How to Self-Edit: 6 Tips You Need to Know

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When is casual writing okay?

Proofreading your own content is difficult because you know what you meant to say. You might not notice that you missed a word, used the wrong homophone (e.g., they’re, there, their), or that it simply doesn’t make sense. The best way to avoid this: see if a coworker, employee, or a friend will look over it for you.

Find somebody who knows the company, your brand, and the subject matter. Ask them to be totally honest with you, letting you know if something does not make sense or where the writing needs improvement.

Unfortunately, there isn’t always someone available to read over your content. In this case, you have a few options to make it easier:

Tip 1: Wait a Few Hours or Overnight

Don’t read your content immediately after writing. If you do, the content will be too fresh in your mind. You might read what you intended to write, not what you actually wrote. This could cause you to miss mistakes.

Wait a few hours or even overnight to edit your work so you can revisit your writing with a clear mind.

If you do not have time to wait a few hours, take a walk around the block, move onto another task, go to lunch, or read a chapter of a book. Focus on something else for a little bit so you can look at your writing with fresh eyes when you return to it.

Tip 2: Take Short Breaks

While you should also take a break after you write your piece, you might also want to take breaks while editing if your piece is long, or if you plan to edit multiple pieces in a row.

Don’t feel as though you need to work through everything in one go. This can lead to mistakes. Go to the break room and grab a coffee and then come back to finish up.

Pro-tip: To prevent eyestrain, use the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to stare at something 20 feet away (this will keep you from using your break to check your phone!).

Tip 3: Read Your Content Aloud

This will help you identify missing words or run-on sentences.

Read it slowly. This way you are less likely to add a word you’re missing (e.g., “The boy walked the pantry to grab his cereal.”) By reading that sentence aloud, you are more likely to notice that the word to is missing between walked and the pantry from the sentence.

Peter Elbow, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wrote:

If students read aloud each sentence they’ve written and keep revising or fiddling with it till it feels right in the mouth and sounds right in the ear, the resulting sentence will be clear and strong. Here’s a more careful translation: the resulting sentence will be much clearer and stronger than if the writers relied only on their understanding of what sentences should look like, that is, if they relied on what they know of rules or principles.”

This idea can translate to professionals proofreading their own writing as well.

Pro-tip: If you are not comfortable reading aloud, Professor Elbow suggests that we can “hear a lot by reading it ‘aloud inside our heads.’ — not making a sound but moving our lips.”

Tip 4: Change the Font or Print Out Your Content

This tip from Grammarly is genius. By changing the font or margins or changing the medium, you can trick your brain into thinking you haven’t seen the content before.

Want to take a more “old-school” approach? Print it out and grab a red pen to make your edits.

Tip 5: Divide Your Editing Into Steps

Break up the proofreading process into steps.

You might first check your facts, laws, or statistics to ensure they are correct. Once you do that, read it over for typos, misused words, and awkward sentences.

If you change anything while you edit, be sure to read it over again. You may have added a misspelled word or repeated a word.

Tip 6: Find and Eliminate All Passive Voice

One way to quickly edit and immediately elevate your writing is to remove passive voice. Use Microsoft’s passive voice checker to identify passive sentences.  

Here’s the trick: it won’t tell you where you used passive voice, so you have to find it yourself, strengthening your ability to find and avoid it on future pieces.

For help with content writing, give us a call: 888-521-3880.