This is a guest post written by Jodi Brandon. Thanks, Jodi!
Professional copy is important, regardless of your industry. Though I’m not suggesting you need a copy editor for every single word you publish, whether it’s a newsletter, blog post, or email, you definitely should self-edit and then proofread your copy before hitting the “Send” or “Publish” button. (That said, as an editor, I would never tell you that a second set of eyes on your copy before it’s published is a bad idea, regardless of what the piece of writing is.)
What does self-editing entail? Don’t worry: You don’t need to go back to seventh-grade English class, and there won’t be any sentences to diagram. Here are five quick tips to self-edit your copy and keep it from being error-filled and unprofessional:
- Step away from your computer.
- Work in stages.
- Read the text aloud.
- Tighten the text.
- Consider readability.
Step Away from Your Computer
First and most importantly, give your eyes a break from the copy. Take as much time as possible away from the text as you can. Maybe that’s a couple of days; maybe that’s just an hour. Anything you can do to come back with a fresh set of eyes will greatly benefit your work. As a general rule, the longer the piece is (think a blog post versus an email, or a magazine article versus a blog post), the more time your eyes and brain need to be disconnected from the text.
Work in Stages
Self-editing goes smoothest when done in stages, particularly for lengthier pieces of text like long blog posts or articles. Just like a book editor won’t catch everything the first time through a manuscript, neither will you. I recommend you read through once for the big picture (the macro level), then reading again for details (the micro-level). With each pass of the text, you should find fewer and fewer errors. As a book editor, I’ll often go through an entire manuscript (as a whole) 10 times or more. With a long blog post or article, two or three times generally is sufficient, unless I’ve done major revising.
Read the Text Aloud
You’ll be amazed by the mistakes you hear that your eyes, after reading the same sentence multiple times while writing and rewriting, missed. Your eyes read text on the screen (or paper) as your brain intended — which may or may not be what you’ve actually written. Perhaps you meant to say “eight out of nine times” but wrote “eight of out nine times.” You’re so familiar with that you meant to say that you miss the transposed words when reading. But you’ll hear them when you read the text out loud.
Tighten the Text
Some people would include this as part of #5 (readability), but because readability is so subjective, I include this is a separate task. Particularly when communicating with clients and your audience in text such as blog posts and emails, clarity is more important than showing off your writing ability. Your goal is clear text. One way to accomplish that goal is to remove generic language such as “there are” or “it is.” If you wrote, “There are five tips for self-editing that Jodi recommends,” when self-editing, change that to “Five self-editing tips that Jodi recommends are….” Much smoother to read (and two fewer words), right? You could also say “Jodi recommends five tips for self-editing” if you don’t mind the subject being Jodi rather than self-editing tips.
You also want to delete unnecessary, filler-type words. These include “really” and “very.” Rarely does either of these words add anything of substance to your work. (This applies to many adverbs, not just “really” and “very.”)
Read the text from a reader’s point of view, rather than your own. Are there any terms that you need to define for your audience? Does the text flow smoothly? Readability looks different to everyone, but two of my pet peeves are passive voice and lack of varied sentence structure.
Which reads more smoothly?
Jodi confirmed the hotel reservation.
The hotel reservation was confirmed by Jodi.
The second sentence sounds clunky and slows readers down as they try to figure out exactly what happened (to whom and by whom). You don’t want that.
Lack of Varied Sentence Structure
I write short sentences. I always write short sentences. Just four or five words. Kind of choppy-sounding. That’s what I write. But what if I suddenly decided to write a long sentence, from stream of consciousness, that just dragged on and on after so many short sentences, and made so many points that it confused you because you wonder who wrote that, and also why there are so many commas in one sentence.
Do you see what I mean? Mix up your sentence structure so that variations don’t seem out of place. Another bonus of varied sentence structures is that using them keeping readers engaged. They don’t know the “pattern” and therefore need to pay attention so they don’t miss anything.
Use these tips when self-editing any kind of text: blog posts, articles, emails, or even Facebook posts on your business page. Do you have any other self-editing tasks you take before hitting “Send” or “Publish”? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy writing!
Jodi Brandon leverages 20 years’ experience in the traditional book publishing industry to work as a writing coach, publishing consultant, and book editor with creative business owners who want to scale their business. Jodi teaches them how to use a book to do just that, whether they want to self-publish or publish traditionally. You can learn more about her on her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.