5 Easy Editing Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

Before I go any further into this post, let me give you one caveat. You shouldn’t edit your own work. (This goes for professional editors, too!)

Why? Because you’re simply too close to the writing to be effective.

Your eyes glaze over when you read your web copy or e-book for the gazillionth time. You skim and miss typos. You read words that aren’t there because you know what the sentence is supposed to say.

I guarantee it happens to the best of us.

But if you absolutely must play editor to your own writing, do yourself a favor by following these five easy tips. They won’t replace professional editing (if they could, I’d be out of a job!) but they’ll make your task more efficient and effective.

Let’s dive in.

1. Spell Check

This seems like a no brainer, right? But you wouldn’t believe how many people skip this quick and easy step to better writing.

While you’re at it, delete the word “pubic” from your computer’s dictionary. That way, it will come up as a misspelled word when you run spell check. You can change it back to “public” and save yourself from making an embarrassing mistake because of a simple typo!

Remember, though, that you can’t count on spell check to fix homophones (e.g. “blew” for “blue”) or a simple slip of the fingers such as “tear” for “year.”

2. Find and Replace

Start with “find,” and then move on to “replace.” Search your document for common grammar mistakes and typos. If you find one, just replace it with the correct word.

Thanks to autocorrect and hurried typing, mistakes can sneak into almost any first draft. Here are a few of the most frequent ones:

It’s vs. Its
You’re vs. Your
They’re vs. Their vs. There

In each of these examples, the first word is a contraction (It’s = it is, You’re = you are, They’re = they are), and the second word is possessive (Its fur, Your skin, Their blanket). The third word in the last example can be used in a variety of ways. To make sure you’ve chosen the correct word, just make sure “their” and “they’re” don’t make sense.

And take note: The possessive form of “it” doesn’t have an apostrophe.

3. Read It Out Loud

You might feel silly reading that blog post to nobody in particular, but your ears will hear mistakes that your eyes gloss over. You’ll spot missing words and typos. When you sound redundant or hear a sentence that doesn’t quite flow, you’ll know where to make changes.

Then, read it out loud again, this time to a friend or co-worker. They’ll point out things you never noticed. A friend’s critique may seem uncomfortable at first, but you’ll feel more confident publishing your writing for the world to read after it has already survived one audience.

4. Look at It

That’s right – look at the document. How will it appear on your website or brochure? Are your paragraphs long or short? Do you have any photos or illustrations?

Even a professional writer knows that good marketing communication isn’t just about words. Big blobs of gray text intimidate readers. At best, they’ll skim what you wrote. But more likely, they’ll skip it altogether.

Short sentences, short paragraphs and lots of images encourage readers to actually read what you wrote. Keep in mind that it’s harder to write short than to write long, so be prepared to slash and burn if needed.

5. Wait a Day

Unless you absolutely, positively have to publish immediately, let your first draft sit overnight. You’ll see it with fresh eyes and a slightly different perspective in the morning.

You’ll catch errors you didn’t see the day before – missing words, incomplete sentences and those small typos that don’t get picked up in spell check.

Tip of the Iceberg

These quick fixes are just the tip of the editing iceberg and aren’t exhaustive or 100% accurate. That’s why acting as your own editor is hazardous to your writing!

There’s just no simple formula for editing besides years of training and education. Your best bet for error-free copy is to hire a professional.

But if your copy is riddled with errors, give these quick fixes a try. You’ll immediately improve your writing.

9 Comments

  • Anne Wayman on February 18, 2014 at 11:30 am says...

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    Ashley, this is what I call proofing or copy editing – all the ‘edit’ words are pretty squishy – excellent point re fixing a spell checker – reading aloud is my favorite, and another trick is to read the damn thing backwards – on bloody word at a time… really hard to do and it works.

    Good tips, thanks.

  • Ashley on February 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm says...

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    Anne — yes, I agree that people often use the terms proofreading, copy editing and editing interchangeably (not to mention line editing and substantive editing for authors). Reading it backwards, that’s a great idea!

  • Jennifer Mattern on February 19, 2014 at 9:43 am says...

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    LOL Great example of the imperfections of spell-check!

    Good list overall. I’m especially fond of reading things aloud and waiting a bit between writing and editing. Without fresh eyes, I miss far too much.

  • Ashley on February 19, 2014 at 10:54 am says...

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    I seem to become a lot smarter in the time between writing and editing … it’s weird 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Jenn!

  • Lori on April 1, 2014 at 8:07 am says...

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    Ashley, I was going to argue “No, you can edit your own work” but you’re right. In each instance where I’ve had someone look over my work, they’ve found things I’ve missed. It never hurts to have fresh eyes on the page!

  • Ashley on April 1, 2014 at 11:24 am says...

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    Lori — I edit my own work a lot, too, but I always try to make time for another word pro to look at it. Besides the fact that they usually find a mistake or two, they also have good suggestions for improvement. Glad you stopped by!

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  • Robyn Petrik on February 19, 2015 at 12:02 am says...

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    Waiting a day (or however long I can spare) is a big one for me, as is reading it out loud. I find that the slower I read, the more I can catch. You’re right, I feel silly doing it, but it works!

  • Ashley on February 23, 2015 at 2:55 pm says...

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    Hi Robyn — I haven’t tried reading slower than a normal pace. Interesting that you find more errors that way. Might have to try that! Thanks for stopping by.

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