If you’ve ever written something that was perfect after the first draft, congratulations: you are in a very small, exclusive club. For most of us, editing is an essential part of the writing process. And editing your own work can be tricky as you might not want to change your precious words! But self-editing is a useful skill to have, so here are five tips to help.
1. Critical Distance
Once you’ve finished the first draft of a document, take a break. Even if it’s just overnight, some time away will give you distance from your work, which is vital for spotting errors. And spotting errors is vital for self-editing.
You can also try other things to give yourself a bit of distance. For example, you can print out your work and read it on paper. Alternatively, to get a sense of how well your writing flows, you can read the document (or problem passages) out loud to see how it sounds.
2. Review the Guidelines
Whether you’re writing something for work or university, you may have been asked to follow a style sheet or specific instructions.
Once you have a first draft, then, go back through your entire document to make sure it follows all the guidelines set out.
3. Look for Crutch Words
Every writer has ‘crutch’ words they fall back on. These are often filler terms, such as ‘definitely’ or ‘basically’, that we use without thinking. We call these ‘filler’ terms because they fill up a sentence without adding anything. The following sentences, for example, mean the same:
Using crutch words is definitely a bad idea.
Using crutch words is a bad idea.
‘Definitely’ might add emphasis in the first sentence, but it isn’t necessary. So if you’re struggling to reduce your word count, removing filler words can help (especially if you’ve repeated terms throughout your work).
4. Brief is (Usually) Better
Could your writing be more concise? The answer is probably ‘yes’. When you go back over your work, try to see it from the reader’s perspective.
You might be proud of the twenty-page genealogy you’ve written for the main character in your novel, but is it essential for the plot?
In fiction, moreover, it’s almost always better to show than tell (i.e. to use the action to tell the story). As such, cutting unnecessary exposition will give you more space for things like description and characterisation.
5. Don’t Do It!
OK, that’s a bit strong. We wouldn’t have offered the above advice if self-editing was always a bad idea. But a fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable toward the end of the editing process.
Even if you just ask a friend to give your document a quick look, they might spot something you missed (no matter how long you’ve been working on it). And if you ask a professional editor or proofreader for help, you can be even more confident your writing is error free.
Summary: 5 Tips for Effective Self-Editing
If you are editing your own work, make sure to:
- Leave a bit of time between finishing your first draft and starting to edit. This will give you more critical distance, which is vital for self-editing.
- If you’re working to a style guide, check the instructions again.
- Be aware of ‘crutch’ words that you use without thinking. Removing these can help make your writing clearer and more concise.
- Aim for brevity: look for parts of the text that could be cut or reduced.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You might want to do the first edit yourself, but you can never beat a fresh pair of eyes for proofreading!
And if you’d like us to help with editing a document, just let us know.