How to edit and proofread your own writing

Even the most seasoned writers make typos. Yes, even me. When I edit my own work, proper spelling and grammar are the first elements I look for. But they aren’t the only things. Before you publish any copy online, in a brochure or even on social media, you need to be aware of other writing elements, too. Repetition, missing words and style are often overlooked by online spell-checkers. That’s why you need to have an eagle eye and a fine-tooth comb in order to edit your own work. Here’s how…

AVOID OVERUSED WORDS

Every writer has a personal list of buzzwords. You may not know it, but I bet there are at least 10 words (or more) in your repertoire that you repeat more often than you think. As you read through your work, keep an eye out for them.

If you see the same word used more than twice in one document, use the search field to find more. Just like that, you can easily identify your own overused words…and cut them down.

LOOK FOR COMMON ERRORS

Writers can distinguish the proper usage of your and you’re plus it’s and its in their sleep. But when you’re in a deadline crunch, you may be whipping out words too fast to catch even the slightest error. Sure, you’re a spelling guru, but mistakes still happen. As you proofread your work, look for common word issues like these. It’s better that you catch them before a client does. So double and triple check every use of theirthey’re and there just to make sure you whipped it out correctly in your 3 a.m. hustle to the finish line.

READ YOUR WRITING OUT LOUD

I’ve mentioned this tip in previous posts, but reading your writing out loud is one of the best ways to edit. Instead of having your eyes glaze over the screen, actually saying your words can bring to light all kinds of errors. It also helps to ensure that your copy flows nicely and is concisely written. If you find yourself gasping for breath, your sentences are likely too long. If you’re stumbling over words, try using simpler ones. And, if you’re bored out of your mind, you probably need a rewrite. Sorry! Give it a try. You’ll be amazed how much differently your content “reads” aloud.

FOLLOW A STYLE GUIDE

If you’re writing for a corporation, they likely have a brand guide in place. These types of documents outline common corporate spellings to ensure consistency. In addition, it’s also important to follow an industry style guide such as the ones published by The Canadian Press, Associated Press and more. These guides will dictate differences in Canadian versus American spelling, how to deal with digits, place lines, job titles and – everyone’s favourite – the serial comma.

Ask your clients which style guide they prefer to use, and stick with it. This may mean learning the nuances of various styles for various clients. But going this extra mile is what will set your writing apart from the otherwise “messy” content of others, who have no consistent style in place.

USE A FRESH SET OF EYES

Having a flock of fellow writers at your disposal comes in handy for proofreading. If you feel like you’ve read the same content hundreds of times, it’s because you probably have. When you just can’t read it anymore, flip it to a friend for a fresh set of eyes. They may catch errors that you’ve completely glazed over, and be able to provide new insight. Bonus points if they’re not familiar with the topic you’ve written about. Then, you can get a newbie’s opinion and make sure everything you’ve written is easily digestible.

While writing can be a cumbersome task in itself, editing and proofreading should be equally important. The same way you wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching afterwards, you should cautiously avoid publishing your work without a thorough bout of editing. Use the tips above to ensure your copy is error-free and ready for the world to see. If you have any additional self-editing tips, drop them in the comments below. Let’s share the wealth with our fellow writers.