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Five Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

Posted on January 16, 2020
hands typing on a laptop

As a team of one in the field of marketing and communications, editing my own work is a daily challenge. As time-consuming as it may be to check and re-check, it’s worth every last character not to make certain blunders. You can read up on regular errors in higher ed writing that my colleague Paul Dempsey pointed out this week in Inside Higher Ed (spoiler: “pubic education” has a lot of results on Google). 

Editing your own work not only saves you from making basic spelling errors, but it can also make your work better. I tend to write as one college professor once noted “flowery,” meaning that I like using flourish and a lot of descriptive language to get my point across. Excellent for poetry and fiction, not so much for marketing and communications. My job is to tell the end-user the most essential benefits of an academic program, often in 30 characters or less. 

By trimming the fat from your message, you not only make your work more readable and accessible, but you’re also getting the reader to the most important points faster. And in that spirit, here are a handful of basic tips to help you amp up your editing game.

1. Read it out loud

You’ve probably heard this one before, and that’s because it’s the Holy Grail of editing. Reading your work aloud helps you to hear it outside of your own brain. Have you ever tried to share something that makes sense in your head, but verbally it’s a mess? This is how you check that. 

Readability takes multiple factors into account: word length, syllables, sentence structure, complexity and familiarity, among others. You always want to consider who your audience and the goal of the piece during this phase of editing. Are you using lots of long, complicated words, but you’re speaking to a general audience? Or, are your sentences short and terse and lack the emotion you need to convince a crowd that your idea is worth buying into?

Reading a piece out loud can also help you check for length and structure. Do you find yourself feeling like your writing is all over the pace, or you’re not getting to the point fast enough? Or, has reading it out loud made you realize you’re missing an important point?

2. Remove Distractions

Close all your tabs. Put your phone away. Shut the door (if you have one in your workspace). No podcasts.

It’s nearly impossible to do a clean editing job if a million things are buzzing around your head and screen. If it helps, some folks like to print out their work and read it line by line on paper. Though, if you’re more eco-conscious and want to save a few sheets, the simple act of shutting off your e-mail and notifications for 20 minutes may make a world of difference.

3. Ask a colleague for help

I often reach what I call “project fatigue” throughout the workweek. I’ve been working on a report or web page content for so long that the words have stopped making sense. This is where asking for help from my colleagues comes in (Anne Converse Willkomm wrote about support across teams recently, if you’re interested). 

By asking a trusted colleague to read your work, you can have an outside eye on technical details like spelling and sentence structure as well as big picture items like goals, audience and tone. 

Whenever I ask someone to read my work, I first make sure they have the time and bandwidth for the request and then follow up with the following guidelines:

  • Please check for spelling and grammar
  • This is the goal of the piece, does it make sense?
  • This is my audience, is this relevant to them?
  • Is there anything that can be cut or should be moved around to get to my point?

4. Use smart tools and applications

Today’s blog is not sponsored by Grammarly! However, Grammarly is perhaps my favorite tool out there for long-form writing needs. Not only does it check for spelling and grammar, but it also checks for voice, audience and tone. Once you’ve run your work through the application, don’t simply select each suggestion. Read through each one carefully and make sure it matches your organization’s style guide as well as your personal voice. And of course, spell check is your friend.

5. Make a checklist for your editing process

Editing can feel overwhelming. With so much to keep an eye on, you might get lost during the process. Make a checklist of the most essential items and make an editorial pass for each individually. Read through once for spelling. Read through once for grammar. And so on. This way, you can stay focused on the task and not feel like you’ve missed a step along the way.

Here are a few items for your editing and proofreading checklist:

  1. Commonly misspelled words
  2. Grammar
  3. Voice
  4. Consistency (are you always using the same tense?)
  5. Style guide 

Learning how to edit your own work is an ongoing process that only gets better with time and practice. Not only could it help save you and your company resources, but it can also help you hone your writing and communication skills. Which ultimately leads to greater confidence in the work you produce.


Rachel Semigran

Communications Manager

Drexel University

Goodwin College of Professional Studies

Posted in interpersonal-communications, professional-development-career-tips