5 Tips to Edit Your Own Writing

The panic is setting in—you just sent an email to a client’s CEO, but it was addressed to the Chief of Staff of their direct competitor. Or perhaps you just hit “publish” on a blog post that had a glaring error in the title. Maybe you just posted an announcement on the company’s intranet misspelling your boss’s name. 

Most of us have been in one of these situations, wishing we could simply unsend our email or republish a post without showing it was edited. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up for not catching obvious errors or realizing we could’ve made our main points in 500 fewer words. Writing slip-ups happen every day. But what if you spent a few more minutes each day proofreading your writing? How many mistakes could you catch? 

Imagine for a moment how much editing would reduce your anxiety and improve your writing’s effectiveness. Learning to self-edit severely limits the number of times you’ll break into a cold sweat and will enhance your writing style. Not only that, it will improve your reputation at work, thus earning you even more rewards and recognition. This piece will explain why self-editing is such a valuable skill and give you 5 tips on how to start.

Why should you learn to self-edit?

If you work at a place where you interface with an editor often, you might be asking why self-editing is important. Sharing unedited writing—whether it be with editors or colleagues—just makes it harder for readers to make suggestions. They’ll naturally get caught up in grammatical or spelling errors instead of providing higher-level feedback on the flow or cadence of your piece. This can also steer the reader away from a goal, such as increasing revenue or asking for more resources. Failing to review your piece may also leave the impression that you’re lazy or sloppy. Catching mistakes before sharing with your boss, clients, peers, or editors gives you the reputation of being a courteous, strong writer and meticulous professional.

1. Your first draft won’t be great

Writing is never perfect, yet oftentimes we put pressure on ourselves to get it right the first time. The point of a first draft is to get started, not to be flawless. In fact, we rarely know exactly what we’re going to write before we begin writing, so drafts will inherently be lacking in some way. Even if you’ve spent some time brainstorming, the best writers write draft after draft and refine their pieces time over time.

As you begin writing, you'll think of more supporting points to include and better ways to structure your argument. Of course, you won’t always have the time to write several drafts of your writing. If you must send things in a hurry, try to identify that ahead of time. Set up a timeline for yourself to leave as much time as possible to do a once-over. If that’s not feasible, at the very least do a quick scan before sending or publishing. When you’re up against time, consider using a web-based tool like Homer. Homer pinpoints your mistakes so you can add clarity to your writing in near real-time.

2. Read your writing

To bring clarity and coherence to your writing, print it out. Yes, on a physical piece of paper. Staring at a document on your computer isn’t good for your eyes or your mind. Pull out a pencil, start marking up your document, and a better draft will start taking shape. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many mistakes you’ll find. After a silent read, read your writing out loud. This will surface confusing areas, pinpoint missing or unnecessary words, highlight the need for transition sentences, and lead to more cogent paragraphs.

This is another great use case for an app like Homer. Homer identifies extraneous adverbs and repetitive words and points out the number of syllables per word and sentences per paragraph. These features help you get your points across more succinctly. 

3. Step away

There’s something about taking a walk that opens your mind, gives you a new perspective, and removes ambiguity. Take a break from writing every once in a while to clear your head. We all get so absorbed in our writing and being too close to it can make it tough to edit properly. Do things to occupy your attention for a few hours before coming back to your writing.

That said, beware of watching TV or browsing social media. Both can be incredibly distracting these days. Depressing headlines and disturbing images can alter your thinking in ways that are detrimental to your writing. As an alternative, go for a stroll, talk to family and friends, or meditate. Your break should be as long as you need, but if you’re in a hurry, even 10 minutes away from your computer can help. 

4. Beware of common traps

There are several mistakes that plague everyone’s writing if they’re not careful. One thing we typically forget is that not everyone knows the meaning behind corporate acronyms. Rather than writing in cliches, get to the point by removing vague terms. As George Orwell once said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”

Another common issue is the use of uncertain language. Don’t ramble and find stronger versions of weak adjectives. When in doubt, cut out parts that are unclear or repetitive. And unless you’re doing this for dramatic effect, do not repeat yourself. Readers appreciate brevity. Finally, eliminate the passive voice. Homer can help you here, too. It has built-in passive voice detection so you can instantly address it. 

5. Proofread thoroughly

The last step in the self-editing journey is becoming an expert proofreader. The easiest way to start is to ensure native spelling and grammar checks are turned on in Gmail, Outlook, Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or any other text editors you use. This is so simple, but so often overlooked. That said, these editing features don’t catch everything, so read your piece slowly and deliberately, looking for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Then, find sentences you can cut. Make sure paragraphs flow cogently, and work on the paragraphs that don’t. 

A majority of what you initially write is likely fluff. Cut out unnecessary adverbs, descriptors, or qualifiers.

As you practice, you might consider using a trusted editing partner. He or she can let you know if you use certain words too often, keep making the same grammatical mistakes, or use a particular sentence structure too frequently. 

Take self-editing to the next level

When you sit down to write your next LinkedIn article, work email, business report, or important proposal, remember the 5 self-editing tips we talked about. Your first draft won’t be fantastic, but when you come back to it after a relaxing break, you’ll be amazed at what you can trim. If you have the time, grab a hard copy of your paper and edit it. Look for needless jargon, complex vocabulary, poor sentence structure, and vague paragraphs. Eventually, these 5 tips will become second nature, and you’ll automatically self-edit.

But you can always use a little help from technology. Homer can help you become a self-editor faster by pointing out long paragraphs, difficult words, and passive voice. Homer takes you straight to problem areas so you can fix them, and will let you know if your changes have improved the readability of your piece. In due course, you’ll detect your writing patterns and learn to adjust on the fly.

Sign up for a free trial of Homer to begin on the path to self-editing today.

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