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Editing Basics for Everyone

It’s a wonderful feeling when you finish writing something, isn’t it? Whether it’s a novel, blog or, for some of us, maybe just an email, it’s satisfying! We recognize that sigh of relief and fulfillment as you plop in the last punctuation mark. But then it hits you. You’re not done. No one sends their first draft to anyone! It’s time to edit!

So, now that sigh of relief might have shifted into quicker breaths of panic. We’re not all natural born members of the Grammar Police, after all. So what do you do? Well, you’ve got two choices. You can hire an editor or you can confidently dive into self-editing mode. Even if you don’t possess eagle editing eyes, you can follow these handy tips and catch many of your own blunders. Ready?

Use Spellcheck

That said, don’t think it begins and ends with this handy little tool. Nope! It may catch some glaring errors, but as long as you’ve typed a word in the English language, it won’t save you. Your main character may have “emptied the poo” instead of “the pool,” and you don’t want that. You need more than spell checker, but it’s a good place to start.

Set It Aside

Don’t edit your work as soon as you finish unless you absolutely have to. If it’s not a rush project, set it aside for a day or two and come back to it with fresh eyes. This gives your mind a little time to forget what you were trying to say and ensure you’re reading what is actually on the paper. Our minds are amazing at filling in words for us that aren’t actually there!

Read It to Your Cat

Editing Basics for EveryoneOr the dog, bird or people on the street below. Really we’re just trying to say you should read your writing aloud. Hearing it helps you catch errors and get a feel for how well your writing flows. Just don’t count on your pets for feedback. Dogs’ tails just wag and cats look ticked off half the time anyway.

Watch for Consistency

A good piece of work shows consistency throughout. You want to capitalize words consistently, format consistently and use a consistent style. If you’re all over the place in your writing, it’s tough for readers to follow your message and meaning.

Eliminate Empty Words

Really, very, so much, we want you to cut the wasted words. Use strong, descriptive verbs and adjectives to paint clear, vivid pictures. Don’t use nondescript words like … you guessed it … “really,” “very” and “so much.”

Examine Your Paragraphs

Editing Basics for EveryoneTravel back with us to grade school when you learned the key components of a strong, proper paragraph. You’ve got to have a topic, or lead, sentence that sets the tone of the paragraph. Your reader should be able to scan that first sentence and know what the rest of the paragraph is about. The following three to five sentences should all contain supporting details about that one topic. If you started out talking about homemade birdhouses and the fourth sentence shares a wonder of modern meteorology, you’ve got a problem. Examine how your thoughts are laid out.

Review As Your Audience

It’s essential that your words speak to your intended audience. If you’re writing a brief for a medical board, you likely should write rather formally. Whereas, if you’re writing the intro to a young adult book on gaming, you need to simplify and know their lingo. Make sure you’ve chosen your words and tone appropriately.

Take a Look at Formatting

Stop reading for a moment and look at all the pieces of your document as a whole. Are the sections or chapters clearly labeled with appropriate content in each? Is the font the same for all headers on the same level? Have you used bullets and lots of subheadings if you’re writing for the web or writing a report? Think about your readers’ purpose for picking up your document and ensure it’s laid out in the most logical way to help them achieve their goal.

Share It With Someone

You may not know an editor, but you likely know someone who would be willing to read your writing. Just ask them to read to ensure comprehension and to catch any glaring errors.

Editing Basics for EveryoneYou can do it! With these tips, you can catch many of the most common writing errors. But if you do need a member of the Grammar Police to help you out, those of us at All Things Writing, LLC are standing by for your SOS. Give us a shout!

All Things Writing is a full-service content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print. Our clients are from the private, government and nonprofit sectors.

Erin Pittman, Lead Editor

A project manager, writer and editor, Erin Pittman has almost a decade of professional experience in both print and online materials. She holds a BA in English from Randolph-Macon College. Her work has been featured in local and national publications, as well as on various local and national websites and blogs. Writing topics include marketing, personal finance, special needs, military, parenting, seniors, local events, real estate, service industries, business profiles and more.