Writing is an important method of communicating our beliefs, intentions, knowledge, and ideas. Accurate use of language allows others to understand what we mean. A critical part of the writing process is editing. Good editing removes all the errors which distract readers from the content and ensures the message is clear and true. Editing is, however, one of the most frequently skipped steps in writing and, often when it is done, it is not done well.
When you are editing you are looking for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, the accuracy of the information, consistency in writing style, tightness of expression, clarity of explanation, and logical sequencing of your argument or story.
Here is a series of steps to improve your editing skills and make your writing shine.
Use spell and grammar check. If you are writing on a computer, take advantage of the tools included in your word processor. Turn on the auto-correct feature to instantly correct typographical errors and common spelling errors. Once you finish writing, run the spell check function to ensure anything the computer can catch gets addressed. Bear in mind, spell and grammar check functions are not perfect and can not detect all possible errors which can occur.
Be nit-picky. Train your eye to look at every detail when you are in “edit mode”. One way to do this is to read through your work backward. Taking this approach makes it easier to spot quotation marks or brackets which should occur in pairs. Interestingly, many spelling problems will leap out at you when you read in reverse. Be extra alert for the most commonly misspelled words especially if you are not using a computer spell check function. Also, look for and eliminate redundancy in word usage.
Give it a rest. Once you have made the first pass at editing your writing, put it aside for a while before looking at it again. You will read it with fresh eyes and be able to pick out more mistakes than if you read the item over and over in quick succession.
Have someone else read it. Ask a trusted friend, relative, teacher, or colleague to review your work and suggest changes. It helps to have another person’s perspective. Not only might they correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar, they may suggest areas that need more explanation. You write from your own position of knowledge about a subject and, particularly if you are an expert, it is easy to assume your readers have the same level of understanding concerning your subject. It is more likely your readers will need more explanation to carry them through the material. Also, having someone else read your material is helpful in pointing out areas where the logical flow is awkward or broken.
Make a list of your most common errors. You want to compile a record of the errors and corrections you make when editing your documents. Doing so will keep you alert for your most common errors and those which go undetected by the computer. One of the most frequent error situations is the misuse of a valid word. Spell-check functions will not detect these errors because the word is spelled correctly. An example of this type of error is the use of the word except when you mean except. Include punctuation and grammar gaffs on your list as well.
You can also use this list to increase the consistency of punctuation or the layout of your writing. For example, you could include a note on how you will handle the ellipsis-will you use one space before and after the ellipsis or no space before and after? Both uses are correct; you want to choose one and make sure you use it the same way each time.
Check for accuracy. Make sure your writing is factual. Check scientific reference material, quotations, history books, or other reference sources to ensure your information is true. Do your research. Nothing undermines your credibility faster than a misstatement of fact. Readers who recognize variance from truth will distrust, and possibly dismiss, the validity of your entire written piece.
Editing is a critical part of writing and like any skill must be practiced. By using the tips outlined above, you will improve the quality of your writing and make a better impression on your readers.