Do you self-edit your texts?
Or, you are among those writers believing it’s the editor’s, not their job to revise the drafts?
If the latter, we have bad news for you:
Self-editing is a must-have skill for anyone who writes. Students who write academic papers, bloggers publishing texts or submitting them to third-party resources for promotion, self-published authors — they won’t get approved if they share poorly written content with the audience. Let alone book writers whose self-editing skills influence the final decision of publishing houses.
This article reveals the power of self-editing for those in doubt if they need it. It covers ten actionable tactics to try when revising your drafts and the checklist of areas to look for in writing during the process.
What is Self-Editing?
Self-editing is an integral part of the writing process, together with idea generation, research, content planning, and draft creation. It’s when you check your complete text for spelling and grammar mistakes, clarity, logical presentation, wordiness and repetition, sentence structure, readability, and so on.
Even if you know that a professional editor will check your text before publishing, self-editing is a must to prove your writing skills and build your reputation as a responsible author who cares about the audience and wants to improve their reading experience.
Each genre of writing involves particular requirements, obligatory to follow if an author wants it to get approved and published:
Whether you write informative blog posts for marketing goals, short stories for online magazines, or academic papers in university, self-editing affects the overall success of your writing process.
How to Self-Edit Your Writings: 10 Tactics to Try
Tips for editing are many, but most aren’t about actual tips: They are lists of areas to check in drafts when self-editing. As far as you understand, it’s about technical aspects, not practices that make your self-editing process easier.
Our list is about actionable tactics to make self-edit more comfortable and not miss anything during the process. (For the checklist, go to the bottom of this post.)
So, here’s how to edit your writing:
That’s how each practice works for self-editing:
1 — Get to Know Your Writing Style Guide
Before editing a manuscript, ensure you know what things to edit.
Depending on the project, you’ll need to follow a particular style guide while writing. It would help learn it beforehand so you could stay consistent throughout.
Thus, the Chicago style works for novels; APA is common for journalism and copywriting; MLA is the standard guide for scholars and graduate students writing research papers.
If you write something specific and out-of-the-box, editors may provide you with a stylesheet with unique spelling or grammar rules, literary devices to include, etc.
For stellar self-editing, do your best to get to know the required writing style inside and out. With a set of rules to follow, you won’t miss anything. It will be easier to check a draft before submitting it: You’ll spell and format it accordingly.
2 — Sleep on It
Most editing tips you find online will have this tactic in their lists because it works, indeed.
What’s the trick?
Do not start self-editing just after the draft is complete. Writing is hard and energy-consuming, so you won’t have enough focus for stellar editing right after you put in the last period.
Take a break before self-editing.
The ideal variant will be to get a good night’s sleep and back to your text the next day or two. Refreshed, you’ll be more attentive and notice tiny drawbacks you’d miss if you read the text when tired.
If you don’t have so much time, take a small break at least. Spend an hour in a park, take a cup of coffee or tea away from your computer, you name it. Your task here is to change perspective so you can unwind and go back to work rested. A fresh perspective will create an emotional distance between you and your draft, which can help stay objective when editing.
3 — Print It Out
Reading from print is more accurate than online. (Why do you think publishing editors read paper manuscripts?)
The eye catches tiny details like spelling mistakes, run-ons, missed punctuation, logical mistakes, inconsistencies, etc. While online reading is more about scanning, printed documents encourage precise attention.
When you revise and edit the printed draft, feel free to use a red pen to track changes (imagine yourself as a teacher checking students’ essays). You can also read it with a ruler to prevent scanning: It will cover the lower text, and your eye will not jump to it.
4 — Read Aloud
Reading your text aloud helps get a new perspective on it: You listen for lines that sound strange, notice poor sentence structures, and see your writing as its reader, not the author.
When reading aloud, you trigger different areas of the brain focusing on tiny details: word overuse, repetition, filler words, wishy-washy sentences, hard-to-read grammar constructions hurting a reading flow, etc.
How to edit your text with this tactic:
- Don’t whisper but read it sentence by sentence aloud: Revise the places where your tongue “stumbles.”
- Ask someone to read it for you: Revise sentences and abstracts that lack clarity.
- Use text-to-speech programs: Revise unnecessary words, repetitions, and sentences that are audibly difficult to understand.
5 — Start Reading From the End
This tactic will help you check spelling and grammar mistakes in texts:
Start reading your draft backward. Check the last sentence first to perceive it separately, with no context of the overall writing. It’s another trick to “cheat” the brain and make it think differently:
You won’t scan the content as a whole but read each sentence as an independent item to notice mistakes you could miss while reading in a general way. This tactic works best on the last stage of self-editing when you do the final proofreading.
6 — Edit Line by Line
Remember Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird?
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'
The phrase essentially means “one step at a time.” Your self-editing will feel less intimidating but more manageable when you tackle one piece at a time:
Edit your writing line by line to notice issues like typos and grammatical errors. This trick allows you to take a closer look at your work, prevent scanning, and cut out filler words (eliminate passive voice, redundant adverbs, repeated words, etc.).
7 — Re-Read Several Times
Editing a manuscript is not a one-off process. When you think you’ve done self-editing, don’t hurry up to send your text to editors or publish it on your blog:
Take another break (a few hours or a few weeks) — and go back to re-check it again. Such multiple read-throughs serve to find ALL weak sentences or arguments, chronological inconsistencies, typos, evidence or reference lack, and any other drawbacks preventing you from communicating your message the best way possible.
While the first round of self-editing makes you focus on a “bigger picture,” further re-readings help polish your text to shine.
8 — Try the 10% Rule
The 10% rule comes from Stephen King, one of the most popular and best-selling authors of all time:
Once you complete your first draft, delete 10% of it when self-editing. That’s about unnecessary words and being vague: You don’t have to delete the parts you like; look for redundancies, repetitions, and word clusters you can replace for more persuasive and emotional alternatives.
9 — Get the Most Out of Editing Resources
Grammarly, Hemingway App, ProWritingAid, and many others — why ignore online resources that can ease your editing life and speed up the process of checking the things to edit in your writings?
While you can’t 100% rely on them, they are functional enough to correct basic grammar mistakes, point out weak language (filler words, weak adverbs, passive voice, redundancies, etc.), notice tone inconsistencies, suggest alternatives, etc.
You don’t have to accept all the changes they suggest for your writing. Editing resources highlight areas for revisions, but you are the author: You decide on what to self-edit.
10 — Ask a Friend to Read It for You
This tactic is not about reading aloud, as discussed in the above tip #3. It’s about asking a friend to read through your work and tell you what they think. Big chances are they will spot mistakes or question issues you didn’t notice or considered too obvious to explain.
But here’s the catch:
Close friends or family members may be afraid of hurting you with negative feedback, thus “moderating” their verdict and unwilling to be too harsh. You need a person from a related niche whom you trust and know will be honest with you: a fellow writer, a bookworm who reads a lot and understands written language, or an independent editor ready to revise and comment on your work.
Now that you have a bunch of actionable tactics to try for self-editing, it’s time for a checklist. Below is the list of things to check in your writings when you self-edit your works.
Professional editors may say it’s not complete; however, you’re not a professional editor: this checklist is a minimum to consider for your drafts to appear good enough and ready for further revisions.
You’re welcome to download it and use it whenever necessary:
If these tips for editing (and the overall self-edit process) look overwhelming, don’t hesitate to ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional editor to assist you: They’ll help polish your content and writing skills for further success.