How to edit your own writing
If you regularly write copy and content for your website (sales pages, blog posts, newsletters, etc.) I know you’ll want to make sure you’re putting your best work out there. Compared to the written word, the spoken language can be a lot more ‘forgiving.’ You can start a sentence and then change your mind or your point mid-way. Hesitate. Take your time. Even if and when you make mistakes, people are hardly going to notice while engaged in the flow of the conversation. But when words are on paper (or, these days, on the laptop or phone screen) they’re there to stay. Any writing you share represents your brand. What would incoherent, messy, and full-of-mistakes writing say about your brand? I’ll leave you to answer that. Because, as online business owners, we definitely know there’s a lot riding on our writing efforts. So how do we make our writing the best it can be? We edit it. And here are my tips on how to edit your own writing.
Let it sit for a bit
When working with clients, I always recommend not to be too hasty with the ‘Publish’ button. In fact, in my 7-day free email course, where I help online business owners write content in half the time, I break the entire process down. You don’t start writing your first draft unless you’ve outlined. You don’t start outlining unless you plan. And you definitely don’t start editing before you’ve sat on that first draft for a few days. There are a couple of reasons why I recommend that.
You won’t spot your errors!
- If you write, edit, and then publish straight away, you’re less likely to spot any spelling or grammar mistakes or any structural inconsistencies. In other words, because you’ve just produced that content, you’ll read what you meant, rather than what you’ve written. To give you an example, say you typed something like “This it is.” You obviously meant “This is it,” so if you re-read it straight after writing, you’re always going to see it as “This is it,” even if it isn’t what you actually typed. In a recent post, I had used the idiom ‘to see the wood for the trees.’ Except I had typed ‘to see the woods from the trees,’ and I didn’t even notice that at my first editing pass. That’s because I knew what I meant, so that’s what I read. Edit the text the next day (or a few days later), and you’ll spot the error. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Or ask any other writer or author! You want to edit that content with a fresh pair of eyes.
You can do even better!
- When you sit on the content for a while, you’re more likely to have some genius ideas to make that content even better. You’ll think of another point to make. Of another brilliant sentence or phrase that you want to include. Or you’ll cross a point out entirely and come at the topic from a different angle. These things all add value and make your writing stand out! So if you want to produce the best content you possibly can (and you should because it’s your reputation on the line here, right?) then just wait a day or two before you publish.
Print it out or read it out loud
You should do both, really. Like I said, you may be reading the same thing again and again and continue to miss the most obvious of mistakes. That’s quite typical. But… if you change the medium, you change your perspective and are more likely to spot areas you want to improve. This is another good way of ‘coming out of your own head.’ In other words, your mind isn’t seeing what it expects to see, but it’s allowing you to read what’s actually there. Yes, you are asking your brain to work a little harder. But because of that, the editing process is adding tons of value to your writing.
So print out that sales page. Read it on paper, and see if anything stands out to you. Or, read it out loud. Does it sound odd? Could you have said something in a better way? Does it sound repetitive? Does it need more rhythm and cadence to sound more engaging? When you read the text out loud, it’ll be a lot easier for you to pick up on these aspects. And of course, if you can, read the piece out loud to someone else and ask them how it sounds.
Check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes
Saying you should check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes may sound like obvious advice. But you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t do this at all. When I edit work for my clients, I can always tell whether they’ve carried out these basic checks or not. Of course, some errors will always slip through the cracks, and that’s perfectly normal. I get my own books professionally edited and proofread, and doing this always adds tons of value to my writing. But before I hand over my manuscript (and hard-earned cash) to a professional editor, I will have done a few passes myself.
If you use a word processor like Microsoft Word or similar, a lot of the grammar, punctuation, and spelling checks will be done for you. All you have to do is to go back to the words underlined in red and correct them. Another excellent tool is Grammarly. You can get a basic version of Grammarly for free (just add it on to Chrome), but the more robust version costs approximately $30 per month. If you’re mainly writing blog posts, web copy and newsletters, I’d say the free version is more than enough. But if you want to go for the paid version, join their newsletter first, as they’re always sending out great offers and discounts via email.
Make sure your text reads well
Readability checks are a must! And to be honest, I always have to edit a piece of writing at least two or three times to be sure I’ve ‘caught’ and improved on all these elements. When it comes to readability, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your reader. As much as we’d love to think that people read every single word we’ve carefully crafted, that’s not how it works. People skim through the text to get the general meaning and most important points. C’mon, you know you do that too. So you can help the skimmers of this world with a few tricks:
- Use titles and subtitles wisely – i.e. tell your reader exactly what each paragraph is going to be all about.
- Use bullet points when relevant – see what I’ve done here?
- Bold some of the keywords or phrases – you know, the kind of stuff you don’t want the reader to miss.
A few extra tips for editing your own writing
With these out of the way, here are some additional points you should keep an eye out for before you publish anything:
- Are your sentences too long? If so, break them up. Aim for 15-20 words per sentence and alternate short and long sentences to give your writing more rhythm and cadence.
- Is your writing repetitive? If you’ve used the same word twice or three times in the same sentence or paragraph (or if you have a few sentences starting in the same way), maybe you can switch things up a little. Maybe you can use a synonym where appropriate?
- Are your paragraphs too long? If so, can you maybe break the text up and add another sub-heading? That’s what Heading 2’s and Heading 3’s are there for.
- Did you write in plain English? If you’ve used words that are too technical, complicated, obscure and generally difficult to understand, you may lose your reader along the way. Make sure your writing is easy to grasp.
If you’re on WordPress, I’d strongly recommend you download the Yoast SEO plugin, which doesn’t just help you with SEO (as the name suggests), but it’s an excellent tool you can use to create blog posts that are easier to read. If you want to know how the plugin works in more details, this post explains how you can improve the readability of your writing by following the suggestions of the Yoast SEO plugin.
And if you really don’t want to edit your own work I can always do it for you. Check out my Done-for-you Services page and get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to know where I can help.