How to edit your own writing

Prooffread everythingNow that the internet enables all of us to be publishers, it’s easy to write, publish and forget without checking spelling, facts, syntax etc. Anyone who cares about quality should think like an editor and include some quality control in the publishing process.

Asking someone to proof-read your work is a good idea, because it is usually hard to spot mistakes in your own work. You can, though, sub-edit your own work if you follow a simple process, which I will explain below.

I spent a decade as a sub-editor, fact checking and correcting other people’s copy. At the same time, I was a writer who made some of the same errors I was correcting for others.

We all make mistakes – typos, half-finished sentences, spelling errors or just confusing sentences. If you want to make sure your own writing is fine-tuned, here are some tricks to use.

Just get it written

While you can correct as you go along, there is something to be said for just getting the story written. Instead of poring over every sentence in the quest for poetic perfection, I find it more time efficient to just get the story written as quickly as possible, including all the key points and not worrying too much about typing errors, except for obvious mishaps.

Get your fresh eyes on and read it slowly

When you have finished, go back through the story more slowly, tweaking any obvious errors you spot but looking mainly for readability. Does the story make your points clearly? Do the beginning and end contradict each other? Have you phrased anything in an ambiguous or confusing way? If you are making complicated points, does your choice of words make those points so the reader will understand what you mean? Reading with a fresh eye – the eye of your reader – will help you understand whether the article flows, whether it is clumsy or clear.

Chop off the bits you don’t need

Look for redundant words and phrases. Why say, “I think this is a good idea?”

You could just say, “This is a good idea.” Clearly it’s you thinking it if you are writing it. ‘A large number of’ could become ‘many of’. We often use very when we don’t need to – ‘the very next day’.

Read again for typos and spelling errors

Once you think you have fine-tuned the writing, read again looking for grammatical and spelling errors. Proof-reading should be done slowly – read every word. Look for ‘in’ when it should be ‘on’; look out for the dreaded apostrophe in plurals and other words that should not have an apostrophe; check the spelling of American/English words. Decide whether your house style is to spell realise the ‘proper’ way (I am a traditionalist) or the ‘American’ way (both realise and realize are acceptable in the UK).

Fact check

Don’t just assume facts in your story are true. Check them. Have you included a Twitter account? Check it goes to the right profile. Are web links correct? Did you include a phone number? Check it is the right one. Do sums add up?

Ready to publish

Once you have done all that and you are comfortable, publish your piece, satisfied that you have done your best to perfect it. Even then you may spot an error you missed.

(I am writing this last line having re-read and edited this article, so if you have still managed to find something to complain about, leave a comment and laugh in my face.)

Further reading

Steve Masters profile picture
Steve Masters

Steve (RIP) was Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing.

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