How to Edit and Improve Your Writing

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Even the best of writers work hard to write well. Rarely does good writing just flow out of us. Instead, we must trim, mend and craft our words, our sentences and our paragraphs. The first step is to create a draft. Next, you can move on to that crucial part of the writing process – editing. Here’s how to edit your way to easier reading.

Deal with the Technical Stuff

1. Pay attention to spell and grammar check. Give each sentence a verb and a noun. Use semi-colons properly. Embrace your own style of writing, but do so without sacrificing clarity.instruments-of-torture-cropped_l

2. Avoid passive writing. Precede subjects with verbs whenever possible.

3. Cut. Chop adjectives. Eliminate repetition and redundancy. Use simple language and get rid of slang and jargon. Cut long sentences in half; short sentences are easier to read.

4. Make sure your verb tense is consistent and/or correct. Use present tense when stating facts or sharing ideas and stories. When referring to past findings or events, shift to past tense. Use future tense when writing about future events, and present-perfect when the time period you are referencing hasn’t finished yet.

Get Feedback

Have someone else edit your paper. Trade papers with a colleague and benefit from each other’s feedback. Ask a friend outside your field to read it over once and underline anything confusing (or wrong) with a red pen.

Walk Away From Your Writing

If you can’t get an editor (and even if you can), walk away from late drafts of your writing for as long as possible. Overnight is wonderful, but even a half an hour will help.

Read it Out Loud

You’ll be amazed at the awkward phrasing you catch and repair just by reading your work out loud. The confusing bits will become more obvious. So will repetition, missing transitions and inconsistent tone. You can improve your flow and style through reading your work aloud.

woman reading

For more editing tips, check out this list by Wolcott Gibb. What tricks do you use to edit your own writing? What editing challenges do you find particularly tough to tackle on your own?

Photo credits: 1. AlaskaTeacher / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND 2.  Piotr Pawłowski / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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