Editing Your Writing
The writing process is not complete until editing is done. Established writers like Stephen King write daily and their first drafts, like everyone’s, can be flabby, unreadable and mostly grammatically inconsistent. However, like great sculptures, bestsellers and highly rated articles are edited out of the initial drafts. We don’t often see the mess. What we see are the refined masterpieces and great articles.
What is editing?
The process of selecting and preparing written works used to convey information is known as editing. The steps often involved in the editing process include:
- The organization, and;
- Several other modifications performed with the aim of producing an accurate, consistent, correct and complete work.
When should you edit?
Every writer has a different circadian rhythm and creative cycle throughout the day, so do they have a different time of day which is best for writing and editing their work. However, as a general rule of thumb, it is important to get as much writing done before editing.
Techniques involved in self-edit writing
The techniques involved in editing evolve as the writer becomes a more competent writer. Many of the best-selling authors edit as they write. Beginning and freelance writers of nonfiction and fiction books, articles, short stories and blog posts, who are keen to give a great first impression when their articles or books appear online or in other forms of publications can make use of the following techniques to improve their editing skills:
Let your writing rest/cool off
An editor has to be objective. You have to be unbiased and be a strong critic of your written works. This objectiveness and a fresh perspective are achieved by letting your writing cool off for a while. In the case of novel writing, you can put the draft away for a month. This will give you sufficient time to clear your mind and be objective about your written work. However, in case of articles and other forms of short writings, you can let your writing cool off for about 2 to 3 hours.
Accumulate a checklist of your common mistakes
What are your common mistakes? Do you have a list of your common mistakes? Many mistakes come from haste in writing and inattention rather than ignorance. Others may stem from a confusion of grammatical usage. Keeping a checklist of your usual errors and help find patterns in your errors. The process and tracking and reviewing your common mistakes speeds the editing process and improves quality avoiding similar mistakes in future writings.
Verify factual information
Fact checking began in the 20th century when magazines ensured that statements of fact made in non-fictional texts were verified before publication. Verification of factual information increases the credibility of articles and other published writings. You can make use of the following websites and other authoritative sources to verify factual information made in your own writings:
- Google and other Search Engines: Although you need critical eyes to be able to spot a good search result, Google and other search engines are the best places to start when checking facts online.
- Snopes: There are several theories and urban legends online. Snopes is the best place to check if certain facts rumored on the internet are true and factual before putting them in a major article.
- FactCheck.org: The website provides a self-acclaimed objective view of political data and information about the US politics.
- WhoWhatWhen: This is a database containing vital information about famous people and important events.
- Merriam-Webster: Finally, Merriam-Webster is an excellent free resource you can use to quickly check basic facts, such as medical information, the meaning of words, or overview articles.
Listen to what you write (read it to yourself or have someone read it to you)
This is one of the most essential editing skills that you can apply in your writing process. Sometimes, a written piece can be mechanically correct but lacks the fluidity needed to be understood by a reader. It is therefore good to read out aloud your articles, blog posts or ebooks before clicking that publish button.
Avoid unnecessary colloquialisms and jargon
One of the golden rules of writing is knowing your audience. Except you are writing to a very informal audience, it will help your self-edit writing and eventually your editing skills, to avoid unnecessary colloquialisms and jargon.
Use a consistent writing style guide
It is easy to have an inconsistent writing style when you are trying to write an article that is heavily researched. In fact, you can veer off in fiction works. That is why you have to check for inconsistency in your writing style when editing your nonfiction and fiction books, articles, short stories or blog posts.
Use proper but minimalist punctuation
(e.g. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Chicago Manual of Style, The Business Style Handbook)
Check for bad habit and problem word use for example:
- ‘That’, when, and ‘which’ should be used
- a lot/a lot: “alot” is a common misspelling of “a lot” which means a little.
- affect/effect:- “affect” is a verb while “effect” is a noun
- can/may: “can” is used to signify ability while “may” indicates permission.
- further/farther: These are similar and very confusing words. However, while “farther” refers to physical distances, “further” refers to non-physical distances.
- good/well: “Good” is an adjective while “well” is an adverb
- i.e./e.g.: (i.e. means in essence while, e.g., is from the Latin exempli gratia which means example)
- into/in to: “ into” is a preposition while “in to” is part of an infinitive verb.
- it’s/its: “Its” is the possessive form of it. “It’s” is short for it is or it has.
- lay/lie: While “lay requires a direct object, “lie” does not require a direct object. For instance, you lie down, but you lay something down.
- less/fewer- “fewer” is used for countable nouns while “less” is for uncountable nouns.
- that/who- “that” refers to groups of things or animals while “who” refers to groups of people.
- their/they’re/there: “Their” is for possession. “They’re” is short for they are. “There” is a place.
- then/than- This is mostly a spelling mistake as “then” is used as an adverb that refers to time while “than” is for comparison.
- who/whom- In a sentence, “who” is the subject while “whom” refers to the object.
- your/you’re- “your” is for possession while “you’re” is short for you are.
Use grammar, word choice and plagiarism checker
Grammer checkers, such as Grammarly, can help clean up common usage problems and even help identify content taken or duplicating other written works. A word of caution, grammar checkers are not perfect and careful consideration should be given before excepting their recommendations or to trusting that the tools have identified all mistakes. You still need to read your work.
Check for gender, racial, sexual orientation, national, and other bias
You don’t want to spoil an article with a careless choice of sensitive words. Bias and stereotypes might also concern hair color, age, income, weight, life situation, or anything that judges personality characteristics based on outward appearance and other factors.
Trim, long sentences
If you have more than 25 words in a sentence, you should probably consider trimming the sentence to a sizeable length. Short sentences are easy to read.
Yes, I’m done editing!
Self-edit writing can be dull, and that is why many beginning and freelance writers of nonfiction and fiction books, articles, short stories and blog posts, often skip the editing process. However, by following the basic rules highlighted above, you will take your initial draft from a rough piece to a refined masterpiece.