Self-Editing Your Work? Try These 7 Tips

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2024-05-01

The process of editing your work can be trying, difficult, and frustrating...but it can also be rewarding, enlightening, and satisfying. This month, we’re looking at ways authors can make the most of the self-editing process.


Change the Formatting

Most computers will default to a few standard settings – Times New Roman or Calibri as a font selection, 12-point font size, and 100% zoom. These are great to work with 99% of the time – but have you ever thought of just…changing them?

If you’re editing, you might be looking for typos, or smaller details in the text to correct, which can become difficult when the text is set to appear somewhat small. By switching the font size to, say, 14-point, you’ll be able to see the text better and mistakes will be more visually apparent.

My personal preference, though, is just to increase the zoom setting, so that what I’m looking at becomes larger, but without the hassle of changing the font size of an entire document. I prefer a 115% or 120% zoom usually, but do what works best for you!


Read Out Loud

This might seem like a silly or inconsequential bit of advice, but reading your text out loud forces you to slow down and really interact with the words in a way that reading in your head doesn’t quite allow for. It’s like a different perspective on familiar writing!

This self-editing technique can be a great way to identify awkward phrasing, run-on sentences, confusing structure, and typos. If you have to take a breath during a particularly long sentence, maybe it might be a good idea to split that sentence up. Or, if your tongue is tripping over a bit of phrasing, maybe simplifying might be the thing you need to do.

Try reading out loud, and you might be surprised at just how effective it can be during the self-editing process.


Slow It Down

When you’re reading a published book or document, reading at a faster speed is the norm. However, when you’re reading your own writing, it helps to slow things way down. Read line by line, making sure you’re paying attention and remaining focused. If you’re proofreading your work, I would recommend going even slower – read word…by…word!

When we’re reading something, it can be easy to miss typos, misspellings, and even missing letters or duplicate words. That’s because the brain can filter out these things and automatically fill in or remove what it needs to in order to comprehend the text. To illustrate, in this sentence by the the time you are done reading you may have already skipped over the double "the" I snuck in there.

Slowing it down will of course take longer, but it allows you to really examine each word or line, and will help you catch all sorts of little errors and edits.


Get Some Distance

Once you’ve finished your final draft and are ready to move on to the editing stage, it can be very helpful to take a step back from the manuscript for a little while, whether it’s a couple of days, a week, or maybe two weeks. Letting your mind concentrate on other things and move on from your manuscript means that when you sit back down with it to begin editing, you’re seeing it more like a reader would. Once you’ve been working on something diligently for weeks or months, it can be hard to remove yourself from the writing. Stepping away lets you return with objectivity, fresh eyes, and a fresh perspective as to what needs to be done to make the writing shine.


Make a Style Sheet

A style sheet is what editors use to track editorial decisions they make for a specific project – are numbers spelled out up to ninety-nine and numerals used for 100+? Is the serial comma used? Do you choose to spell it judgement, or judgment?

Keep a loose style sheet of your own so you can remember what rules or decisions you applied earlier in the manuscript to make sure things stay consistent as you move through the book. For more on style sheets and what can be included on them, check out our blog on style choices.


Stealthily Switch Out Adverbs

She said quietly.

He spoke loudly.

She moved quickly.

Instead of using adverbs (generally, words that end in -ly), use stronger verb selections. Instead of “said quietly,” try “she whispered.” Instead of “moved quickly,” try “she dashed.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to edit out every -ly word, but keeping an eye out for them and considering when the use of a more dynamic verb might be beneficial is a great idea.


Tenses: Past or Present?

Sometimes it happens that we drift in and out of the past and present tense throughout our text. In the first half it’s all past tense, but then somewhere in the middle, it shifts to present tense: From “I yelled” to “I yell.”

When you’re reading through on your first editing pass, make sure you look carefully to make sure your tenses are always what they should be. Sometimes we need to switch back and forth between past and present tense – for example, if we are writing about something that has already happened. However, it can be surprisingly easy to blend these tenses throughout our writing without being aware of the switching, so keep an eye out for this especially tricky error.

Hopefully these tips will arm you with some tricks you can use when you start your next round of edits – happy editing!



Want a great editing tip in your inbox each month? Sign up for our enewsletter today!