When you finish the first draft of your writing project, the next step is to edit your work. The purpose Is to read for organization, flow, transitions, and as appropriate, to check that your information is accurate.
Following are some areas to focus on during your editing:
Overall Structure & Content
Do you have appropriate front-matter and back-matter? Is your theme dealt with consistently throughout the body of your work? Do your chapters flow in a logical sequence? Are their clear and smooth transitions between chapters?
Are important words and terminology clear and defined? Are there any unusual or foreign words? Are these defined, including pronunciation if necessary? Is each description clear? Is the meaning of each sentence and paragraph clear? (HINT: Try reading your work one sentence at a time, starting at the end and working toward the beginning; that way you won’t unconsciously fill in content from previous sentences.) Do all pronouns (e.g., he, she, they, which, etc.) have a clear reference?
Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence and contain one main subject? Is it clear how each paragraph is related to your theme? Does each paragraph have an effective number of sentences? Too many can be boring; too few can mean not supporting your point. Are the paragraphs arranged in a logical sequence? Have you made clear transitions between paragraphs?
Have you determined what voice or tone you want to use (e.g., formal, informal, academic, first person, third person, active, passive)? Have you been consistent in using that voice? Have you chosen how to deal with male and female pronouns (e.g., he/she, him/her, his/hers, chairman, chairwoman, chairperson)? Have you consistent in using your approach? What about the length and structure of your sentences? Have you chosen one style or have you varied it? Have you used a lot of “filler” words, expressions or phrases (e.g., Do to the fact that …)? Do you unknowingly have a favorite word or phrase that shows up too many times (e.g., like)?
References & Citations
Have you cited the sources, as appropriate, of any terminology, quotes, paraphrases, etc. that you used?
Some Useful Editing Tips
- Don’t edit as soon as you’re finished—Many authors look back at something they wrote a year or more previously and find errors they can’t believe slipped through. That’s because it’s hard to edit a project you’ve just finished. It’s a case of the forest and the trees. It’s still so familiar that you tend to miss a lot of mistakes. So, put the project away for a few days, or even a few weeks. Take a short writing sabbatical or vacation. When you come back to your project, it will be with a clear head. You’re then in a position to take a fresh and more objective look at what you wrote.
- PC edit or paper edit—What medium are you most comfortable using to edit? Do you prefer to work directly on the text on a PC, or are happier using a paper printout and a red pen?
- Reformat your work—Change the spacing (e.g., double to single or vice versa) so you see your project in a completely new way. That may help give you a fresh perspective on what you’ve written.
- Avoid distractions—Editing requires concentration. So find a quiet place where you can concentrate.
- Chunk your editing—Speaking of concentration, it’s almost impossible to edit anything but a short work in one sitting. So, edit your project in multiple short blocks of time.
- Find a professional editor—Whether you do an initial edit or not, it can be both time and cost effective to hire an editor. This person will read your work with fresh trained eyes, and can provide objective feedback.
As you edit your project, you’ll probably find things that need changing or that want to do differently. This will usually involve significant revisions to the organization, content and wording of your work. Especially be alert for error patterns, things you do repeatedly (e.g., spelling, punctuation, grammar). That way you can search for these and make many corrections easily. Editing is as much of an art as it is a science. While modern word processing software can spot many issues, nothing beats a good pair of human eyes for editing.
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