So you’ve finished your first draft and are ready to start editing and revising. But where do you begin? Editing your own work can be challenging when you’re too close to the material. As an editor, I’ve developed some tried-and-true techniques for polishing prose and tightening text. In this article, I’ll share my top tips for self-editing your work like a pro. Whether you’re editing an essay, article, or full-length manuscript, these strategies will help strengthen your writing and make your words shine. Get ready to look at your work with a fresh perspective and craft compelling copy through the power of editing. Sharpen your red pen—it’s time to revise!
Develop an Ear for Flow
To write prose that flows, you need to develop an ear for rhythm and cadence. Read your work aloud—that’s the best way to identify any choppiness or awkward phrasing. If something sounds off, it probably needs revising.
Aim for a mix of short and long sentences. Too many short sentences make your writing seem abrupt, while too many long, complex sentences can confuse the reader. Mix it up for the best flow.
Use transition words like “however,” “moreover,” and “furthermore” to connect ideas. They guide the reader smoothly from one thought to the next.
Repeat key terms and refer back to important concepts. This creates coherence and helps your prose flow logically from point to point. But don’t overdo the repetition, or your writing may seem redundant.
Vary your sentence structure. Use a combination of simple, compound and complex sentences. Starting every sentence the same way or relying only on short, choppy sentences creates a stilted effect. Mixing it up keeps things interesting.
Read your work out loud more than once. The first read-through will reveal the biggest issues, but subsequent reads help you polish prose and make smaller improvements to flow and rhythm. Even professional writers read their work aloud many times.
With practice, developing an ear for flow and rhythm can become second nature. Paying attention to cadence, rhythm, and the sound of your words will elevate your writing and keep your readers engaged. Read, write, and revise aloud, and your prose will become as melodious as a song.
Eliminate Unnecessary Words
Want to tighten up your writing and make every word count? Eliminating unnecessary words is key. Here are a few tips to polish your prose:
- Cut redundant phrases. Look for wordy expressions like “in order to,” “the reason why,” or “due to the fact that” and replace them with simpler words like “to,” “because,” or “since.”
- Remove excess adverbs and adjectives. While descriptive words have their place, too many make your writing bloated. Limit modifiers to one per noun or verb.
- Replace wordy prepositions. Swap “with regard to” for “about” and “in the event that” for “if.” Simple prepositions like “in,” “on,” and “at” are usually best.
- Remove empty phrases. Look for meaningless expressions like “it is a fact that” or “there is no doubt that.” Your readers will assume the statements that follow are facts, so these phrases just take up space.
- Use active voice. The active voice is more concise than the passive voice. For example, “The editor reviewed the article” is more compact than “The article was reviewed by the editor.”
- Remove redundancies. Scan for repetitive words and phrases, especially in lists. For example, change “fun, enjoyable, pleasurable activities” to “fun activities.”
By following these tips, you’ll craft prose that is clear, concise, and compelling. Your readers will appreciate how you respect their time and get straight to the point. With practice, tight writing will become second nature. Before you know it, you’ll be eliminating unnecessary words on the fly!
Read Your Work Aloud
Reading your writing aloud is one of the best ways to identify areas that could use improvement. As you speak the words, your ears will pick up on sentences that sound awkward, words that are repeated too often, and phrases that could be reworded for clarity or conciseness.
Slow Down Your Reading
Take your time reading through what you’ve written. Don’t just skim over the words. Read carefully and listen for how the language flows and sounds. Reading at a leisurely pace allows you to notice imperfections you might miss at a quick glance.
Listen for Awkward Phrasing
Pay attention to sentences that seem clunky, choppy or just don’t roll off the tongue. Look for ways to reword them to improve the flow and cadence. Maybe combine short sentences into longer, smoother ones. Or break up lengthy sentences into shorter separate thoughts.
Note Overused Words
As you read, make a mental note or physically highlight words and phrases that come up repeatedly in a short space. Then go back and rework some sentences to replace the overused terms with synonyms to add more variety.
Check for Unclear Meaning
If there are any parts that don’t seem to make sense or could be misinterpreted, revise them for clarity. Reading aloud exposes ambiguities in language that you might not catch just by looking at the words on the page.
Get Feedback from Others
Ask a friend or family member to also read your work aloud and provide feedback. Hearing another person speak your words can reveal new areas for improvement you hadn’t noticed. Be open to their constructive criticism—it will only make your writing stronger.
With practice, reading aloud can become second nature and help ensure your writing is as clear, concise and compelling as possible before sharing it with readers. Give your work a listen and make any needed tweaks. Your prose will be all the better for it.
Ask for Another Opinion
Getting another set of eyes on your writing is one of the best ways to improve it. Our own biases and assumptions can blind us to issues in our prose, so asking someone else to review your work helps identify areas that could use polishing.
Find the Right Reviewer
Choose a reader who will give you constructive criticism. Someone who understands your target audience and style is ideal. Explain what kind of feedback would be most helpful. Do you want them to focus on overall clarity and flow or line edits? The more specific you can be, the more useful their comments will be.
Listen With an Open Mind
It can be difficult to receive criticism, but try to listen with an open mind. Your reviewer is trying to help you strengthen your writing. Ask follow up questions to make sure you understand their concerns fully. Some comments you may disagree with, and that’s okay—you don’t have to implement every suggestion. But at least consider each point carefully.
Review the Review
Once you have your reviewer’s comments, go through them to determine what resonates with you and will improve your prose. Some things to look for:
- Points where multiple readers expressed similar feedback. These likely indicate an area that could benefit from revision.
- Comments that align with your goals for the piece. If clarity and concision were priorities, focus on notes related to those.
- Specific examples and suggestions. These kinds of actionable comments are the most useful for revision. Look for places you can make minor tweaks to address the overall concern.
- Praise and positive feedback. Don’t just focus on the criticism—look for the good parts too and think about how you can build on your strengths.
Getting input from others is a key part of refining and strengthening your writing. Approach it with an open and willing attitude, and your work will be better for it. With each round of feedback, you’ll develop your skills and become a sharper self-editor. But never stop asking for another opinion.
Practice Active Voice
To give your writing more power and clarity, use the active voice as much as possible. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. Active voice makes for stronger, more compelling writing.
Spot the passive voice
Look for forms of the verb “to be” like “is,” “are,” “was,” or “were” followed by a past participle (often ending in “ed”). For example, “The essay was written by the student” is passive, while “The student wrote the essay” is active.
Change passive to active
To change a passive sentence to active voice, find the actor in the sentence and make that the subject, then change the verb to show the action. For example, change “The ball was hit by the batter” to “The batter hit the ball.”
Use active verbs
Active verbs give your writing momentum and make things happen. Replace dull verbs like “be,” “have,” and “do” with vivid verbs that convey action and energy. For example, instead of “I had a walk in the park,” say “I strolled through the park.” Use a thesaurus to find active synonyms.
Keep the subject close to the verb
In the active voice, the subject comes before the verb. Keeping the subject and verb close together makes your writing clear and direct. For example, “The teacher quickly handed out the test to the students” is more active than “The test was quickly handed out to the students by the teacher.”
Use active voice for impact
Use active voice to emphasize the doer of an action or make a strong statement. For example, “I made a mistake” has more impact than “A mistake was made.” Active voice gives your writing a sense of movement and strength. With practice, using the active voice can become second nature.
So there you have it, a few of the editor’s secrets for tightening up your writing and making your words shine. Apply these tips to your next draft and watch as your prose becomes more powerful and persuasive. Your readers will appreciate how you’ve crafted a clear message and respected their time. And you’ll feel a surge of satisfaction knowing you’ve created something truly compelling. Now get to work – your writing is waiting to be transformed from good to great! Polish each sentence, rethink each word, and make every letter earn its place on the page. With practice, editing will become second nature and your skills as a writer will grow in leaps and bounds. So keep at it – the difference between good writing and great writing is in the details.