How to be a great editor when it comes to your own work

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Written By Andy Quan

How can you edit your own work? If we turn this around, the question is: how can you not edit your own work? Any writing that’s important, that will be read by your clients or colleagues or will be accessed by the public – needs to be as good as possible, or perhaps perfect.

A few editing hints

There are a few key considerations for editing any work, whether it’s written by you or someone else. The first is what style you’re adhering to. If your main audience is Australian, are all the spellings Australian (you can check this in the Macquarie Dictionary)? Where there is a choice of spellings, have you or your organisation agreed which one to use? Have you made clear decisions about formatting, for example, whether to use title case or sentence case for headlines and how you will punctuate a bulleted list?

 Writing and editing have structure and rules. Writing needs to be consistent and editing is a way to make sure the writing is consistent

Take a step back

The best way to try to understand how your writing will be read is to try to be the reader. So, take a step back from yourself, and from the writing, and try to see it from their point of view. Ask if the words and writing make sense to your audience, who are likely to be those who are not experts in your field. It’s a pet peeve of mine, the amount of jargon and acronyms that make it into reports and are just not understood by a general reader. 

Another way to take a step back is to put the report aside for a period of time. Constantly rereading the same sentences over and over may be more likely to give you a headache than the ability to spot an error or a way to improve the clarity of a paragraph. Casting your eyes over writing after a break, feeling refreshed, and with a clear view, can be invaluable.

Print it out

This might be surprising advice in our digital age, but I believe that a perfect piece of writing will require printing out a hard copy to do a final edit or proofread. I may hardly be able to write a page by hand, having learned to type at a young age and then hopping onto computers quickly. But writing on a computer, and then reading a document on a screen, encourages, I think, a certain speed, a quickness of the way we try to pass over information and get to the end, to the next task.

Reading a document on a page encourages you to slow down, and can provide another way (see above) to step back and see errors and ways to improve.

Hand it over

If you don’t love writing, it’s no crime to admit that. Many of my clients are experts in their subject, but that doesn’t mean they can communicate their knowledge clearly. So, the best way to edit your work might be to hand it over to an editor. I freely tell clients that everyone needs an editor, even editors. An extra set of eyes and a new perspective can not only be helpful, but essential. It might be a linguistic cheat to count self-editing as you yourself handing over your writing to an editor, but it could just be the best option.