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5 Tips For Editing Your Own Writing

Ryan Parlee

By Ryan Parlee

Even if you don’t have “copywriter” or “content” in your job title, everyone is a copywriter at some point in their career. If you’ve ever found yourself writing copy for any of your company’s marketing materials, or external communications (this could even be something as small as an email, or a tweet) you’ve put your writing skills to work. And when you write, you create the opportunity for a grammatical error or typo. It’s just something that comes with the territory.

Now, you’re probably not Bob Woodward working at the Washington Post armed with a whole team of professional copy editors. That would be pretty nice, but the reality is many small companies rely on strong editing and grammar skills. If you work for a company where you are the entire communication department, you may not have an editor at all. Keep in mind these five simple tips while you’re proofreading and editing your own writing:

  1. Read it yourself. Wait for a few hours and revisit it with fresh eyes. And then read it twice more. Print out a copy and read it on paper, not a screen, while making marks with a pen. Read the copy out loud, read it silently, read it in a box with a fox, read it wherever you want. But just make sure you read it thoroughly so you can catch any obvious typos.
  2. Use grammar and spelling software, but don’t get in the habit of relying on them. Software can be super helpful, but it can still miss mistakes, or suggest incorrect corrections.  Along with software, choose one of many style guides and be consistent. If you decide you are either pro or anti oxford comma, make a choice, make it standard, and consistently follow through. Remember to keep a stylebook handy. Style books are a great resource when you have questions about style and formatting.
  3. Create a personal checklist for things you tend to miss. Do you insert a lot of extra “thoughs” and “thats” as filler words? Or maybe you have certain words that you always misspell (see a list of common misspellings here).  Whatever your weakness is, get acquainted with it and double-check everything you write.
  4. Take your time. Proofreading and editing should be done slowly. You may be ready to press “publish” or send the work off, but at the very least, you need to read through it until you stop finding mistakes.
  5. Get another human being to read what you’ve written. Anyone with a pulse will do. Ok, maybe don’t be that desperate. But having someone else look over what you’ve written is always a good idea. Since your brain wrote the copy, chances are good you’ll still miss errors even while you’re proofreading it. Someone with a writing background is preferred to look at your writing, but the great thing about having someone else read your stuff is that they can easily tell you if something didn’t make sense, or catch an obvious typo your brain kept missing.

At the end of the day, you’re human. You will miss things in your own writing, and you will need to catch your errors and make graceful recoveries. Do you think J.K. Rowling wrote all of the Harry Potter books without missing a single error? Probably not. Even the New York Times, which is considered by some as the “gold standard” makes mistakes.

An old adage applies: “Great copy is not written, it is re-written.” Following these tips and taking simple measures to reduce errors is important for your credibility and for the quality of your communication.

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