Writers around the world agree... it's nearly impossible to edit your own writing. We tend to fall in love with our words the moment they burst onto the screen and, as you know, love is blind.
Obviously a professional proofreader/copy editor is the ideal solution. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village of helpers to nurture a masterpiece like the one you're writing. But what if you can't afford it or you're under deadline pressure with no time for a second opinion? This is not a happy situation, but in a pinch you can edit your own material. Here's how:
- After you've finished the piece and spell-checked it, give it a rest. Wait as long as you can -- sleep on it, if possible -- before coming back and proofing it for errors you missed the first time. Re-read it at least ten times. Then read it backwards, last sentence to first.
- Be ruthless. Whittle convoluted thoughts down into the fewest words without losing the meaning. For example, "She received the support of 21 senators among those senators who were present for the vote" becomes, "Twenty-one senators voted for her."
- Root out passive statements and flip them into active ones. Your Microsoft Word spell checker has a feature that will tell you how many passive sentences are in a document. It even tells you what grade level your piece is written for. Hint: Aim as low as possible - below grade eight if you can. (To activate this feature, check the box beside "show readability statistics" on the Spelling and Grammar options page).
One idea per sentence, please. You will immediately understand why when you read the following lead from a published news story:
"Carlos Manuel Geronimo Alfonseca, one of the supposedly confessed authors of the murder of the Senator, told journalists at the New City courthouse when he was being taken back to his cell after being questioned by Judge Nelson Rodriguez on the day of his hearing that he was not the person who wore the mask when the Senator was killed." Come again?
- Check the math. In economics stories especially, it's easy to drop a zero and even easier to duplicate somebody else's mistakes.
- Double check for double meanings. For example, the following site description recently turned up in an ad for casinograpevine.com: "The Casino News Portal for Women that Men Can't Resist!" So it's a portal for women who are irresistible to the opposite sex or... ?
- Keep an eagle eye open for the little oopsy-daisies we all make. Typing "you" instead of "your" is a common one. So is using "that" instead of "who". Example: "All the people THAT proofread their stories carefully win Pulitzer Prizes."
- Find out what style manual/guidelines are used by the publication you're writing for and be sure your piece agrees with them.
- Now do the first item on this list again. I can't tell you how many times I've caught my own bloopers or found a better way to phrase something on the 15th or 20th pass!
So that's how, in an emergency, you can do your own editing. Sure, working without an editor can have its upside. It means never having to say, "You messed with my art, you creep!" But the downside is that you will probably overlook mistakes that the "village" would have caught.
Whenever possible, get a talented friend or a professional editor or even an English major to lend an eyeball. Believe me, they aren't nearly as in love with your words as you are!