5 top tips for editing your own writing

Website or print copy that's full of typos and grammatical errors can make your work look unprofessional. Everyone, even the best writers in the world, mess up sometimes - so don't worry if you make mistakes. We're all human!

The best way to avoid errors going out is by having an experienced editor read over everything you publish, but that's not always an option. So our in-house writer and editor, Mel, has put together some top tips for editing your own work to help you avoid those unfortunate slip-ups.

Sign saying Wrong Way

1. Turn your spell-checker on

Most word-processing software has a built-in spell-checker. Microsoft Word and Pages both have these turned on as default, as does Google Docs. If you're using InDesign, you can turn your spell-checker on by going to InDesign / Preferences / Spelling. Make sure all the boxes in the 'Find' section are checked. Then in the 'Dynamic Spelling' section, check the box to Enable Dynamic Spelling.

Most WYSIWYG web copy editors have built-in spell-checkers too, including WordPress. If you're using one that doesn't, however, write your copy in a word processor such as Google Docs first. You can copy and paste your error-free text into your WYSIWYG editor - just make sure you strip all the formatting first.

Spell-checkers are honestly invaluable, and as a writer and editor I use them all the time. Don't buy into the myth that spell-checkers are only for people who don't write - professional writers use them too!

In most programs, spelling mistakes will be underlined with a wiggly red line, while grammatical mistakes and repeated words will be underlined with a wiggly green line. Beware: the grammatical algorithms are great but they're not always perfect. If you think you're right and the spell-checker is wrong, go with your gut.

A handy feature of most spell-checking software is that you can right-click on an underlined word and it will suggest alternative spellings and replace the word for you. Even when I know the correct spelling for a word I've typed incorrectly, I usually let the spell-checker replace it rather than editing it myself, as I could easily introduce a new mistake if I'm not careful.

As well as checking your spelling as you type, spell-checkers can run a thorough search on your finished document. Make sure you don't have any Lorem Ipsum placeholder text in your document when you run a search like this, as it will take forever to get through it!

Person holding a mini clock

2. Take your time

Most typos are introduced simply by people trying to bash stuff out quickly and not taking their time. A typo is when you know how to spell a word, but your fingers do something weird on the keyboard and it all comes out in the wrong order, missing letters or including random others.

A lot of spell-checkers are able to automatically correct letters in the wrong order as you type, but this can be an annoying feature if you're working with unusual or technical words, so I tend to turn this function off. Most typos will still be highlighted by the spell-checker, but some won't because they are actual legitimate words. For example, 'begin' and 'being'.

In these cases, taking your time is the only way to catch these errors. Only work at a pace that your typing skills allow.

Person reading a book

3. Read everything

Reading your work will help you to catch those sneaky typos that the spell-checker doesn't flag up. I read everything I've written at least 3 times. I not only catch loads of errors, I also figure out better ways to word things so that I can communicate my meaning more effectively.

The best way to evaluate your own work is to read it out loud, but that can be a bit embarrassing if there are lots of people around! If you can't do that, try and read it in your head in the voice of your favourite public speaker. Does it sound good? If not, rewrite it.

Someone writing a list

4. Make a list

Make a list of your most common typos. When you've finished writing your piece, use your program's search function to work through your list and eliminate them from your manuscript.

Never use the 'replace all' function! Imagine if you needed to replace the word 'organ' with 'piano' and you ran a 'replace all' search on a document that also included the word 'organisation'. That's right, you've invented pianoisation.

Lists can also be really helpful for making sure you're using consistent wording throughout a document. If you're writing a technical piece that needs to refer to the same thing again and again in exactly the same way, you can keep a list of technical terms, then search for occurrences of each term and make sure the wording is the same each time.

Person reading through work

5. Get someone else to read it

They don't have to be a professional editor. Sometimes just having a fresh pair of eyes can help you spot mistakes you've overlooked a hundred times. Your brain automatically corrects errors as you read them - it's just one of those clever things it does. Unfortunately, that means that you can read the same typo over and over and still not see that it's wrong.

Then you give your work to a colleague to read and they spot it immediately. Embarrassing! But it's just because you're too close to your own work.

definition of a dictionary

Other things worth trying

  • Use a dictionary. It may seem old-fashioned, but dictionaries really are the best resource when figuring out your spelling. This online dictionary also has a thesaurus function, which is an invaluable writing tool. There's even a grammar search function that will help you put together 'proper' sentences.

  • Only read things from good quality sources. It's easy to pick up bad spelling and grammar habits if you only read badly written pieces. Try to find sources that are more rigorously edited so that you can learn good writing practices.

  • Use Grammarly. This software is like an advanced spell-checker that interactively edits your work as you type. One of the best things about it is that you can plug it into all sorts of applications, including your email client, encouraging you write better everywhere.

I hope this helps you to iron out some of the creases in your own writing. If you'd like to find out how we can assist you with your written content, get in touch today!

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