Have you ever edited your own writing several times, confident that you caught every typo and misplaced punctuation? But then you decide to give the piece one last go-round and you find an obvious error that you missed? I have too.
To avoid that frustration, here are my top five tips for editing your own writing.
1. Play the Waiting Game
Wait as long as possible between the time you finish writing and the time you start editing. Then, wait again between each review.
When you can’t remember exactly what a document says, you will pay more attention to each word and are less likely to skim.
Waiting at least a day is optimal, but even ten minutes is better than nothing.
And as mentioned in my post “How Many Rounds of Editing Are Enough?”, fresh eyes will see things yours missed. So, ask your friend, coworker, or favorite freelance editor to take a look at your writing.
2. Experiment with Color
I am a traditionalist; I love to wield the wicked red pen upon my own writing. If red ink gives you nightmares about your tenth-grade English teacher, choose a different ink color, such as green or bright purple.
Avoid blues and blacks because they don’t provide enough contrast with black printer ink.
If you are editing with Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, check out “How to Change the Color of Track Changes in Microsoft Word” to learn how to change the color of specific types of edits, such as insertions and deletions.
3. Record and Save Each Round of Editing
Each time you start a new round of editing, record the round number at the top of the first page (if editing on paper).
In addition, save each edit under a distinct but related file name, such as Great_Writing_Edit_1.doc, Great_Writing_Edit_2.doc, and Great_Writing_Final.doc.
The goal is to prevent yourself from slipping into an endless review cycle, otherwise known as the document death spiral. (Okay, I made that up, but the description fits.)
Save each version at least until the document is complete. That rewrite you carefully crafted last night might not sound quite as sweet in the cold glare of the morning; so, you may want to refer to an earlier version before starting anew.
Maintaining each version of a document can also help you prevent content loss and monitor the project’s overall evolution.
4. Increase Font Size, Line Spacing, and Margins
If you are editing on paper, increase the font size, double space (or even triple space) lines, and increase margin widths before printing the document.
These adjustments will give you more room to write improvements and will make the edited document look less congested.
If you are editing on screen, you can still adjust the line spacing for readability and use your software’s zoom function to increase word size by as much as 500 percent.
Once you are done editing, convert the document back to its original format before saving the final version.
5. Listen to Your Writing Read Out Loud
This is the most important tip on this list: always listen to your writing read out loud.
When you hear each word spoken individually, you are much more likely to identify hard-to-find typos such as incorrect word endings or missing words.
For best results, use Microsoft Word’s Read Aloud or Speech tools or another computer-based speech tool. Computers never miss words, but we humans occasionally read what we expect rather than what is actually written on the paper or screen.
Further Reading: Six Tips for Editing Other People’s Writing