The key to a good essay, short story, business letter, or a resume, good editing is key in creating a superb content piece. It’s one of the most critical phases of the writing process, but many writers can underestimate its value.
Editing your own work requires time and practice. In the process of mastering this skill, you get to sharpen your writing style and structure, practice how to convey and articulate your thoughts, and spot and cull out grammatical errors.
Perhaps you want to up the ante on your writing skills or learn the best editing practices so you can turn in a more polished work to agents or publishing. Maybe you want to be your own editor because you don’t have the resources to hire a professional one.
The following self-editing tips are for writers both new and experienced.
- Remove “sticky” sentences.
“Sticky” sentences are ridden with glue words. Glue words (e.g. “is”, “was”, “that”, “of”, and “in”) are necessary when writing coherent sentences but have no meaning in and of themselves. Minimizing glue words improves the clarity of your writing.
Sticky: Maisie needed to get the key to the apartment and so she asked for the phone number of the person who was in charge of the apartment unit.
Improved: Maisie contacted the apartment owner to borrow the key.
The original sentence contained the glue words “to”, “the”, “and”, “so”, “for”, “of”, “who”, and “was”. It scrambles to make a point, whereas the improved sentence is short and clear. Learn to spot and rewrite sticky sentences before your editor sees them.
- Get rid of passive voice.
One habit that gives away an inexperienced writer is the excessive use of the passive voice. Like adverbs and pronouns, you can use passive voice for a certain purpose, but overuse can weaken your piece.
Passive voice: In the news report, it is stated that the patient’s symptoms were exacerbated by poor hygiene habits.
Active voice: The news report states that the patient’s poor hygiene habits exacerbated symptoms.
The first statement uses two passives “is stated” and “were exacerbated”, which weakens the sentence and makes it less concise. The second statement does away with this, making it cleaner and more direct. One of the best tips for writing we can offer is to learn the difference between both voices and when to use which one.
- Weed out redundancies.
Redundancies can clutter your writing by increasing word count without adding to its meaning. Every word in a sentence should serve a purpose. If it’s not necessary, omit it. Some redundancies are so subtle and can easily be overlooked.
Example: The term “free gift” is redundant since no one ever pays for a gift. “Free” is unnecessary; delete it.
- Omit cliches.
One of the top pet peeves of editors is the use of tired phrases, i.e. cliches. Try to create a unique way to describe a person or event, especially when writing fiction. In many cases, cliches result from laziness or a lack of imagination. Get rid of cliches using your own ways of phrasing to appeal to your readers’ imagination in a fresh, new light.
- Avoid frequent use of initial pronouns.
Beginning a sentence with a pronoun is a surefire way to bore your readers. (“He said this,” “She went there,” “It’s incorrect.”) As much as possible, make it a goal to have fewer than 30 percent of your sentences start with a pronoun. Try to diversify your sentence structure to keep your readers’ attention and make your writing sound more engaging.
- Show, don’t tell.
This is a golden rule known to many writers. Readers like stories to play vividly in their heads. Offer them colours, textures, tastes, smell, and actions for a much appealing story. Strong verbs and precise details are your best tools in this task.
Telling: Ed hated his officemate.
Showing: Ed spent many nights wishing his officemate a slow descent down a ten-foot razor blade.
- Read it aloud.
One way to check the rhythm of your writing is to read it out loud. A good piece will sound smooth. However, if you stammer through poorly worded sentences, polish it.
- Eliminate uncertain language.
The mark of good communication is an authoritative tone; steer clear from uncertain sentences. Phrases like “could be a matter of ” or “seems to have,” sound indecisive. They also weaken your message.
- Leave out weak adjectives.
Loose adjectives can spoil your writing. To describe or emphasize nouns and pronouns, choose powerful adjectives. This will also minimize the use of adverbs “very” and “really” when emphasizing adjectives.
Weak sentence: Ania was really scared of scorpions.
Strong sentence: Ania was scared of scorpions.
Stronger sentence: Scorpions terrified Ania.
- Read your piece in a new format
Before editing, print out what you’ve written. You can also convert your Word document to PDF format or change the font style, colour, and size of your text. These techniques can help you see your writing from another person’s perspective, giving you a more critical eye.
- Take a break.
Leave your work for a couple of hours or overnight to create an emotional distance. Doing so allows you to revisit your work with fresh eyes and make it more likely for you to detect obvious mistakes.
- Check your tenses.
One common writing mistake is shifting from one tense to another. Revisit your work to check for inconsistencies. Another common mistake is the inappropriate use of the past tense.
Incorrect: I was ill for a week.
Correct: I had been ill for a week.
If you’re referring to an action that takes place continuously from one time to another, use the progressive tenses “have/had/will have been”.
- Put commas where they’re needed
Make sure to put commas in appropriate places (especially before a direct address within a dialog). A single comma means the difference between “Let’s eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, grandma”.
- Break down your editing tasks.
Breaking down your editing tasks makes them more manageable. For instance, you can check the logical flow of your ideas in the first read-through then assess your sentence structure in the next one. This process can prove useful when editing big pieces like essays, short stories, and theses.
Consider these editing guidelines:
- Does your introduction engage the reader?
- Does your content follow a logical flow?
- Does your conclusion link the main points and include a call to action?
- Are there repetitive ideas?
- Does every paragraph highlight the main topic?
- Are your points backed up by relevant data, statistics, and related quotations?
- Do your sentences have varying lengths?
- Did you use the correct spelling and punctuation marks?
- Have you replaced flimsy verbs and adjectives with stronger ones?
Self-editing is an integral aspect of the writing process. Following these writer tips can turn average write-ups into strong pieces that attract readers. As you discover your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, your editing sensibilities will also improve.
If editing and proofreading is not your strongest suit and you need to submit a piece at the earliest possible time, use the services of a professional editor. The editors at Masters Essay are here to help. Our staff have the flair of a skilled writer and the sensibilities of a sharp editor to make sure you submit the best work. We also offer a range of writing services in Calgary, the GTA, and Vancouver. Contact us today for your writing and editing needs.