We all write, whether it’s emails, social posts or white papers. And we are all imperfect. As an editor, I am thankful for these two truths. People will always need assistance with proofreading or editing. But not everyone has the resources or time to hire or consult an editor, which leaves most of us to edit our own work.
There’s a reason why professional editors exist: editing isn’t as easy as you think. As a metaphor, consider hairdressers. Sure, you could cut your own hair, and maybe it would end up okay, but a skilled professional will give you a polished look you can’t achieve on your own. Plus, even though hairdressers are certified in cosmetology, most of them don’t cut their own hair. Why? Because other people have a perspective we don’t. It’s why hiring an editor is important as well.
The bright side is that, while hairdressers can’t be taught to see the back of their own heads, writers can be taught to spot and correct their own editorial errors.
The key to editing your own work is perspective-taking. It’s harder to see our own flaws than it is to see others’. But with these five tips, it becomes a little bit easier.
If you have to edit your own work, the first thing I suggest is thinking through your own editorial weaknesses. If you have to edit your own work frequently, consider writing them down. Are you a bad speller? Are you not detail-oriented? Are you unfamiliar with the subject matter? Knowing what to look for when you edit your own work will save time and give you perspective.
Rather than printing out your work and using a ruler like some proofreaders, consider using double spacing on your paper. It accomplishes the same task, which is to help you focus on one line at a time. One of the issues I see a lot of self-editors run into is that the lines and words start to bleed together, especially if you find it difficult to concentrate.
If you don’t have time to read your work at least twice, I would not recommend editing it yourself. It takes time to edit work properly. But if you do have the time, skim once for grammatical and technical errors, such as punctuation and structure, and then analyze the content the second time around. If you have time, skim the document twice or even thrice, checking for different types of errors each time, focusing on those weaknesses you identified earlier.
One of the best strategies you can use to edit your own work is to read it aloud. When we read, we tend to skim, so we often skip important words—or rather, important errors. If you miss a preposition in speech, it’s much easier to recognize. For added fun, I suggest using a fake accent. When we read our own work as ourselves, we read it as it’s intended, but when we read it as someone else, we pick up on the issues we never would’ve noticed otherwise.
Once you’ve edited your work and feel confident that it’s free of grammatical and content errors, ask yourself, “So what?” Have you provided value to the reader? Is it clear what you wanted to convey? Is this even necessary? And, if not, what can I do to make it necessary? A paper that’s free from technical errors is not necessarily a well-edited document. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and critique your work on a much more analytical level.
If, after reading these tips, you find yourself thinking, “Wow, I don’t actually have the time to edit my own writing after all,” then have no fear: Elevate My Brand is here. We are content marketing experts who work with clients to write creative, technical and professional content all the time. We’d be happy to have one of our editors review your work—not only from an editor’s perspective but from a marketer’s perspective as well. Let’s chat about your project and get started today!
Cody H. Owens, Account Executive
Elevate My Brand