5 Simple Ways To Self-Edit Your Writing

steps to writing an essay

Editing your work is one of the most important steps to writing an essay! Create your checklist using these tips from Woburn, MA teacher Belynda C...


Editing is not simply about typos. There are many steps to writing an essay between the initial preparation, research, writing, and finally editing and proofreading your finished work. While proper spelling and grammar are important, there are other aspects to polished prose that need your attention. Some of these items include repetitive words, commonly misused/confused words, missing words, and issues of style and formatting.

Your Personal Top 10 List

Variety is the spice of life; it’s also the spice of engaging essays. Despite this, every writer (including me!) has a list of words that seem to pop up more often than others. Singling out overused words is a great way to make your writing appear more finished. Look through your current essay as well as your past writing. Most writers can identify five to 10 words that appear too often in their work. One good way to spot them is to use the search function in your word processor. If you see an adjective or a verb more than twice while reading, pop it into your search field to see how many times it occurs throughout your document. You can do this for multiple documents, and keep a list of your heavy hitters. That way, you can search for this list of words in any new writing as a first step to your editing process.

Check Against A List Of Common Word Issues

Some grammatical errors just keep turning up. No matter how many times we see humorous posts on Facebook, errors like their/there/they’re and your/you’re continue to plague us. These kinds of mistakes can instantly detract from your essay and ding your credibility. To avoid this issue, build a check system into your editing for common mistakes, and you’ll catch far more than you would by just skimming over the page.

Read Out Loud

To best catch your mistakes, rely on your ears instead of your eyes. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to identify all manner of errors and omissions in your writing. The reason is simple: the human brain was doing auto-correct long before your iPhone made it popular. It achieves this trick by recognizing patterns that commonly occur in written language. It then irons out the kinks as you read. Unfortunately, this means you most likely won’t see the minor errors (or “nits”) in your work—but you will hear them. Reading out loud requires you to analyze and verbalize each word in the sentence—a far slower (but more thorough) process than reading it “in your head.” Some word processing programs will even read documents aloud, so you can truly check your work with fresh ears!

Use A Style Guide

Depending on your subject matter, your essay should adhere to one of several style guides issued by various publishers. These guides cover everything from hyphenation to proper citation of sources. Some of the most common style guides are the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, and the American Psychological Association (APA) Stylebook.

A Fresh Set Of Eyes

When in doubt, hand it out. Find a sharp-eyed peer editor to read over your essay. This could be a writing tutor, or even a friend or family member. Outside readers take in written information more slowly because they are analyzing the material as they read. Thus, they will catch mistakes that you may have missed. The more important the essay, the more “guest editors” you should employ. Find a few people you trust, have them read the work, and ask them to mark up changes or suggestions to incorporate.

In making sure you cover the many steps to writing an essay, you can save a lot of time in revisions—and a lot of frustration by avoiding missed punctuation or skipped words.

Still need help? Find a tutor in your area, or check out these additional resources for improving your writing. Enjoy!

Belyndaelynda C. teaches writing and knitting in Woburn, MA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University, and has extensive experience in writing fiction, literary non-fiction, and freelance writing for clients. Learn more about Belynda here! 


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