Tips for self-editing

Most text can be improved by a round of editing. Ideally, this editing would be by a helpful colleague, a talented friend or a professional editor. But sometimes, often due to timing, cost or availability, we need to self-edit.


In this blog post, I cover three steps that can help you be a better self-editor:

      Take a break

      Look at long sentences

      Make use of technology


Take a break

When we read, to be efficient, we often don’t look at every word or every letter. Sometimes this is conscious, such as when we deliberately scan read, but often it is unconscious. This means even when we want to read something closely and carefully, our eyes and brain skip over words and make assumptions about what’s on the page. You can read more about this in this article, ‘Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos’.


You can help overcome this in-built inability by taking a break. This includes taking a physical break, for example by closing the file and coming back to it another day with fresher eyes and a fresher mind.


But a physical break isn’t always possible if you have a deadline or other time pressure. In these cases, you can give yourself a ‘visual break’ from your writing. This means doing something to the text to make it look different from how it looked while you wrote. You can do this by changing the font, changing the page background colour, changing the margins and line spacing, and/or converting the file into a PDF. You could also print your file.  


Look at long sentences

Long sentences are more likely to have grammar and punctuation errors and to be unclear for your reader. So, these sentences usually need the most attention when you self-edit. When you review long sentences, think:

·       Can I make this sentence shorter by removing unnecessary words? (See this page for ideas on what can be removed.)

·       Can I make this sentence into two (or more) shorter sentences that will be easier to read?

·       Have I joined the ideas in this sentence together in the correct way? For example, do I have the correct conjunction? (Conjunctions are words like however, and, if, and although)

·       Are all the commas in the correct place and used in the correct way? (For example, see this article on avoiding comma splices.)

·       Have I used the semicolon correctly? Should I have used a semicolon? (See this article for more information on this piece of punctuation.)



Make use of technology

There are a number of tools available to help you self-edit and many are part of existing software, such as Word or Google Docs.


Whichever software you’re using to write, make sure the spell check is switched on and that you’ve selected the correct language, including the form of that language, such as whether you are using UK or US English. If there are words that you frequently use that aren’t in the software’s dictionary, such as names or technical terms, add them to the custom dictionary. This way the software can flag when you spell those words incorrectly.


Likewise, make sure the grammar check is switched on. But don’t always follow its suggestions! While this automated check will often help you catch errors, it is not perfect and will sometimes make suggestions that are either incorrect or change the meaning of your sentence.


After using these checks, try also looking at your text in another software, as each of the built-in checks finds slightly different errors. For example, if you have been working in Word, upload your file to Google Docs and see what extra typos are found.


If you have time, use the read aloud function in your software. In Word it is under ‘Review’ and in Google Docs it is under ‘Tools – Accessibility’. This way of checking the text can take time, but it can also be very effective.



Hopefully these tips will help you be a better self editor! If you’d like to know more about what editors do when they edit, take a look at my services page.