I spend a lot of time editing other people’s writing and self-editing my own work. In fact, I spend more time revising and proofreading than I do writing. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite editing tips:
1. Accept Favor Requests for Editing
When a friend, family member, or coworker asks you to look at a draft, do it. Even if you’re busy, even if you don’t feel like it or have your own projects to write and edit, take it on. The more editing you do, the better you get at it, and that means you become better at editing your own work, too. Never pass up an opportunity for practice!
2. Read it First
Before you uncap your red pen, give the piece a quick read. If you edit on the first pass, you might have to go back and undo some of your markups or revisions. This can happen because you haven’t picked up the style and flow yet, because you don’t know where the piece is headed with regard to context, or because you’re focused on finding mistakes instead of understanding the material. If at all possible, read it first, and then go back and start editing.
3. Are You Wearing Your Editing Hat or Proofreading Hat?
When you edit, make sure editing is really what you’re doing. In other words, be aware that editing is not scouring the text for typos and stray punctuation marks. Editing is when we strengthen the story, sentences, and paragraphs. Proofreading comes later. That’s not to say we don’t do a little proofing while editing or that we don’t do a little editing while proofing. I know I do. However, I always do a full revision focused on editing and another on proofreading. For more complex pieces, I do multiple edits and proofs.
4. Edit On-Screen and Track Changes
Many writers and editors swear by the printed page. But that’s a messy and inefficient way to edit. If you start editing on-screen, you’ll adjust to the new format and soon find it’s much easier than marking up print. If you’re making big revisions and you’re worried about losing the original text, use Microsoft Word’s feature, Track Changes, which does just what you’d expect — it tracks all the changes you make as you edit. Then you can go through and review every edit and accept or reject those changes individually or collectively. This is also a great way to edit twice — once to make the changes and again to approve them.