You might have written the most imaginative and creative piece of content since Shakespeare, but if your text is full of typos and mistakes, your readers won’t take you seriously.
And editing isn’t just about picking up on little errors. It’s about making sure your writing is clear, concise, and has a logical structure, leading readers from beginning to end without losing them halfway.
The problem is that our brains aren’t very good at editing our own content. We already know what it says, so we tend to skim over words, failing to pick up grammatical errors, paragraphs of pure waffle, or poorly constructed sentences.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to get a friend to do it for you. Instead, follow these 12 simple editing tips to approach the process of editing systematically, making sure that you catch every little issue that might annoy your readers or reflect poorly on you so that by the time you hit publish, your content is indisputably flawless.
Ways to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Professional
Read It Through
The first step goes without saying. But don’t read your content as yourself, the writer. Instead, imagine you’re the reader, approaching this content for the first time. Read the text all the way through from start to finish, then jot down your impressions.
- Was it clear?
- Did it have a structure that made sense?
- Were there any parts that were confusing?
- Were any of the questions left unanswered?
Your content should serve your original goal, whether that was to inform, entertain, inspire, or boost engagement with readers. Keep your audience in mind the entire time you’re reading. Does this content connect with you?
Then make a list of what needs to be tidied up, clarified, or resolved.
Top tip: zoom in on your screen before reading the text through. The bigger the writing, the easier it is to pick up errors.
Another editing hack? Change the typeface temporarily. Adjusting the appearance of the text slightly will help you to see it with fresh eyes.
Read It Aloud
Unfortunately, editing isn’t over with a single read-through. You’re going to have to go over it a few times. And the second time around, if you can find some privacy, try reading it out loud.
Reading your content aloud is one of the best ways to pick up on mistakes that might otherwise go unnoticed. It will alert you to any awkward phrasing or convoluted sentences and allow you to identify sections that are too wordy. Plus, you’ll also notice when things sound ‘off’, indicating that the tone of voice isn’t quite right.
If reading it aloud isn’t feasible, you could also get your computer to read it back to you using the Chrome Read&Write extension.
Cut It Down
Almost everything could benefit from the culling of a few words, sentences, or even whole paragraphs. Continuously ask yourself: is this necessary? If I cut this out, would it be missed?
Be on constant guard against extra fluff—anything that’s just in there to help you reach your word count.
You might find this challenging. You’ll mourn the loss of all those words that you had to wrestle from your mind onto the page. This is the meaning behind that Stephen King quote about “killing your darlings.” It’s hard to delete any of your hard work.
But if those phrases or sentences are there just because you like them, they need to go. You’ll be doing your content a favour in the long run.
In addition, you want to look out for any repetitions, as well as weak adverbs that don’t do anything, such as very, really, extremely, or totally. And eliminate redundant phrasing like in terms of, in order to, may possibly, or in relation to. Simplify wherever you can. Check out this list of the most common redundancies in the English language for more ideas.
Finally, look out for any language that conveys ‘uncertainty’, such as seems, might, or could be. You want to be decisive and authoritative.
Readability means how easy a piece of text is to read.
- How complicated is it?
- How easy is it to scan?
- How many unfamiliar words or phrases does it contain?
Readability is not only important to keep visitors to your page happy but will also affect your SEO ranking.
One of the best tools for improving the readability of your content is the Hemmingway App, which gives you a readability rating, plus it identifies problems with your prose such as confusing sentence structure, weak adverbs, passive voice, and so on.
But if you don’t want to use an app, you can simply scan the text and look out for long sentences with multiple clauses. Nearly every meandering sentence could benefit from being divided into several shorter points. You want a separate sentence for each idea. So, keep an eye on those commas.
Indeed, most sentences should be between 20 and 25 words long while 4 lines are usually about right for a paragraph. That said, you also want to vary your sentence lengths to create a bit of rhythm and flow. It should be clear, fluid, and enjoyable to read.
Opt for Positive Over Negative
It’s great practice to go through your text and try to turn every positive into a negative. Too many negatives can feel like you’re telling the reader off. While the occasional negative can be powerful, positive phrasing is often more effective.
For example, instead of don’t waste your time struggling with poor quality products, opt for enjoy a stress-free experience with expertly crafted products.
You want readers to feel optimistic and reassured, not stressed and anxious. Emphasize why your products are good—not why others are bad.
Identify Boring Words
In copywriting, ‘power words’ are those words with an emotional resonance that create a big impact, keeping readers interested from start to finish. You want to use them as much as possible in writing to persuade and connect with customers.
For example, instead of boring words like best or nice, opt for words that generate enthusiasm and excitement, such as exclusive, spectacular, or fascinating.
Pique their curiosity with phrases like sneak-peek or unconventional. Reassure them with words like hack or solution. Inspire trust with phrases like scientific or authentic.
Avoid too much industry jargon or buzzwords, instead opting for simple and straightforward language that everyone can understand. And try to substitute any instances of the word ‘thing’ with a more specific alternative.
Edit for SEO
Ensuring your content is as SEO-friendly as possible is another important stage of editing. This means incorporating keyword phrases into your writing in a way that feels natural, varying them as much as possible to sound less robotic.
Use your keywords in the title, too, as well as in the URL slug, and metadata. In addition, ensure that there are at least a few internal links, that everything’s up-to-date, and that you’ve used categories and tags to sort your content, helping out the search engines.
Most importantly, make sure you answer the reader’s question clearly and comprehensively.
Take Advantage of the Best Tools
Lucky for all of us, there are lots of great (and free) tools out there to help you with the task of proofreading and correcting your content.
One of our favourites is After the Deadline. This online editor is free for personal use and has the advantage of contextual spell check. It can pick up typos that are spelt correctly but have been put in the wrong context.
Ginger is another good one, with the bonus that it will check everything you write, wherever you write it. This means you can use it to check your social media posts before you publish too.
If you have a whitepaper or case study, or something where you need to ensure the highest level of accuracy, check out Ninja Essays. The site hires those with a Master’s and PhD to edit content and they’ll help you iron out everything from typos to confusing concepts.
Double-check any and all facts or statistics. It’s easy to add an extra number, misspell someone’s name, use the wrong title, or misread a statistic, and an error could throw your authority into doubt.
Before publishing, verify any personal or company names and check your sources too, ensuring that they are reliable and trustworthy.
Check the Formatting
This means everything from page numbers and spacing to the correct use of headings. Essentially, it’s about how the page looks.
Play around with different kinds of formatting to see if it improves the content.
For example, could you add bullet points? Bolding or italicizing of important points? Shorter paragraphs? Incorporate lots of white space to make the page more visually appealing.
If your company has a style guide, check the text against these guidelines.
- How should numbers be written?
- What about times and dates?
- What kind of dashes should you use?
- What are your rules about capitalization?
- Oxford commas?
If you don’t have a style guide, consider creating one to ensure consistency throughout all your content. You might also want to consult or stick to an official guide such as the Associated Press or The Chicago Manual of Style.
Finally, check the nitty-gritty details of your piece, such as the image captions (do they explain the image and its relevance?) and links (do they all work and link to the right page?)
Double-Check the Most Important Parts
The most important part of any content is the headline and introduction. These are the bits readers will see first.
Are they as snappy and catchy as they could be? Is there anything that’s remotely unclear? Does it definitely explain what the page is all about?
If you’re going to spend time polishing up any aspect of a blog post, the headline and introduction are the most crucial.
Take a Break, Then Check Again
Editing is tiring and when you’re tired, your brain won’t be able to proofread effectively. Take a break, go for a walk, or do something different.
Come back and check your writing one more time with a clear head and fresh eyes.
Copy Editing Tips: The Nuts and Bolts
There are three steps to editing.
- Firstly, weed. Pull out everything that’s not necessary so you can let the most important content shine.
- Secondly, polish. Get everything optimised, ensuring it’s as tidy, clear, and engaging as possible.
- Finally, confirm, verifying that everything is in order, all your facts are correct, and nothing has been forgotten.
Follow these 12 editing tips for writers and you’ll be able to edit your content to professional standards and ensure nothing falls through the safety net or escapes your expert gaze.