It is well known that it is harder to edit your own writing than the writing of others.
The best way to edit your writing of course is to use a professional editor. If your budget won’t stretch to that, ask a colleague or friend to review your work.
A fresh pair of eyes can see things that your tired eyes will never see.
Techniques you can use to edit your own writing
- Take a break from the writing before starting to edit – even 5 minutes will help, but a few days or a week is better.
- Read through your writing at a slower pace than you normally read. If you read at normal speed, your eyes won’t have time to spot errors.
- Read aloud to check for missing words. Don’t let your eyes move on until you have said each word.
- Cover the page with a blank sheet of paper so that you are reading one line at a time.
- Read each sentence backwards. This is time-consuming but, for a professional publication that doesn’t have many words, especially the cover, it can be warranted. It will help you spot if you have repeated a word at the end of one line and the beginning of the next line.
- Take on the role of the reader. This will give you a fresh perspective on the content. Is the overall meaning clear? Do you have good transitions between paragraphs? Are there words that don’t add any value (‘centre around’, ‘committed to’, ‘in terms of’, ‘such as these’)?
- Match the main verb to the subject in each sentence and make sure they agree.
- Stop at each pronoun (it, this, they, their and them) and make sure it represents the noun that it replaces. If in doubt, use the noun again.
- Use commas as cues for the reader, indicating where they should pause. If a sentence is too heavily laden with commas, consider restructuring it or breaking it into two sentences.
- Skim through your writing, stopping at words ending in ‘s’ to see if they need an apostrophe. Plurals do not need an apostrophe (dogs, cats, DVDs, tomatoes). The possessive does need an apostrophe (the cat’s pyjamas). Remember, the word it is an exception – the possessive is its (no apostrophe) and it’s is a contraction of it is.
- Abstract nouns (or nominalisations) make your writing stodgy and lifeless, and hard for your reader to understand. Many of them end in ‘tion’, such as diversification, evaluation, implementation. Learn to spot them and put the action in the verb instead of burying it in a noun. For example, instead of writing ‘this contributes to the conservation of water’, write ‘save water’.
- Use a dictionary to make sure your spelling is at least consistent throughout the document. The Macquarie Dictionary is recommended for Australian government publications. OneLook searches more than 1000 dictionaries and sorts the matching dictionaries by categories such as science, technology and medicine. From there you can access the specialist dictionaries containing the word.
- Identify mistakes that you make regularly and learn how to avoid them. This is the hardest thing for many writers.