Guidelines for Self-Editing

Editing our own writing is a challenge for everyone

I hate to write, but I love having written.

The writing process is painful and messy. Even with a solid plan and outline, I still hate it.

When the first draft is done, I go into my happy place. Editing is fun. Challenging, yes, but editing is where the craft and art of writing occur. It’s here that we manipulate the words and ideas to create a coherent whole that makes sense and captures readers’ attention.

Editing requires us to look for and correct a multitude of things, so it’s easy to overlook something.

Over the years as a writer and communications consultant, I have evolved a process for editing that keeps me on track and makes the process easier and more thorough.

Initial Editing Read-Through

Credit: 8212733 Pixabay

I start by reading the document straight through from beginning to end, just as my readers will. It is important to see the piece through their eyes in order to evaluate how well it will work for them.

I don’t edit anything yet; I just make margin notes when I find something that needs to be fixed.

If you try to edit during the first read-through, you can waste time. Often the solution to a problem appears later in the draft. You just need to add an arrow to where it belongs.

Organize for Results

Credit: SparrowHome Pixabay
Review the overall structure of the document to see if it makes sense. There are several ways to organize a document, depending on the type of document and your objectives for writing it. Some common ones are:
  • Cause and Effect: Used in report writing or to justify a recommendation or conclusion
  • Chronological or Sequential: Works for documentation and instruction
  • General to Specific: Moves the reader from the 10,000-foot view to something more personal that resonates with the individual; it puts a “face” on problems and issues
  • Order of Importance: Inverted pyramid style
  • Problem-Solution-Action: Used for proposals and recommendations
  • Familiar to Unfamiliar: Helps make complex or technical information easier to understand and relate to

After the initial read-through and organization review, I comb through the draft paragraph by paragraph evaluating each. I use the following checklist as a guide for finding and correcting specific problems.

Editing Checklist

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  • Does it flow logically? Each paragraph must lead the reader to greater understanding and comprehension. One paragraph builds on the previous one and moves the reader to the following one.
  • Does every paragraph have a clear topic sentence?
  • Does every sentence in the paragraph support or relate to the topic sentence?
  • Do sentence length and complexity vary? Varying sentence length makes the writing more interesting to read.
  • Does any paragraph ramble?
  • Are there smooth transitions between paragraphs?
  • Is there a strong introductory paragraph?
  • Is there a concluding paragraph or call to action?
  • Is everything in the document relevant? Relevance means that it has meaning either for the reader or for your objective in writing it.
  • Is noun-pronoun usage correct?
  • Is parallel construction correct, especially for bullets?
  • Do any sentences run-on?
  • Are there any sentence fragments?
  • Are there any misplaced modifiers?
  • Are language and jargon appropriate for the audience?
  • Are acronyms correctly used?
  • Is formatting consistent throughout?
  • Are subheads used to break up blocks of copy?
  • Does the document look easy to read?

When you finish editing, it’s time to proofread. If you discover that a sentence or even an entire section needs more work, change your proofreading hat for your editing hat. Just make sure you re-proofread that section, especially if you have moved sentences or paragraphs.

As I said at the beginning, I enjoy editing. Am I perfect? Nope! But these guidelines and the checklist help me improve each time I do it. I hope you find them helpful, too.

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