How to Edit Your Own Work
You’ve written a report, speech, newsletter, or other document. You’ve put a lot of time and thought into it. You have an investment in it. Now you need to edit it.
You can find lots of practical advice about how to edit your work. However, none of these suggestions will work for you until you address issues that have plagued the best writers who ever lived.
Walk away from your work
You’ve worked hard on this and you’ve lost perspective.
This happens to every writer. It means that you’ve immersed yourself in your subject matter. Even when you haven’t been writing, you may have been thinking about the piece and getting great ideas about what would improve that troublesome middle section.
When you mentally write “The End,” you have to mean it—for a while. Put some distance between yourself and what you’ve written. Your involvement and identification with what you’ve written has to loosen before you edit it. Otherwise, you’ll feel as if you’re amputating pieces of yourself when you pick up a pen to make changes.
Repeat “This Is Not Me.”
Even when you do allow a period of time—which will vary, according to your time constraints—to pass before the editing phase, you may feel attached to what you’ve written. This will especially be true if you’re new to writing.
As you gain experience in writing, this feeling will dissipate. It’s normal to feel attached to the first big report or speech you’ve ever written. Once you’ve written dozens, the attachment fades.
You can speed up the process of detachment by telling yourself that this paper isn’t your child or pet. It isn’t your car. It’s a vehicle for you to express facts, ideas, and principles. Do it to do this accurately and in a way that communicates with other people.
It’s a tool for doing that.
With the concept of “tool” in mind, approach the editing process as if you’re not the writer but the reader. Many writers find it helpful to read their work out loud. You must do this if you’ve written a speech.
Be honest. Make notes wherever you think your phrasing is awkward. Flag anything that’s unclear. Notice if you repeat words or if your language is too formal.
Being ruthless means boldly making changes that will make your work shine. Consider these style elements.
Make your writing to the point.
If you want to explain why you were drawn to the area of finance, don’t describe all the careers you hated before you discovered the one you loved. It’s like a road trip; detours make the journey longer, and you forget where you were going.
- Make paragraphs short.
- Limit a paragraph to one idea. This gives the reader the opportunity to pause to absorb one concept before reading another. I recommend a maximum of four sentences per paragraph. Don’t exceed ten lines of text. Your reader needs a brief place to pause before moving on.
- Go easy on the adverbs and adjectives.
This is a subject in itself. To give you an idea of this rule’s power, compare the effect of “spoke loudly” versus “shouted” or “very attractive” as opposed to “beautiful.”
Strong verbs and nouns also give authority to your writing. When you have a point to make, you need that authority. If, for example, you’re presenting industry statistics, you don’t write, “These figures suggest.” You write, “These figures confirm.” Be definite.
- Walk Away From Your Work.
- Repeat “This Is Not Me.”
- Be Ruthless.
These principles will help you hone your writing. Practice will sharpen it into a powerful tool to serve you.
Grab our editing checklist – keep this handy tool next to you when you need to edit your work.