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Self-editing: Making your work its best possible self

The thought of editing your work evokes many responses. While some people do enjoy refining their writing, some people view it as a chore. Others feel insecure about their ability to edit anything, let alone their own work.

Here are some self-editing best practices to smooth the tasks ahead:

  • Writing is different than editing. This may seem obvious, but the processes are inherently different. Do not try to edit while you are writing. I advise authors to complete their unit of writing (the article, the chapter, or perhaps the whole book) before they go back and start to edit the work. Get it all down first!
  • Leave some time between creation and editing. I suggest some separation period from the initial writing. This allows perspective on what you wrote. Even a day (or more) can provide you with fresh eyes to edit.
  • Choose a style manual. This may also seem obvious, but not everyone does it. Whether the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook, the Publication Manual of the APA, of other ones, use the wisdom of the experts with all the thorny editing and consistency issues that arise. Choose one and stick to it.
  • Watch the jargon. Some technical talk will be inevitable but simplify your work and concentrate on ideas as opposed to jargon.
  • When in doubt, take it out. Once again look to simplify your work. If you have any doubts about what you’ve written, I suggest leaving it out. If there is a phrase or word you dearly love, think through whether it is necessary.
  • Read it aloud. The most important suggestion for people uncomfortable with editing is to read the work aloud. Yes, aloud. Yes, the whole thing. This takes patience. Your ear (and tongue) will catch awkward phrasing, confusing sections, or run on sentences. If you take nothing out of this post, this one suggestion is the most important.
  • Do not be afraid to rewrite. Some people are exhausted with act of creation and when they get to editing blanch at the thought of deleting or rewriting sections. Rewriting or deleting is the difference between good and great. Take the time.
  • Run a grammar check. Seems like a given, but run a grammar and spell check several times during the process. These programs (even in Word or Pages) have become very powerful. Even more advanced programs like Grammarly, WhiteSmoke, and many others can assist. But at the end of the day, editing is about human decisions.

Good enough is not. People will partly judge the quality of your ideas and work (at peer review or as customers) based on your writing and editing ability. This may seem unfair, but it is true. Time spent editing benefits the reader, the students and professors using the book, the customers, the publisher, and (most of all) you. Grab that red pencil and dive in.

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.”Contact him at