Improve your writing with these self-editing techniques

Self-editing helps you become a better writer. Being able to transform average writing into great content takes time and practice, but as you learn to edit, you’ll better understand your writing strengths and weaknesses.

Better editor = Better writer

Use the editing tips below for your next writing project.

Identify a style guide

A style guide keeps you on track with standard rules to improve written communication through consistency. It includes rules on subjects like punctuation, visual composition, and citing sources. Look for the style guide that your field or department most commonly uses. If you’re working on a piece for publication, check your target journal’s website for a guide.

Tackle one thing at a time

Improving a large piece of writing like a thesis, capstone, dissertation, or journal article can become daunting. It’s easy to miss potential changes after looking at your writing so many times. To combat this fatigue, tackle one thing at a time. During your first read through, check to see if your ideas flow logically. In the next, look at sentence structure. With your final read through, check for those pesky homonym spelling mistakes that spellcheck misses.

Keep it simple

Jargon happens, especially in the research world. To make your writing more accessible to those outside of your field, define jargon and limit your use of it. Ask yourself if there are places in your writing where you can skip the jargon and use lay person language to describe something.

Remove uncertain language

Wishy-washy language weakens your message and makes you sound indecisive. Cut out unnecessary filler words and phrases, such as like, kind of, sort of, maybe, perhaps, and might. By cutting out these words and phrases, you’ll more clearly convey your idea or argument. Otherwise you will sound like a slick real estate agent trying to avoid stating something wrong with an apartment directly.

Avoid passive voice

Weakened writing also shows up in the use of passive voice. Passive voice makes it unclear who or what is performing the action in the sentence. A general rule for detecting the passive voice is the Zombie Test. If you can add “by zombies” after the verb, then the sentence is in passive voice.

Practice variety

Academic writing is more structured and straightforward than flowery prose and poetry, but it can still have life and rhythm. One way to achieve this is to create variety in your writing. Changing sentence and paragraph lengths, word choice, and sentence starters keeps your readers engaged.

For more self-editing guidance, the library periodically offers a Self-Editing Workshop. You can look for upcoming workshops and classes offered by the library on our calendar.

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