How to Become A Better Self-Editor

It’s notoriously difficult to edit your own work, even for seasoned writers and reporters. While you can always ask a friend or colleague to proofread your work — or hire a professional editor for those big, bad writing projects — it’s just not realistic to have someone edit your every email, PowerPoint slide and Facebook post. That’s where these tricks come in handy.

Step away for a period of time.

When you have to edit something you’ve written yourself, my No. 1 piece of advice to to finish the draft, forget it, and come back to it later. When you’ve just finished writing something and begin to reread it immediately, you can miss errors because you read it as you intended it rather than how it actually appears on the page. Many times I’ve sent off an email and reread it later only to realize I omitted a word or used a homophone instead of the correct spelling of the word. If you can leave the project alone for 24 hours that’s ideal, but even just going to lunch and coming back to the piece will help you catch more errors.

Take it offline.

While most writing today happens on a computer, and proofing on-screen is quick and convenient, it’s not the best for accuracy. Many editors will tell you there’s something different about printing out your writing and holding a red pen that makes you see your mistakes more clearly. I’m not saying you have to print your every email, but printing and proofreading a paper version requires minimal extra effort for maximum payoff on those pieces that really matter.

Read your work aloud.

Just like printing and editing your work with pen in hand, reading it aloud helps your brain process the words in a new way. You may be reading and notice a missing word, spot a place where a comma is needed or realize a sentence is awkwardly constructed by taking this step.

If something is unclear, break it down.

Should you find one of those awkwardly constructed sentences, break it down. More complex sentences can add interest to an otherwise short, simple piece of writing. But too many of them back-to-back clouds your message and makes it harder for the reader to comprehend what you’re saying on their first read-through. Making your long, clunky sentences into short, simple ones will give your writing a more confident tone.

And lastly, one editing pet peeve…

Control F for double spaces.

I beg of you, please stop adding two spaces after every period! This typing “rule” many people learn from their teachers is actually not a rule at all. This habit originated out of necessity — typewriters used monospace fonts, meaning an M got the same amount of space as a period on the page. The double space after a punctuation mark helped emphasize the end of the sentence for easier reading. Today, computer fonts are proportional, making it unnecessary to double space. The double space rule can date you (and drive editors like me crazy). If you can’t help it, type your whole piece with double spaces, then control F and replace them with single spaces when you’re done. Then, we all win.