Even though I have written hundreds of research papers, dozens of articles, numerous book chapters and dozen books I still find it a challenge to write things so that they are free of errors. I enjoy the writing part but hate editing because it is so hard. However, editing is an essential skill which distinguishes excellent writers from the average ones. You may spend many more hours getting a piece of work right than writing it.
I use the following tips to help me edit work so that it is of a good standard.
1. When you are writing do not edit. This is hard to do because you always get tempted to go back and correct the sentence, the spellings, grammar and use alternative words. You may go back and delete whole sentences or paragraphs. You must resist the temptation to edit when you are writing. Keep writing at a steady pace and move ahead.
2. Once you have written the first draft then let it rest for a few days. Build this time into the schedule. Go do something else or write something different. Editing requires a different mindset to writing. Writing requires creativity and must flow.
By putting your work aside for a few days you will look at it with a fresh mind. You will come up with new ideas, you’ll spot things that don’t fit, you’ll see holes in the work, etc. You’ll notice the inconsistencies and errors. Essentially you’ll see the bigger picture and spot issues.
3. Read your work on paper or screen in a different colour or font or format. I like to print out the work and edit things on paper. I find it easier to see things on paper and I can write on the pages in different colour. You might want to use new devices such as e-readers.
It is useful to see your work in the format that it will appear when it is published. You might want to look at it full screen with minimum of distraction on the screen. The preview function is useful. Things will stand out. For example, you’ll notice paragraphs that are too short or sentences that are far too long. You will notice typographical errors
4. First of all get the structure and content right. Get the big picture or story right. Don’t start by editing each sentence. Some people start doing that and then cutting out huge chunks. The sentences might be perfect but the flow suffers.
Check that all the points are mentioned, chapter and section headings are consistent. Add in any missing information. Perhaps you want to add another section. Revise sections that need changing. Check figures, tables, captions and references. Check the format against instructions given in the guidelines for authors.
You should do the major rewrites, cut parts out and rearrange before you start to work on individual sentences.
5. Cut out extra words once you are happy with the broad shape of the work. Aim for simplicity. Your purpose is to communicate with the reader. Don’t write to impress but to communicate with clarity.
Look for repetition and cut it out.
Get rid of wishy washy phrases such as “in my opinion” or “I think that it is”.
Cut out unnecessary adjectives for example “Mohammed said in a very load manner” instead say “Mohammed shouted”
6. Use the technology available but also use your eyes and ears. Always spell check and grammar check the writing. Don’t rely exclusively on spell check because the word might be spelt correctly but it is the wrong word. Read your work loudly – often the ears can pick up what the eyes don’t see.
7. Often you become so familiar with your work your brain reads what it wants rather than what is written. A good method to edit your work is to read it backwards. It also useful to slow down when your are reading what you have written. Use a pencil or pen to read slowly pointing to every word. Make the font bigger if you are doing that on the screen. Use full screen option which make it easier to read on the computer screen
8. No matter how much time I have spent on a piece of work I always feel it can be improved. At some point you have to let it go. You will get to a point where you will be putting commas in and taking them out or changing a word and then going back to the original work. You might rewrite the introduction and then change it back. You have to let go and send your work into the world and get it published. Perfection is impossible to achieve. Read the published work and take the lessons into the next piece or work and make it better.