Editing Your Own Writing
Editing is an independent skill you can master if you want to become a professional editor. However, you may still need to edit your own texts and written assignments in your academic life. It is even more difficult than dealing with mistakes other authors have made. That is why you should improve your skills of identifying mistakes, correcting them, making changes to your texts, and proofreading them again and again.
Do not expect that your first draft will be ideal. That rarely happens. The best variant is to have a professional editor at hand. Though, this option may not be available. To help you with self-editing, we have prepared the analysis of the most problematic areas of writing and several tips on how to improve these areas for receiving a better quality.
Checklist of Self-Editing Areas
You may need to look through your writing again and again to find the slightest errors and inconsistencies, so let’s regard the problems step-by-step.
Grammar and Spelling
Correcting grammar and spelling mistakes belongs to editing but not to proofreading. When you proofread, you just correct typos, technical mistakes, and minor inconsistencies. Deeper editing involves checking grammar and spelling, word choice, structure, formatting, tone, clarity, and other vital areas.
When editing, be sure that you have noticed all the improper verb forms, wrong subject-verb agreement, and sentence structure. Spelling mistakes do not add a lot to the quality of your paper, either. Be attentive while reading your text – there may be something you have skipped.
These are all prolonged, sophisticated, and vague words and constructions you may want to use because it seems to you that you will look more professional and persuasive while using them. Leave all of them alone – they will not add any meaning to your paper but distract your readers’ attention or just completely confuse them. Use simple and small words with clear meaning, and your work will be more rewarding.
Removing unnecessary words is the first rule for effective self-editing. A good writer uses only the necessary words to convey what they mean. You do not need to avoid details, of course, but you need to diminish redundancies at any cost. For example:
He moved his hand, waving back.
The whole sentence structure is redundant here. It’s clear that you need to use your hand to wave back. That is why it makes sense to change this sentence into:
He waved back.
The most common example of redundancy is ‘in order to’. For example:
He had to work hard in order to pass this test.
You can change it to:
He had to work hard to pass this test.
You can also encounter redundancies in descriptions while using unnecessary adjectives, for example:
There was a tall skyscraper at the corner of the street.
It sounds strange because skyscrapers already means ‘something tall.’
English is rich in words, so you do not need to repeat the same word many times in your text. Use synonyms where possible. You can look them up in a thesaurus. Even if you write about some term that is necessary all over the text, try to alternate it in some way or interpret it via definitions. Though, you do not need to invent a new name for it, of course.
Your reader will feel confused if your writing is not clear enough. They need to understand what you mean by your work. If you just use a lot of poetic or metaphorical language, but without any clear structure, the reader will fail to understand what you are trying to say. Look at your text from the reader’s view – they may not know the topic you are writing about as well as you do.
It is the most common mistake which adds a lot of understanding problems. Active voice will sound more professional, clear, and confident because your reader will know for sure that the subject standing at the beginning of the sentence produces an action.
The ditch was jumped over by the horse.
The horse jumped over the ditch.
Always turn passive into active when it is available while self-editing.
Similar Beginnings of Sentences and Paragraphs
Never start your sentences or paragraphs with the same words, even if you write on a particular topic. Such writing is boring and hard to read. There are a variety of sentence openings to use, so why not make every beginning more engaging? You can also use transition words and phrases for a change. For example, ‘moreover’ or ‘however’ make your writing more interesting and structured.
Too Lengthy Sentences
Even if a long sentence is grammatically correct, it may confuse your reader and make the meaning of your writing unclear. Try to break such sentences into two or three when you see them in your writing.
A good writer uses few words. That is why check your text for wordy phrases. You can easily replace them with one or two words. For example:
You feel it is difficult to make a choice.
You feel it is difficult to choose.
A Variety of Sentence Structures
If the sentences use the same format, your writing sounds boring. The length and style of your sentences can be different to accentuate the ideas expressed in them. That will be more interesting for readers.
Your reader will not understand you if you start your text formally and then tell several anecdotes or jokes to return to official expression later. The tone should be the same throughout the whole writing piece. It should correspond to the purpose of your text too.
Avoiding ‘Very’ and ‘Really’
These words are just needless. You can use them occasionally when they are important. In most cases, you can easily delete them without any loss in meaning. You can always find a synonymous phrase to emphasize an idea.
Hedging is used for uncertain and unclear language, for example, ‘I suppose maybe it is better to leave now.’ You can use ‘Let’s leave now,’ and everything will become clear. Using hedging in academic writing is not allowed, so you need to remove it when proofreading.
Cliches are trivial and uninteresting if you cannot make them live anew. If you say ‘it goes without saying,’ the phrase has nothing to do with involvement and inspiration for your reader. You may use the cliches in your first draft but try to replace them with something newer and more entertaining while editing.
Importance of Parallelism
This is a bad mistake when you do not use the same phrase structure for a series of related phrases, especially in lists.
In the afternoon, I have lunch, working out in the gym, and lessons. – Here, we have a verb, a gerund, and a noun.
In the afternoon, I have lunch, work out in the gym, and attend lessons.
Try to avoid jargon in your writing at any price. People from a particular field or group use these words and phrases. Other people who will read your text may not know what ‘a ginzel’ means, even if you know it perfectly. If you do need to use one of such words, provide a clear and consistent explanation.
Using the Right Format
Most academic institutions require a certain format and provide criteria for it. Some assignments may feature criteria with which you are not familiar. For example, using Oxford commas is not common for all academic requirements. While looking through the draft, make sure you have considered all the instructions in the format.
Proper indentation, fonts, number of words, and spaces are the things you need to consider first. If you use quotations, check the requirements for a citation style you need to use. Remember that MLA, APA, or Chicago have different rules for citations.
Useful Tips for Self-Editing
Here are some tips that may be helpful when you do editing and proofreading of your own academic work or other types of writing.
- Print out the text for making editing easier and use a colored pen or highlighter.
- Read your text aloud to see how it feels.
- Make a pause – stop reading your paper repeatedly but just stop for several hours or days – you will see your work from an entirely new angle.
- Use line-by-line editing for grammar and spelling mistake correction.
- Learn more information about the formatting style you need.
- Re-read your paper several times, looking for weaker sentences and vague ideas – they all should become more distinct.
- Pay attention to the syntax, word choice, use of synonyms, and punctuation marks.
- Use proofreading as the last step in your editing process.
- Take away all the unnecessary words by using Stephen King’s ten-percent rule (10 percent of all the words in your initial writing should be eliminated).
- Take your audience into account – you need to use different styles even in the same work if the audiences are different.
- Use online editing resources if available.
You may also invent some principles and techniques of editing on your own.
Every method will work if you consider self-editing as a vital part of your academic work. You can also ask someone to proofread your work or hire a professional editor to help you. If both these options are unavailable, follow these tips and they will help you improve your writing and editing skills.