How to edit your own work

The phrase Always Check For Spelling Errors on a cork notice board, typed with deliberate spelling mistakes as a concept for ensuring business documents and correspondence are checked for errors.

This one is for everyone. I mean it – we all write emails for work and pleasure, reports, invitations, small business newsletters, website copy, design ideas for clients, brochures, tenders, essays, reviews, letters to teachers, complaints to corporations, blog posts etc. And whether we’re talking about a Good Reads review or a tender for a 1.4 million dollar deal or coordinating the next family weekend away, we are all writing to communicate.

Clear, concise language which expresses exactly why you are the best person for the job or the details of the next school function or why your organisation offers the best services enables you to present your best self, your dazzling research skills, your most convincing arguments, your best creative ideas or showcase your fabulous resources.

Editing your own work is tough. We know what we want to say, so it’s hard to review our own writing because sometimes what we read are our thoughts, not necessarily what is on the page.

Here are my top 7 tips for editing your own writing:

  1. Write your first draft and then put it aside for at least a day, if not longer.
  2. Read your writing aloud. Slowly. Listen for any unnecessary words or words that have been left out. If you stumble on a phrase, check it again and rewrite if necessary.
  3. Ask yourself – who is my audience? Yes, it sounds like you are back at school, but if you have a picture in your mind of who you are writing for, you will communicate with more authenticity and directness. Is it your family, deciding who is bringing which salad to dinner? Is it one specific client, who has specific needs or is it a general audience who may stumble across your website? Is it your manager or is it the whole division? This makes a difference.
  4. Decide on the purpose of your writing. Yes, another schoolish tip but it’s important. Are you trying to convince your manager to change an aspect of your workload? Do you want to persuade your child’s school to spend money in a certain direction? Do you want to convince a health spa that your massage voucher should be honoured, even if it is four days overdue? Are you explaining to a government department why your business has the necessary resources to run their new program? What is it you are trying to communicate?
  5. Work out your tone. Are you being friendly, trying to organise wayward family members into bringing three different types of dessert for the long weekend celebration? Are you being a voice of authority, directing readers to concrete information? Are you trying to convince your manager with research and arguments? Are you opting for a friendly yet persuasive tone in your newsletter to encourage your clients to sign up for another service?
  6. Delete any words like ‘actually’ or ‘just’. Consider these examples – ‘I was just hoping you could maybe think about reducing my work hours.’ Really? You’re hoping or you’re not hoping. There’s no ‘just.’ Think about this one – ‘Actually, I had an idea for a new venue for the school Easter lunch/work function/family reunion.’ Really? You actually had an idea about this? Do not sell yourself short. Women, in particular, are prone to adding in these justifying or diluting words. Tara Mohr has a fabulous post on this.
  7. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Use your dictionary! You want your audience to receive your message clearly – poor spelling and punctuation can dilute your message and distract your reader.

And of course, these tips can be watered down for kids as well. Never too early to start communicating clearly!

If you find this post useful, I would be grateful if you could pass this on to others via Facebook, Twitter or email.

11 comments

  1. I think what you have stated is vital. Vagueness is irritating. Suggestions, instructions and ideas clearly expressed make life so much easier.

  2. ‘Just’, ‘actually’, ‘really’ – I am often knocking those out of my blog posts!They creep in as I write as if I am talking to a friend (keeping my audience in mind!) but they do need to be eliminated in the final product. I do like to proof read everything, including my texts. Oh the horror when I realise I’ve pressed ‘send’ and not seen an inappropriate auto correct!

    1. I think we all need to forgive ourselves the odd typo or auto-response, Carolyn. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one deleting my own ‘really’ and ‘just’ – once you’re aware of it, it is easier to cut out.

  3. ohhh I love these tips.

    I love the idea of writing something and sitting on it for a day . Patience is something I need to work on and this list is fantastic.

    thanks Karen !

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