of the text that need some touches. Reading your writing aloud helps you observe the rhythm of your writing and if it sounds jolty or jumbled, it needs some improvements.

3. Do Away with Weak Adjectives

Weak adjectives literally plunge the quality of your writing down into the abyss. What you need are powerful adjectives.

Weak sentence: She was really happy to be home.

Strong sentence: She was thrilled to be home.

4. Dump Those $10 Words

You might think fancy words make you sound smart. I like to break it to you, THEY DON’T.

Dumping all that jargon on your readers will only confuse them, and you don’t want to lose the attention of your readers now, do you? Trying to decorate your writing with fancy words will leave most of your readers swinging between your piece and a dictionary just to make sense of writing.

With people’s short attention spans and such unfocused reading, they will probably end up reading another piece or doing something different altogether.

Be simple and use words most of your readers are familiar with. Employ shorter or more familiar alternatives of the complex jargons.

5. Show, Don’t Tell

If you’re a fiction writer, you probably know this already—this is the golden rule of fiction writing.

There are things that sound redundant and amateurish just because you’re telling and not showing. Statements like, “he nodded his head” or “he was very nervous.”.

You could simply write, “he nodded,” because we all know that you nod using your head, right? Likewise, instead of writing: “he was very nervous”, you could write, “he paced up and down the gallery for half an hour, his hand trembling violently.”

Your story is way more fascinating when you let the readers see the colors, smell the scents, taste the food, feel the texture, and see the action pan out.

6. Use Writing and Editing Partners

use writing and editing partners

I have heard a lot of writers say that their spouses are uninterested in their writing.

Yes, who likes reading a 300-page draft when they have other exciting options—sleep, watch TV, or cuddle with you (their hubby).

Most spouses just say “honey, this seems okay to me.” No criticism, no positive remarks. NOTHING!

If you have a hubby who is very much interested in your writing, consider yourself blessed. Share your work with them and use their proofreading abilities and suggestions to improve your work before publishing it.

Usually though, writers have writing partners and close friends look at their work and critique it. The writers then utilize the feedback in subsequent editing stages.

Sometimes it’s good giving your buddies an incentive to look at your writing (financial or non-financial).

7. Choose Active Versus Passive Voice

If your paragraphs are constructed using sentences which indicate that the subject of the verb is the recipient rather than the source of the action which the verb represents, or if the length of the sentences in the paragraph are inconsistent or too lengthy, you’re likely using passive voice.

Passive Voice: “My part was done.” “Some work was being done by me.”

Active Voice: “I did my part.” “I was doing some work.”

You can see from the examples that active is more exciting and more interesting than passive voice.

8. Pay Attention to Common Grammar Mistakes

There are a bunch of misused words and phrases that escape and survive final drafts every day. Most are just honest mistakes, and even the best and most educated writers commit a grammar mistake once in a while, and some end up in their manuscripts.

Your writing might contain mistakes like “Wet Your Appetite,” “make due,” or “all the sudden.” It might also have the wrong word from confusable pairs like “to and too,” “fewer and less” “Allot and a lot” “i.e. and e.g.” and others

You have to spend a lot of time looking for common grammar mistakes such as these.

9. Edit Line by Line

To avoid missing small grammatical mistakes or typos, you need thick lenses. Editing line by line might be a time-consuming and painstaking chore, but it gives you a closer gander at each and every word and phrase used to construct your sentences. If you ask most professional editors, they’ll tell you that line-by-line editing is an effective method of spotting “microscopic” typos or grammatical errors.

10. Use Less or NO Clichés

We all have used a cliché or two. Even good writers use them now and then.

But the truth is, clichés—served raw—are boring. Unless you add some exciting condiment to them or use them in a unique way, you’re just going to bore the reader.

11. Proofread After All the Checks

edit and proofread
Save proofreading for last.

Proofreading should always be the very last step. After writing the first draft, don’t sweat about spotting grammar errors or doing a spell check. That’d be inefficient because you still have to rewrite sentences and paragraphs and add new information to the text.

Therefore, it’s a waste of time trying to neaten the same text that you know is probably going to be re-written.

12. Work On Your Transitions

Try reducing redundant sentence starters. I have seen lots of texts filled with sentences launched by the same words, and they just tick me off (and I’m sure most readers are annoyed too).

“But this,” “but they,” “it has this,” “it has that,” “there are xx things,” “there’s a y person.”

Such writing is amateurish and the transitions need some improvements. You can use a starter list and try to be inventive with the way you launch your sentences.

13. Axe Currently (Mostly Redundant)

Most of the time, the adverb “currently” is redundant. Usually, every word that precedes or succeeds it, is in present tense.

Why write: “Jimmy is currently a resident at xxx hospital” when you could correctly write that as “Jimmy is a resident at xxx hospital.”

The first sentence sounds so redundant, I wouldn’t continue reading any passage containing such annoying pleonasm. 

14. Remove Extra Punctuation

A correctly punctuated piece of writing looks tidy and communicates effectively. But if you litter your writing with all kinds of punctuation, you will probably disturb the flow.

Sometimes, punctuation—i.e., commas, colons, dashes, et cetera—can represent sudden and unwanted abruptions which make your writing a bit choppy.

You can simply end your sentences and start new ones or use some creative transitions to replace the punctuation and bridge the separate “chunks.”

15. Use More Positive Words Instead of Negative Ones

Search your text for sentences that have words like “don’t,” “shouldn’t,” “can’t” or other negative words and rewrite those using positive phrases.

Instead of writing “You don’t want to do it like this when editing,” write, “You need to avoid this type of mistake in your editing process.”

This way, your writing becomes straightforward and propelling.

16. Use A Grammar Checker

grammarly free
Grammarly is a powerful tool to check and correct grammar mistakes, spelling errors, punctuation, style, and other mistakes.

Yes, you need a Grammarly-like tool. Proofreading tools check your writing for spelling and grammar mistakes and checks hundreds of advanced rules to find errors, including double negatives, run-on sentences, and dangling modifiers.

Apart from Grammarly, there are a couple of other excellent grammar-checking tools you can utilize such as ProWritingAid, Ginger Software, and WhiteSmoke.

After using these grammar checkers a few times, you’ll notice that identifying common mistakes in your writing becomes reflexive (in the physiological sense of “reflexive,” of course).

17. Work on Formatting Issues

Edited work should always come across as more professional, readable, and effective. This entails knowledge and application of appropriate formatting rules (even for blog posts).

If it’s academic, check whether the assigner wants your work needs to follow APA, MLA, or some other conventions. If you’re self-publishing on Kindle, check Amazon Kindles formatting requirements.

You always need to make sure that you use appropriate numbering and standard fonts when writing professional pieces.

18. Needless exaggeration

Some writers have a habit of making simple and straightforward things seem a bit more substantive—oftentimes trying to increase the value of some product or service they’re marketing.

But in reality, they just sound like a car salesman who just can’t shut up when the customer has already decided on buying the car.

For example, people write “couldn’t be easier” instead of writing a straightforward “it’s easy”.

19. Chop Those Anaconda Sentences

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that your text should be choppy.

NO. that’s NOT it.

Although most long sentences (by experienced writers) are grammatically correct, they’re often a pile of several ideas. Without breaks, this crowd of ideas can easily lose the reader’s focus, causing the reader to get stuck and eventually making them lose interest altogether.

20. Trim “in order to”

Do you really need it? Rarely. Maybe never?

For example:

Sentence 1 (with “in order to”): “I went to school in order to get educated.”

Sentence 1A (with “in order to” trimmed to “to”): “I went to school to get educated.”

Because you’re really going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.

It is obvious that “in order to” just delayed the reader for a millisecond without any justification. The implication is, your story is dragging unnecessarily.

21. Hyphenate modifiers

Most inexperienced writers are guilty of this crime—hyphenating two accompanying words that are modifying a noun. 

For example,

“Disease stricken herd” should always be written as “disease-stricken herd.”

You can remove the hyphen when you write the same statement as: “the herd has been stricken by disease.”

22. Proofread in a New Format

I usually do this. I convert my “.docx” document to a PDF format or copy the text to a google docs new doc, then proofread it.

You can also change formatting inside Word, alter things like font, color, and size. These alterations enable you to see your writing from a different perspective than before hence giving you a more censorious eye.

Check your document for spelling and grammar errors using MS Word.

Edit Your Bestseller Now!

Editing—in this particular case, self-editing—is a vital part of the writing process. Professionally executed editing has the potential of turning average writing into sweet-flavored content that readers would love to binge on.

Great editing skills arise from your knowledge of your own strengths and failings, hence focusing on learning how to write better content will also improve your editing. 

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.