Editing is a process.
“The first draft of anything is shit.”– Arnold Samuelson, quoting Ernest Hemingway (1984).
GETTING IT ALL OUT
LOAD ONTO GRAMMAR EDITOR
Load up Grammarly/Microsoft Word/Wordpress/Hemingway Editor/Slick Write/Paper Rater/After the Deadline/Edit Minion/Pro Writing Aid/Smart Edit/Word Rake and put your writing on that program. Many of these programs have certain Premium features and integrate with Microsoft Word and other processors, but the freemium versions spot the major errors.
Go through your sentences with a fine-toothed comb and one of these programs to fix spelling/grammar/flow mistakes. In fact, you should ideally use more than one of the above tools so that you do indeed catch all potential issues with your writing, just to be sure.
READ IT ALOUD (OR HAVE IT READ TO YOU ALOUD)
Read what you’ve written aloud. Or, use your computer’s text-to-speech to have it read your document aloud to you.
If you’re on iOS, here’s how you set up dictation.
HAVE OTHERS READ IT
Okay, so I should have really called this article “self(mostly)-editing” or something. But let’s be serious. Like anything worth doing, the best writers have people who will read/judge their work and tell them what makes no sense or is flat-out wrong. Ideally, you know one or more good writers who are willing to review your work. It’s better to be wrong in the drafting/editing stage than after you’ve published and your work is out there. The more eyes on your work the better at the start. Just like it’s hard to put shampoo back in the bottle after you’ve squirted it out, your writing is hard to take back once it’s in your audience’s hands/minds.
I’m on a journal, so I’m fortunate to have several great writers available and willing to comment on my writing. It’s important to seek out people who will provide you with constructive criticism. Online forums, user groups on LinkedIn, or other online communities are useful if you do not know anyone in person to read over your piece.
You should also seek out experts or close followers of whatever subject you’re writing about to review your writing. If you don’t know anyone in person, Reddit or other niche forums where those experts tend to congregate are good options. The great thing is that people online let you know very quickly when you’re wrong. You want that as a writer because it gets you to the truth more quickly. Sometimes the people online are wrong, and by responding to them, you’ll clarify your own points. You benefit either way, so seek criticism.
Finally, it’s not something I have tried personally, but if you’re willing, you can hire freelancers online to edit your work if you don’t have anyone else to read your work. Amazon MTurk and Upworkare are two ways to get another person to read your work, for a price. You could also check out Reddit.com/r/ForHire, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr.
PRINT IT OUT
It’s easy to miss things when you’ve been drafting and editing the same piece of text over and over on a screen. Printing on paper will help you spot some leftover errors. Try and only do this step once, though, for the environment’s sake.
Print out the text and go through your document line-by-line with a fine-toothed comb, looking for any misspellings, rogue commas, or any other edits you have missed up to this point. Ideally, you should have missed almost nothing at this point because you have reviewed and edited this draft several times over with the help of others. Don’t feel ashamed to make edits now, though. Mark the edits on your paper as you read through the print-out in a way that you will be able to understand later. Read through the paper twice if you need to catch all of the edits.
Then, make all of the changes in the document. Give it another once-over in your word processor, and at this point, I would say it’s ready to go to your audience!
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Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an associate attorney at Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland, a boutique firm that assists its clients in all manner of civil litigation. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.