Editing your writing can be difficult even for professional writers. For those whom English is a second language, it can be twice as hard. Deciding what needs to be done to make your writing more readable can seem overwhelming. Whether you are writing fiction or an essay, editing is the most important step in the writing process. Breaking down your editing into a few easy steps is a great way to get your writing into the best possible shape.
Take a Break
After you finish writing, set it aside and take a break. Writing is a difficult process and you will have invested a lot of yourself in your work. If you go back and start editing right after you finish writing, you will not look at your essay or story as critically as you should. Taking a day off will let you approach your work from a fresh perspective.
Your first pass at editing should be to decide what needs to be added or removed. Decide if you find it easier to edit your paper on a computer or if you would rather make notes in ink on a printed copy. If you see any spelling or grammar errors, correct them, but focus on the content rather than any mistakes. After reading over your work, look for overwritten sections or parts that lack detail. If a paragraph or section is too wordy, look for sentences you can cut and still keep the meaning of the paper. If a part of the paper is hard to understand, start writing more details to make those sections stronger. Do not be afraid to change whole sections of your piece or even rewrite the entire paper.
After you are satisfied with your work’s content, go through the piece again for any spelling or grammar errors. While your word processor’s spell-check is good for a first pass, do not trust it to catch every error. Look for typos or spelling errors where a word was used in the wrong place. Double check to make sure you used the correct word. For grammar, use an online grammar checker along with a style guide to check your work. Check that you used proper punctuation throughout your writing. Commas can be especially tricky – look at each of your commas and ask yourself if a different punctuation mark would be more appropriate. Make sure the tone of your writing is appropriate for the subject. If you are editing a formal work, use active voice and do not use contractions. Make sure you used the same tense (past, present, or future) and perspective (first, second, or third person) throughout your work. Use a dictionary to check that the words you have used are appropriate in context.
One More Time
When you are happy with the content and substance of your work, read it through one more time to catch anything you might have missed. Read your work out loud if possible. While your work may never be perfect, these editing steps will make your writing the best it can be.