content writing tips

Top 10 Tips for Self-Editing and Revising

Man applying editing tips
Photo by Buro Millennial from Pexels

All too often, people divide writers and editors into separate categories. It’s true that not all editors are writers, but all writers must be editors. Writers who throw together a rough draft and do a quick spell-check, then expect an editor to do all the hard work, are making a big mistake for several reasons:

  • The writer loses an opportunity to learn about weaknesses in their own writing.
  • The editor may not be able to tell what the writer’s original intention was, and the core message of the content might be lost.
  • The revising and editing process is a huge opportunity for improvement — and what writer would want to miss out on that?

In this post, I’ll share some useful tips for revising and editing your own work. First, though, I’m going to answer two important questions.

What’s the Difference Between Editing and Revising?

I regularly write content for an online marketing company. Overall, I enjoy what I do for them. However, I do have a few pet peeves. One of them has to do with the man (we’ll call him Joe) who sometimes performs quality checks on my work.

Joe is good at catching errors. Sometimes, though, he makes “corrections” that are pretty arbitrary. I go along with them just because it’s not worth discussing. The other thing Joe does that irks me is that when he edits one of my pieces, he typically leaves a note that says something along the lines of, “Edits attached. Revise and repost.”

It seems that Joe does not know the difference between revising and editing. What is the difference, you ask?

  • Editing is about catching errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. It is essentially proofreading, and it happens on a sentence by sentence level.
  • Revising has a broader scope. It considers a document as a whole and checks for things like continuity, consistency, overall tone, and other facets of writing that go far beyond what you see on a sentence level.

If I’m Pretty Good at Catching My Own Errors, What Value Can I Get from Hiring Someone to Help Me Through the Revision and Editing Process?

It is easy for writers to go “edit-blind.” That is to say, writers are much more likely to miss their own missteps than they are to miss others’ mistakes. Hence, even if you are the world’s nerdiest word nerd (or one of them — I don’t want to fight you for the title), it’s always beneficial to have a second pair of eyes review your work and give you feedback.

Also, and this should go without saying, please do not ever rely on MS Word’s Editor feature, Grammarly, or any similar service to enhance your writing. Those things are useful tools, but they’re often wrong.

Okay. Now that we’ve discussed those points, we’ll progress to some tips that will elevate your editing and revising game.

Tip #1: Come at It Fresh

If you are on a tight deadline, you might have to finish writing, quickly edit, and submit. However, if you have time, I recommend that you take a break after you complete your rough draft. Step away from the computer and focus your mind on something else. Maybe take a walk around the block, have a cup of coffee, or go kiss your significant other.

Or, if you are working on a bigger project (like a novel), an even larger break might be necessary. You might switch to working on a different project for a month or two before you dive into the process of editing your rough draft.

Coming at a piece of writing with fresh eyes will make you more alert to errors and help you to be more objective.

Tip #2: Outline It

This tip is mostly for longer projects. You might have started off with an outline, but creating an outline after your rough draft is done has its own benefits. It will help you check for continuity and give you an overall view of your work.

When I am working on a novel, I usually read through my rough draft and write a one- or two-sentence summary of each scene or chapter to help me understand the overall flow of the book. I might do this on index cards, so I can easily rearrange the sections if necessary.

Tip#3: Read It Backward

When you are ready to line-edit, you might get caught up in the message you are trying to relay if you read your piece from beginning to end. You might therefore be more likely not to notice errors in the writing. Try starting at the end of your blog post, paper, or book, and read it backward one paragraph or sentence at a time. You’ll be able to focus more on words than on the overall thrust of what you are reading.

Tip #4: Keep Reminding Yourself of Best Practices

Reading is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. Unfortunately, it can also be a trap — especially if what you read contains lazy writing. For example, you might read a lot of web content that is chock full of passive voice or boring verbiage. Please don’t let those things creep into your own writing. Remain diligent about sticking to the highest standards of writing mechanics, and regularly spend some time refreshing yourself on writing best practices.

Tip #5: Do It Again

Once you think your piece is perfect… it’s probably not. It never hurts to do one final round of edits, even when you think your project is as good as it’s going to get. Your goal should be to get it as perfect as possible before you hand it over to the editor who is going to help you refine it until it reaches its full potential.

Tip #6: Don’t Spend Too Much Time Second-Guessing Yourself

Okay, this tip might seem like it conflicts with tip number five, but it doesn’t. It is useful and practical to give your work one last go-over before you send it off into the universe. However, spending a lot of time second-guessing whether it is good enough will only cause you anxiety. Don’t stress too much over whether that comma should be there, and don’t lose sleep wondering whether you chose the exact right words to discuss your passion for harmonicas. (Sure, those are dramatic examples, but you get my point.)

You should have confidence in your writing! Whether you are writing because you view it as an art, or you just want to create awesome content to build your business, you should take pride in your project.

Tip #7: Break the Rules

I’m all about following the rules of English. However, I’m also all about breaking the rules. That is to say, it’s fine to ignore certain rules of grammar and syntax if you do so with purpose, and if you do it in a way that won’t muddle your message.

For example, if you see in your rough draft that you started a sentence with “and” or “or,” you might want to reword it. On the other hand, in some cases, starting a sentence with either one of those conjunctions can heighten the impact of your writing.

Tip #8: Check the Sentence and Paragraph Length

No one likes to slog their way through long sentences or long paragraphs. As a general guideline, paragraphs for web content should be around 100 words max. Average sentence length should be around 20 words. There are tons of exceptions to these suggestions, of course, but they are useful to keep in mind if you want to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

Tip #9: Check for PC-ness

One of the easiest things you can do these days is offend someone, even if the offense is total unintentional. If you are writing a piece to express your personal opinion or you are writing for the pure joy of it, you don’t need to worry too much about being politically correct. However, if you are striving to build up a reputation with the general public, it’s wise to double-check to make sure that the way in which you refer to specific people, groups, religions, etc. is in line with accepted standards.

Here is a guide that has some useful tips on how to be PC:

Tip #10: Enjoy It

Personally, I dislike the revising and editing process. However, I am learning to embrace the wonders of improving myself. Here is how I make lemonade out of lemons (forgive the cliché):

  • I congratulate myself when I discover I’ve written something brilliant.
  • I remind myself of how awesome it is that no one will ever know I committed that particular error.
  • I listen to background music (sometime—it depends on the specifics of what I am doing).

What are some techniques that you use in the editing or revising process? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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