Editing is the vital step in the writing process that transforms a rough draft into something you would be happy to publish. Ideally, you’ll end up with a body of work that you would be interested in reading yourself. While it is important to keep the needs of your target audience in mind as you write, you also want to produce something you can be proud of. These fifteen editing strategies will help you improve both your editing and your proofreading processes, catapulting the quality of your writing to new heights.
Strategies for editing your own content
Before you get started, you should be clear on your purpose in reviewing this document. When you edit a piece, typically you are looking at how the piece works as a whole.
1. Reset between the writing and editing stages
It can be tempting to edit your piece as you write. However, this will impede your ability to get your ideas out and onto the page. First, write down all of your thoughts and ideas. Then, once you have expressed everything you hope to communicate and you have completed your first draft, take a break and do something else. Coming back to your piece with fresh eyes and a clear mind will allow you to look at your work more objectively and you will be able to see areas for improvement more easily.
2. Find a quiet place to work
When you are ready to begin editing, you will need to focus on the task at hand. For this reason, it is a good idea to find a quiet place to work that is free from any distractions. You can even create a routine for yourself by designating a certain area as the place you go to specifically when you are honing your craft. This can be a cafe, a space you carve out in your home, or somewhere in the workplace. That way, when you enter this designated area your brain will recognize that you are there for one specific purpose.
3. Keep a grammar book or style guide at hand
Using a grammar book or style guide can help to ensure that all of your corrections are consistent from the beginning of the editing process. You can choose among the Chicago Manual of Style, APA, or MLA guides. If you’re writing for another publication, they may have their own style guide for you to stick to. Whichever you choose, the key here is to ensure that you are following one consistent set of rules throughout the entire piece.
4. Read the piece over before you begin editing
Before you begin making any revisions to your work, read through the entire body of work to get a general sense of flow and how the ideas are conveyed. Then start from the top and begin editing.
5. Edit your writing in stages and track your progress
Break down your editing process into smaller tasks by making an editing checklist of the types of corrections you will make each time you read over the piece. This list can include mistakes you tend to make, errors that are common to writers at large, or some combination of the two. Once you’ve made this list to track the kind of writing errors or issues you will look for in each pass, then edit with one item in mind at a time.
6. Check your ideas for a cohesive flow
Consider how the ideas flow from paragraph to paragraph. Is there a thematic thread that connects the various sections together? Look at the structure of the piece to ensure you are effectively communicating your main point.
It’s easy to get lost in the details and forget about what you’re trying to say. Once the structural integrity of the piece is sound, then you revise the draft — paying close attention to details such as grammar, syntax, spelling & typos.
7. Keep track of your revisions
It can also be a good idea to track the changes themselves instead of deleting and replacing text. Tracking changes can be helpful for a number of reasons. You can start to see trends in the type and frequency of errors you make and take note for future writing. It also gives you the option to go back to the original word choice if you choose.
If you are editing work that was written by hand, you can use a pen that is a different color from the original text to make the changes more visible. If the document is on a computer, many word processing apps have a feature that allows you to strike through text and put the changes or comments in the margins.
8. Engage with the text in a different format
Changing the way you look at the draft you are revising can help you look at it through fresh eyes. Try reading it out loud, or if it’s in a digital format, you can print out a paper copy to read and correct by hand. Sometimes as we work on a piece it becomes so familiar to us that we glance over mistakes. Engaging with the work in a new way can help break this tendency and allow you to see the piece anew, increasing your ability to edit with precision.
9. Use strong, impactful language
One way to make your writing more engaging is to be intentional with your word choice. Make the quality of your words colorful, yet direct. Avoid unnecessary adverbs like “very” and “really.” Instead, choose words that are superlative in nature, like “phenomenal” or “abysmal.” You can use more descriptive adverbs, or use adjectives that are strong enough to stand alone. Trade weak adjectives for more compelling ones.
For example, instead of describing a task as “really hard,” it is much more gripping to relay that it was “excruciatingly challenging” or “arduous.” Rather than describing a character as “very detail-oriented,” consider casting them as “painstakingly thorough,” “conscientious,” or “diligent.”
Replacing weak verbs with more impactful word choices empowers you to get your point across in an effective and engaging way. I may not be so interested to continue reading if “Dominique excitedly said…” However, if “Dominique exclaimed…!” — well now you’ve piqued my interest, and I want to hear the rest of this story.
10. Use the active voice
Not only does the passive voice make it harder for your readers to follow your train of thought, it often weakens the impact of your writing. It can be a good idea to revise language written in the passive voice, whenever possible.
Passive Voice Ex.1: The sculpture was accidentally broken by the artist.
Passive Voice Ex. 2: The sculpture was broken accidentally.
Active Voice: The artist accidentally broke the sculpture.
Above are three sentences that convey the same meaning. However, two are in the passive voice while the other is active. The active voice employs strong and direct language in which there is a subject that performs an action (verb) on an object. The passive voice is structured such that an object was acted upon (past participle of a verb) by the subject (as in Ex. 1 above).
However, there are a few choice instances in which the passive voice can be useful. This is often when you want to emphasize the action that took place over the subject who completed the action. It is also employed when the subject is unknown, as in the second example above.
11. Be concise
As often as possible, try to be direct with your writing. Trim long sentences in favor of shorter, punchier ones. Replace convoluted language with descriptive, yet efficient word choices. Avoid being repetitive by trimming out unnecessary words, such as “just” and “that” when possible.
Part of your editing checklist can include words that you tend to overuse. If your document is in a digital format, you can search the text using the Cmd-F (or Ctrl-F) function. This is an easy way to find commonly overused words. Once found, you can either eliminate them or replace them with stronger wording.
Strategies for proofreading your content
Your primary goal when editing is to ensure the structural integrity of the body of work as a whole. This is distinct from proofreading. Your job when proofreading is to look at the details of the language with precise, laser-like vision to catch minor errors.
12. Check for spelling, grammar and syntax errors
Grammarly and the spell check feature in word processing apps provide editing tips that can help you catch most of these types of errors. A style guide can be useful here as well.
13. Go carefully, line-by-line
Comb through each line of text, one at a time, being extremely attentive to the details. This is your opportunity to polish a rough draft into a finished work that you can be proud of.
14. Set a time limit
If you are a perfectionist, as many of us are, it’s easy to get sucked down an editing rabbit hole. One of the best things you can do? Put boundaries in place for how long you’ll let yourself spend on one piece of writing. While you do want to be thorough as you revise, there’s no need to spend an excessive amount of effort. You can either set a time limit or limit the number of passes you’ll make while revising the rough draft before you consider your work complete.
There’s an old Chinese saying that when you’ve made it 90 percent down the path, you’re halfway to your destination. The frustration you feel from the statement’s oddly true logic reflects the frustration inherent in completing any major project: The last little bit is always the most difficult. The last few steps are where our faith may falter and we may lose what we set out to do in the first place – like Orpheus of Greek legend losing his love for lack of trust.by Faisal Hoque & Drake Baer
15. Ask someone you trust to proofread your final draft
After you have done all that you can, it doesn’t hurt to have someone with a fresh pair of eyes look over your piece one final time. After you’ve edited your piece and proofread it a few times, have someone you trust look over the piece. This is one of the best ways to see if there is anything you may have missed. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you would like them to look for. Whatever revisions they recommend, you still want your voice to shine through your work. They should not edit your work so heavily that it begins to sound like someone else wrote it.
As a writer, your main goals are to command the attention of your audience and to ensure that you communicate your ideas effectively. Editing transforms a piece of writing into a text that captivates your reader. A polished piece entices them to investigate the landscape you have painted with your words. Hopefully, these editing tips empower you to turn a rough draft into an enthralling finished product that encourages all who encounter it to stay a while and explore with you.