Whether you’re a student, a grant writer, a technical writer or producing web copy, editing is an essential skill you must have to be taken seriously. Grammatical errors, poorly worded sentences and inappropriate paragraph breaks will undo the integrity of a document, no matter how well written it is otherwise.
A lot rides on grammar, punctuation and spelling. In fact, some grant boards have admitted to giving grants based on which proposal had the fewest typos and grammatical errors. No one will take you seriously with unprofessional mistakes.
In a best-case scenario, a second set of eyes will help you catch mistakes you missed, but we don’t all have the cash to afford an editor or have an on-call buddy who can look over our documents. Sometimes, the most efficient thing is to edit your own work. Here are five essential tips to impeccably edit your own documents.
Five Editing Tips to Check for Mistakes
1) Look at your work with a fresh set of eyes. Let your document sit overnight. (This might be a challenge for those of us who work right up until the deadline!) Read over it again, sentence by sentence, in the morning after you’ve had a break. When you stare at one document too long, your eyes gloss over small mistakes. You’ll be much more likely to catch your spelling, grammar, punctuation or structure mistakes after taking a nice long break.
2) One weird trick that works oddly well is to convert your document into a different format. If you write in Word, convert your file to a PDF. If you type in Notepad, copy and paste your document into Word. You can even put your document in an email if you like. For some reason, the platforms we use to type can play tricks on the eyes. Open it as a different format in a different program. You’ll notice that you catch many more typos and punctuation mistakes.
3) If you have the paper to spare, print out your document and actively read it over, red pen at the ready. Our eyes have a way of picking up on our own mistakes better in hard copies, perhaps because human eyes aren’t that well equipped to deal with a computer screen.
4) Actively self-improve on your mistakes. Often, we make the some typos and mistakes over and over. Learn what typos and mistakes you usually make. For instance, if you often write “principle” in place of “principal”, pick up on that. This will make you more self-aware as a writer and enable you to edit your work effectively. If commas are your problem, pay special attention to comma placement and structure. Not only will this help you self-edit your document, you will also start to catch your mistakes while writing the first draft.
5) Read your document aloud. Typos and mistakes that may have remained hidden jump out once you read your document out loud. Work in a quiet room. Read your document out loud to yourself. You’ll be surprised at how many typos and mistakes you catch this way. This is also a great method of improving the “flow” and voice of your document.
If you regularly write professional-level documents, self-editing is an indispensable drill. Learning how to self-edit your work will help you become a stronger and more self-reliant writer.
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