So you’ve written a fabulous piece of content. That’s great!
But, now comes the all-dreaded part. No writing is ready to publish without a serious round of editing.
I know, I know, but hear me out.
Editing your work will make you appear more professional, help readers build an emotional connection to you, and set you apart from the pack.
“But Averi, how can I edit myself to sound like a pro?”
Don’t worry! It’s easy with these editing tips from your’s truly.
My top editing tips for writers
- Split up long sentences
I believe you have amazing things to say – but none of that matters if your readers lose interest.
Stick to one idea per sentence to keep your readers engaged. And, cap sentences at 15 – 20 words to keep them clear.
If your sentence is looking long and comma-heavy, see if you can split it in two.
- Break up your paragraphs
The editing tips above apply to your paragraphs too!
When I write web-content, I avoid writing paragraphs longer than 3 lines. While writers disagree on the perfect paragraph length, it’s important to keep your paragraphs concise.
If your paragraphs contain several topics, readers will find your content hard to follow. Limit yourself to one clear idea per paragraph.
- Speak simply
Know your audience and speak to them.
Imagine speaking to a friend or family member as you write. If you wouldn’t use the words “wherein” “utilization” or “hereafter” in conversation, you should cut them out of your writing.
Best yet, your readers will feel a stronger connection to your writing if they feel you are speaking to them directly!
- Use one clear voice
Be aware of how you are addressing the reader when writing.
For example, this blog post uses “you speak.” So, I don’t want to use the sentence:
“When we write, we should be careful about what tone of voice we use.”
Choose if you are addressing “you” or “us” and try to stick to the same tone throughout your content. If you need to switch over, do it once – instead of switching back and forth – to help the reader follow you.
- Use positive speech
If you are using “not” a lot in your writing, you need to find a more powerful verb.
Instead of saying what something isn’t, say what it is.
Take the sentence “You shouldn’t use weak, negative sentences when you write” and change it to “You should use positive statements to add more emphasis to your writing!.”
If you notice “don’t” “shouldn’t” or “can’t” frequently in your work, find a way to rewrite your sentences.
- Remove filler words
One of the top editing tips I can give you is cutting the fluff.
It’s time to remove some words from your vocabulary. Try to avoid using:
- “In order to” when you mean “to”
- “May possibly” when you mean “may”
- “That” or “like” when unnecessary
In addition, if you start sentences with “there is/there are” – find a way to reword them. You can try starting with “you” or a verb for a more dynamic sentence.
You should read your writing sentence by sentence to see which words are needed – and which you can remove.
- Read your writing out loud
When you read in your mind, it’s easier to skim over your mistakes. Catch awkward sentences, grammar errors, and changes of voice by reading your work out loud.
It’s almost as good as a fresh set of eyes!
- Try a text-to-speech app
If you’d prefer to listen instead, you can download an app to do the work for you.
I like to use NaturalReader.
This free app will convert your document to an mp3 file so you can catch areas of your writing that need to be reworked.
- Avoid adverbs
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
That’s Stephen King by the way, and he knows what he’s talking about.
You might not use the words “hungrily” “timidly” or “casually” in your writing – but I’ll bet you’ll find “very” or “really” if you search for them. Those are adverbs too!
Find ways to emphasize your point without empty adverbs. You can replace adverbs with powerful verbs and adjectives.
- Use strong verbs and adjectives
Exchange “very cold” with “frigid” and “really important” with “crucial.”
Now that you’ve removed the adverbs from your writing, it’s time to axe weak verbs and adjectives.
One of my top editing tips: avoid “to be” verbs whenever possible. “To be” verbs include: was, is, are, were, etc.
Instead of “She was jumping over the hurdles” try “She leapt over the hurdles.”
Cut back excessive “-ings” to make your writing easier to read. “To be” verbs often come hand-in-hand with “-ing” verbs. Nix ‘em.
And, when in doubt, use a thesaurus to find words with more emphasis.
- Remember to hyphenate
Whenever you modify a noun with more than one word, you need a hyphen.
If you say “The treatment is cutting edge” you don’t need a hyphen. However, if you say “This is a cutting-edge treatment” then you do.
If the modifier ends in “-ly,” you don’t need a hyphen. So, if you talk about a highly skilled writer, no hyphen is necessary.
- Avoid clichés
Unless you can put your own spin on well known phrases and metaphors, it’s best to omit them.
Quotes in your writing should be impactful and important. If the quote isn’t fascinating, just rephrase it in your own words.
- Double-check your quotations
When you do use quotes, make sure they are accurate!
Nothing is worse than getting in trouble for misquoting someone.
- Vary sentence length
Mix up the length of your sentences to keep readers on their toes.
It works. I promise.
Cap the majority of your sentences at 20 words, but throw in long sentences on occasion. Use short sentences to emphasize your point.
- Be aware of jargon
Make sure your writing is accessible to everyone.
Ask yourself, “Is there a simpler way to communicate this idea?”
When you use field-specific words, your audience might not understand. If you DO use jargon, be sure to include a definition for your reader.
- Use an active voice
Some editing tips are simple to follow, and others are a little more difficult.
Cutting the passive voice from your writing style is tough – but needed.
Passive voice puts emphasis on the person or object that experiences an action.
Ex. The house was built by John.
Active voice puts emphasis on the person or object that does an action.
Ex. John built the house.
Whenever possible, use active voice in your writing.
- Make sure your writing flows
Go through your writing and check if each thought leads seamlessly into the next. If you seem to jump from one topic to another with no bridge, amend it.
- Check your comma use
One of the things I find myself editing most after writing is my use of commas.
Commas can be tricky little beasts.
Consult a style guide if necessary, or just find what flows best. Be aware that the word “which” takes a comma, but the word “that” doesn’t.
For instance: “We read a book that was fascinating” vs “We read a book, which was fascinating.”
- Cut back your prepositions
Prepositions need lots of friends.
Words like “on, to, for, of, in, etc.” can be useful, but they cannot stand alone.
Make your writing less wordy by cutting out unneeded prepositions.
- Add in some contractions
Your writing will appear friendlier if you use contractions. It’ll make it easier to connect with your readers. (See what I did there?)
Contractions can even make your writing easier to read and understand. The only time I do NOT recommend using them is in academic writing.
- Insert headings
Not all editing tips are equal, and this one is at the top of the pack.
When you use headings in your writing, you boost not only readability but your SEO too!
You only need one H1 heading. But you can use as many H2s and H3s as you’d like to break up your content into digestible chunks.
Plus, headings provide an outline for you while you write. Win-win!
- Remove the double space
I don’t care what the APA style guide says. When it comes to modern-day web content, use a single space!
Most word processors default to a single space. So, unless you are extra careful, you can easily mess up your format.
- Keep a consistent format
Another one of those crucial editing tips – after you write, always go back through to check your formatting.
Do you use one line space after headers…or two?
Are your numbered lists indented?
Are you headers in sentence case or title case?
Are your paragraphs indented or flush left?
Make it all cohesive.
- Match your bullet point list
In related fashion, ensure your bullet points share a consistent format.
I often see writers overlook their bullet points. When organizing information in a bullet point list, all your bullet points should:
- Use the same capitalization rules
- Ideally grow from shortest to longest
- Flow naturally from the initial sentence
- End the same way (periods or no periods)
- Paint a picture
If you want your readers to pay attention, immerse them in your writing.
Use details of sight, smell, touch, sound, or taste to transport your readers into your text.
Metaphors can be helpful, but remember to avoid clichés.
- Take a break
It won’t do anyone any good if you burn out. You don’t need to finish your editing session all in one go.
You can revisit your edits after some time away – and coffee – to see your work more clearly.
- Embrace your style
Sure, we need to follow some grammar and structure rules… but embracing your quirks is one of the best parts of writing!
If you have a sense of humor – SHOW ME.
Your unique writing flare will make people notice you. Find what sets you apart. That’s what I call your “secret sauce.”
- Take your time
If you rush the editing process, you’re bound to miss something.
Go line by line. Re-read. Make sure everything is the exact way you want it.
- Call for help!
If you struggle with editing yourself, it’s time for a fresh set of eyes.
You can enlist the help of a friend or colleague, or hire a professional copy editor to whip your work into shape.
If you don’t have that option, you can try a tool Grammarly to keep you accountable.
Now your copy will read like a dream
With these editing tips, you’ll be able to proof-read like a pro – and write like one too!
When you edit your work properly, you’ll be taken more seriously – and reach a wider audience.
And that’s what you’re here for, right?