Epiphany Editing & Publishing

It is always a good idea to edit and proofread your own written work to ensure it is error free and polished to a high standard before making it publically available. Teachers, tutors, customers, bosses, and colleagues will judge you (including your intelligence, ability, and professionalism) based on your writing skills.

The English language has rules that help to make your message clear and understandable. Knowing these rules will ensure that your written communication is articulate and – together with various self-editing tricks – can greatly assist to enhance your prose.

Although important documents such as academic dissertations, business papers, and manuscripts intended for publication should always be checked by a professional editor, the following advice is useful to eliminate many of the grammar and style issues that weaken your writing.

Edit for structure and content first

Too often, writers start editing their work by polishing up every sentence – and then end up cutting out huge chunks of their material later. It’s much more efficient to do your big-picture editing right from the start. This means keeping an eye out for:

  • chapters or sections that need to be cut out
  • missing information that you need to add in
  • scenes or sections that need to be radically revised.

Major cuts, additions and rewrites need to happen before you start digging down into the individual sentences.

Delete 10 percent of your words

Once you’re satisfied with the overall shape and flow of your writing, it’s time to cut it down. Most writers over-write and, as a result, weaken their argument or story.

Do a word-count for your whole piece, then try to delete 10 percent of the words. Look out for:

  • Repeating the same point several times. Unless you’re deliberately doing this as a rhetorical device, it’s probably unnecessary. Trust that your reader will get your point the first time.
  • Wishy-washy phrases such as ‘in my opinion…’ or ‘it is my belief that…’. Occasionally these are warranted; usually you can simply cut them out.
  • Unnecessary adjectives. Don’t write ‘John said loudly’ if you can say ‘John shouted’.

Use spell-check – but use your eyes as well

Always run your work through your word processing program’s spell-checker. But don’t rely on spell-check to catch all your mistakes. Some errors will slip through – missing words are a common one, as are homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently, like ‘which’ and ‘witch’). Sometimes, the spell-checker will pick up on words that are actually correct so don’t blindly follow every suggestion.

Read your work backwards (or slowly)

It’s difficult to proofread your own writing. By this final stage of editing, you’re so familiar with the words on the page that mistakes just slip past you. One trick for better proofreading is to read backwards from the end of the piece.

If you find reading backwards too awkward, then try reading s-l-o-w-l-y. This might mean running a pencil along each line as you read, or increasing the font size so that you don’t see so many words at a time on your computer screen.

Know when to stop!

Finally, to edit well, you need to know when to stop! If you find yourself taking commas out and putting them back in, or rewriting the introduction one way and then changing it back to the original, you should consider your task to be complete. It’s time to send your written work out into the world.

If you’re like most writers, you’ll never feel entirely confident about your work. You’ll often have a nagging sense that it could be better. But perfection is an unattainable goal – so it’s important to settle for good enough. Even if a few imperfections remain, a published document is infinitely more useful for you than work that remains on your computer’s hard drive forever.

Kirsty Ogden is a professional editor and graphic designer. With a lifelong passion for books, words and good design, she loves helping people to polish their writing to ensure it is the best it can possibly be.