How to edit your own writing

You have researched: you have planned your document: you have finished writing: now has to edit and review before posting.

Because? Poor writing or editing very quickly diminishes your credibility and professionalism. After the time and effort you’ve put into getting your project to this point, you’d be foolish not to take the time to present your work in a way that’s easy for your readers to understand. The more writers that have been involved in the writing process, the more important the editing process becomes. Even professional writers spend as much time editing and proofreading as they do writing.

But where to start? The editing process requires you to take off your writer’s hat and put on your editor’s hat; Be objective about how you have presented your information. Here are some tips to help accomplish this important part of the writing process.

  1. Rest – Yes, take a break, at least overnight if possible. Go do something completely different: something physical, another task, relax… whatever distracts you from what you just wrote. Because? His wonderful brain will keep working and he will come up with some amazing ideas about the editing and proofreading process. He may find what seem to be random thoughts popping into his mind – catch them and write them down. They are the solutions you don’t know you need.
  2. Print a hard copy – You’ve spent hours staring at your writing on the screen. When you print your document, you see it in a different view. Your mind sees it as something new, so you’ll notice things you haven’t seen before. Without all that spelling and grammar check scribbling, you’ll really see what’s there. You’ll realize that you actually wrote ‘out’ when you meant ‘our’; the spell checker wouldn’t recognize it as a mistake. Many readers find it easier to flip through pages on paper than on screen when they need to follow a reference or thread, or check facts.
  3. Read out loud – By using the auditory and visual senses, you will hear those awkward constructions or realize that you actually wrote ‘is’ instead of ‘it’. It helps you see what’s really there, not what you think you’ve written.
  4. Ask a trusted colleague to review: you have certainly collaborated with colleagues during the research and development of your project, perhaps also in writing. So it may be helpful to ask a colleague who hasn’t been heavily involved in feedback about the structure and flow of your document and how easy it is to read. This is not a peer review of the content, but an opportunity to review the overall effectiveness of your writing and presentation of information.
  5. Ask a trusted ‘stranger’ to review: Especially when you’ve written for a non-technical audience, it can be very valuable to ask a trusted “outsider” to comment on your writing. That person will be able to tell you if he can understand what he has written, how well technical terms are explained, whether the graphics and illustrations he has included increase ease of understanding, and how easy it is to read.

Most of the time, more than one edit or revision will be needed. You, as the owner of the document, must decide what changes to make and which of the comments of others you want to incorporate. Remember to keep track of each release as it progresses through the review process. Your final check will be to make sure all changes have been included; hence the importance of being meticulous with version tracking, naming, and saving.

Remember to use your dictionary and style guide to check things you are not quite sure about. A good printed or online grammar and punctuation guide or style manual should be part of every technical writer’s go-to tool.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you need to edit your writing, and remember to use your reference books.