Whether you’re writing a teaching program, newsletter article, or your next job application; the ability to edit your own writing is necessary. I’ve been using a similar self-editing process since high school. I still find it helps me develop a quality piece of writing.
A self-editing process for more professional writing
Generally I write the first draft with little concern for structure or phrasing. I just let it flow. I am, however, constantly mindful of the purpose and audience. When I don’t follow my own advice and lose sight of my audience or purpose, I find I need to rewrite the whole piece.
Before moving on to the next four stages in my self-editing process, I let my writing rest. I don’t read it for a few days (although a few hours will do if that’s all you can manage). In this rest period, my thinking develops, I get new ideas and sometimes work out a new turn of phrase. This rest period is to give myself some space so I can edit objectively and accurately.
Reflect on your writing
I do two things at this stage. I read it out loud to myself and I give it to someone close to me, to read.
Reading it aloud helps me decide if I like what I’ve written, if it achieves my purpose, and if it addresses my audience.
Giving it to someone close to me can be challenging and confronting. But I’ve worked out that having someone read it objectively and critically, can turn a good piece of writing into a great piece. When your writing is the difference between being shortlisted for an interview, getting published in a magazine, or getting your idea accepted and supported by your Principal; taking on carefully considered advice can be worthwhile.
Trim the excess
This is also known as tight writing – writing so that every word on the page achieves its purpose effectively. This is a necessary step if you want professional writing that engages your reader.
There are many ways to trim the excess. Whole sentences may be deleted or combined with neighbouring sentences to strengthen your point. Excess words that don’t add meaning (empty words), words that say the same thing (tautologies), and words that lessen the impact (euphemisms), can all be trimmed or altered to ensure each word adds value.
Using excess to talk about excess:
There are many, many words and phrases that really do say and state the same message over and over again. These words just lengthen your sentences without adding any real quality to your writing.
Or expressed more directly:
Excess words reduce the quality of your writing.
Hone in on the details
Once your writing achieves its purpose, considers the audience and is powerfully written, it’s time to edit it closely. At this stage I like to run a spellcheck first. While not perfect, a spellcheck does pick up on basic errors that make writing easier to edit. I then read at a sentence level and check I’ve used tense consistently, inappropriate passive voice is reworded, and punctuation is used accurately to improve and clarify my meaning. I also check that all spelling is used correctly and in context.
Proofread the final product
I never skip this final step. And I often do this after another rest period, generally overnight. I usually post blogs or send articles the next day, preferring to do a final proofread the next morning with fresh eyes. I then submit or publish.
These five steps in my self-editing process are simple, and yet, they are key to developing quality writing.
Check out the free self-editing checklist in my Free Resources section, coming soon.
Editor’s note: Believe it or not, I didn’t quite follow my own advice and published with a few mistakes. Mental note, doing a final proofread while the kids are screaming is not all that effective. Updated: 21/08/16 10.35pm.