Proper editing has the power to transform a mediocre document into a great piece of writing and is a vital step in the writing process. However, writers and professionals alike sometimes underestimate the value of self-editing everyday documents. It usually isn’t until a publisher, professor, or outside editor rips apart your work that you realize how vital self-editing is.
Why Bother Self-editing Everyday Documents?
Before sending off a manuscript, memo, or paper to anyone, a revision — maybe even two revisions — is necessary.
Self-editing covers a range of techniques, from recasting sentences to restructuring the entire document. You’ll find that your first draft is never your best copy, and there’s always something to improve. Take this time to fix your passive voice issues. Educate yourself on when to use whom instead of who, and the difference between it’s and its. Even these small edits can make a huge difference.
Embrace an approach that takes into consideration your common writing errors and the writing process to self-edit successfully. Sentence-level editing and seeing the bigger picture is part of your document’s success from the moment you start writing.
Once you’ve applied your edits, your writing will merely need proofreading for basic grammatical and spelling errors.
These Self-Editing Tips are Essential
Part of self-editing is knowing what to look out for and what to change for clean, crisp content. Improving your self-editing is an ability that will impress and win over clients, literary agents, or publishing editors. Follow these general self-editing tips to help whip your everyday documents into shape.
Set Up Your Document Correctly
Package your everyday document in a readable, practical, and professional format. Make sure you’ve written in a clean, serif font, only using double-spacing when requested. If you are submitting something to a publisher and they have document specifications you need to follow, do not ignore them! The standard document margin setting in Microsoft Word is 1″ all around. Use this default unless told otherwise. Include a cover page, page numbers, and document headings if necessary, as well.
Place Emphasis on Clarity
Being transparent and specific helps your reader understand the point you are trying to get across. Pay attention to crafting and structuring your sentences. You can both inform and entertain the reader with short paragraphs strung together logically.
Understanding the art of simplicity will help with clarity, as well. Use easy-to-understand words that get your point across. These often work best to narrate your message to the reader and connect to a broader audience. Avoid jargon outside of your target audience’s knowledge-base without explaining what it means. Only use high-level vocabulary when it is called for, not to show off your language skills. Avoid clichés and idioms that put your literary texts within a box.
Keep Your Audience Hooked
Your document’s introduction should explain the essential elements of your content. If it is a creative piece, don’t bury the plot in ambiguity. You’ll bore your audience.
A robust first page catches the eye of your publisher or client, establishing mystery, generating conflict, and creating a scene. Do not use backstory as a means of a prologue, but instead place your reader in the immediate present narrative moment, a technique known as in medias res.
New ideas, or ideas relating to a particular section, should start a new paragraph. An active voice is conducive to snaring your reader’s interest. The active voice gives your subject power to perform actions, making it the most straightforward way to pass on literary content.
When describing an action, use strong verbs for a bold text. “I did the crime so that I could pay for a car” is weak. A better alternative is, “I stole from my job so that I could splurge on a new SUV.”
Use Rich Descriptions
If you are creative writing, write a compelling story that takes the reader on a journey full of action, textures, taste, and smells.
Use descriptions to turn ordinary circumstances into something with which a reader can connect emotionally and physically. Instead of, “I hate my neighbor,” try, “I spend night after night wishing my neighbor would step on a ten-foot stake.” That should get across exactly how you feel about your neighbor.
Choose significant and specific details to direct the reader’s attention. Since you can’t tell readers how to feel, offer suggestions that enable them to come up with the assumptions on their own.
Reading Your Work Out Loud
One of the most unpopular self-editing commandments will also change the way your everyday documents are received. Reading your text out loud to listen for grammatical errors and phrasing.
You’ll notice where commas, apostrophes, dashes, and full stops belong, doing your best to add or move those that don’t belong. Reading ensures consistency in the style of your document and keeps you engaged with grammar and spelling.
Leave Out Unnecessary Adverbs
Brevity is integral to self-editing success. Don’t be embroiled in a war of words with your reader, wasting words, or imbibing in unnecessary nothings.
Adverbs line the road to literal heck, according to Stephen King, who also asked that writers do not split the infinitive. Adverbs serve as a prop or “sort-of” word. Stephen King also knows that during the self-editing process, your darlings must die. Even if you love the sentence, if it needs to go, it needs to go.
To avoid adverbs, use precise or concrete nouns and verbs. These diminish the need for modifiers, though a sneaky one is allowed from time to time.
Giving credit where it’s due is vital to any writing. Plagiarism, intentional or not, can blacklist you in the writing world and get you into trouble legally. See that you are not breaching copyright laws with your text by learning how to rephrase and cite your sources correctly.
A Final Read is Just As Important as the First One
Reread after the final self-edit, even though you seem satisfied that your text meets high-standards. Check to see that the essentials of your document are in order. Adjust the length to suit the documents requirements. In case a cut is needed, nip-off from the bottom. Perform a spell and grammar check — it’s not cheating, and it will point you in the right direction of any dangling modifiers, double negatives, or run-on sentences.
Make these self-editing tricks a habit, and soon your everyday documents will be where they need to be, polished, professional, and ready-to-go!