No matter whether you’re just starting out as an author or you’ve been writing for years, revising your work is necessary to ensure that you present excellent work devoid of errors in terms of grammar and flow. To be successful at this, you’ll need to have a strategy—a guideline or plan for how you’ll go about this.
When you’re new to writing professionally, it’s easy to think that you can just get the words on the page and then send your work off to an admiring world. Heck, even if you understand the importance of revisions, you might not know how to go about it—after all, you haven’t developed the robust contacts, mentors, tools, and resources that more experienced writers have.
But revising, editing, and proofreading your work doesn’t have to be hard or stressful.
Here’s 17 key revision strategies ideal for beginner writers…though writers at any stage of their careers can benefit!
1. Understand It First
Before embarking on any editing, read your content first. If you start editing before going through it, you might have to go back and undo some of the revisions.
This can occur because you haven’t grasped the flow and style of your content yet, probably because you’re focused on looking for mistakes rather than understanding the content. Yes, you can actually miss the point of your own work—it’s easy to think you’ve said something you haven’t because you meant to say it, or to veer off in a direction that isn’t quite right for what you’re trying to accomplish.
Therefore, read the content first, then edit. Pretend that you’re a reader who’s never seen this piece before and look at it with fresh eyes.
Then and only then can you understand what needs to be done in your revision.
2. There’s a Difference between Editing and Proofreading
Editing is not about searching the text for typos and incorrectly placed punctuation marks. It’s all about strengthening the story, paragraphs, and sentences.
Editing is then followed by proofreading.
Even though it’s okay to do a little proofreading while editing, it’s important that you do a full revision focused on editing and then another one on proofreading.
3. Justify Yourself
Each statement, question, point, and word should have a reason for being in your content. If it does not have a reason to be there, simply get rid of it. If it does not add value to your writing, remove it.
Try this out sometime: take a piece of your writing and challenge yourself to slash 10% of the words. Just delete them.
Then go through and cut another 10%.
Then another 10%.
At the end of this exercise, you’ll have 30% fewer words—but you should have the same meaning. Your piece will be leaner, more concise, and more clearly effective.
Do this a few times with various short stories, articles, blog posts, or other writing and you’ll start to get a sense of where your crutch words pop in and how you can streamline your writing to be more effective from the start.
4. Read Slowly and Out Loud
The most important part of editing and proofreading is reviewing each word and looking at your written work at the word, sentence, and paragraph levels.
You should have the capacity to assess the whole document or manuscript to check for readability and flow. This implies that you’ll need to go over each piece several times.
To isolate yourself from your content so that you can better assess it, read it slowly and out loud—we catch many issues when we change modes, and you’ll notice things when speaking your work aloud that you might have glossed over when reading silently.
You’ll come across many small errors and typos through this strategy, and be able to vastly improve the cadence of your writing.
5. Pay Close Attention to Formatting
In an applied sense, formatting is different from editing. However, both are important for ensuring that your work is presented professionally, so paying attention to consistency and common standards in both helps to put your work in the best possible light.
Formatting includes things like font (size, bold, italics, etc.), indentations, and paragraph and line spacing. For example, chapter titles and subheadings ought to have the same font and spacing, while references ought to be formatted with consistency.
6. Edit On-Screen and Track Changes
In the past, many editors and writers swore by the printed page. However, today, it’s not the ideal way of editing—digital tools make it possible to edit faster and more efficiently with a computer.
If you begin to edit on-screen, you’ll get used to this format and, thus, you’ll find it easier than marking up print, which can be tedious and require multiple transfers of information from screen to paper back to screen, in addition to being environmentally damaging from all that paper use.
Learn to use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function (under Review > Track Changes) to show what you’ve changed in a document. This is especially handy if you decide to work with a professional editor, so that you can both see what changes are being made or suggested and so you can learn from the experience to make your next piece even better.
After revising, go through and look at every edit and then accept or decline these changes. This is an incredibly powerful double approach to editing: once to make the changes and then to approve them.
7. Run Spelling and Grammar Checks First
Before editing, run spell-check and utilize your word processing program’s grammar checking tool or try a tool like Grammarly. Automated checkers mostly don’t catch everything; however, they can catch many of the obvious mistakes. Eventually, you’ll have more time and energy to conduct manual editing.
Moreover, you can utilize the find-and-replace feature, which enables you to quickly find or replace an error that occurs multiple times.
8. Ensure You’re Not Distracted
When it’s time to revise, close all browser windows that you’re not using and sign out of all your social media accounts. Put your mobile phone in silent mode, or simply turn it off.
If you are used to writing while listening to music or watching TV, turn them off when you want to edit your content—set up an environment where you can truly focus on just the words in front of you.
If you really have a hard time focusing when on a computer, you can even print your work, go somewhere to make physical corrections, and then go back to your device to make the necessary adjustments later. You might also try a program that blocks certain sites while you’re working, like RescueTime.
By removing distractions, you’ll be better able to really engage with your revisions and polish your work to the best it can be.
9. Use Specific Language
Many readers like specifics—they bring characters and settings to life, allowing readers to visualize them in greater detail.
In writing, specifics can be found in the details that you incorporate. General phrases like “she was a wonderful lady” should be avoided. Rather, specify what exactly makes that lady wonderful.
Be careful with too much detail, though—think about what’s really necessary to describe things. For instance, that wonderful lady might be sweet, kind, gentle, witty, and run a shelter for lost raccoons. But do we need to know that she’s 5’4”, weighs 122 pounds, and has a birthmark on her left cheek? Maybe…but we don’t need to be told all of these things in one sentence like that.
Intersperse details like this throughout your descriptions of your characters and settings to help draw the reader in, rather than “infodumping” everything all at once.
10. Do Away with Excessive Adverbs
Adverbs are important, as they are used to modify verbs. However, most beginner writers tend to use too many adverbs when trying to describe something.
Keep in mind that when encountering adverbs, readers must relate them back to the verb’s meaning. When readers do this too many times, it becomes irritating. Therefore, adverbs need to be used sparingly.
It’s enough to say “He ran quickly to the front office.” You don’t need to go so far as saying “He ran quickly to the front office, rapidly hustling to make it there in time, fleetly.”
11. Pay Attention to Flow and Comfort
Long passages are usually difficult for readers to read. Including one or two long sentences is fine; the same goes for long paragraphs. However, a succession of them might frustrate the reader.
It becomes difficult to follow what an author is saying if sentences run on for too long—if you want your sentences to be clear, keep them shorter than 15 words. Use ideas from descriptive essay topics to help you.
Similarly, it’s best to keep your paragraphs on the shorter side. Paragraphs that take up half a page or more are very difficult for readers to keep up with, and you may lose their interest even if you’re writing a gripping scene!
12. Look For Supporting References and Resources
Once you’ve settled on and written about a topic, you need to make sure that your content includes any relevant references and resources that you found while researching. These references give your content authority and credit.
However, you should ensure that they are legitimate sources with current and accurate information. Always double-check your sources and citations to be sure that they’re valid and accurate, so that you’re not repeating incorrect information and thereby doing your readers a disservice.
13. Know Your Common Mistakes
Most writers, if not all, have their personal set of natural, habitual mistakes—even the most experienced ones.
At times, most writers don’t concentrate on punctuation and spelling. It’s good to allow your ideas to flow and get everything on the page first, then proofread after.
Once you start to notice your recurring errors, you can start to correct them during the writing process naturally.
14. Sleep On It
If you’ve been living with a manuscript for a while, you might lose objectivity. But you need to have a clear and objective mind whenever you want to edit and proofread.
One approach to getting that state of mind is to sleep on it. It’s not advisable to edit and proofread everything in one day.
Have a good night’s sleep and go back to your manuscript the following day. Even when dealing with that short document that you finished writing within a couple of hours, look at it again the following day. You will be able to locate all the errors easily when you have a little space.
15. Be Consistent in Your Changes
At times, writers make changes to some sections of their content while editing. For instance, they might replace short dashes with long dashes for the first 10 pages and afterward leave the short dashes for the rest of the content.
Remember to be consistent with any changes you make. If you alter the style of something on page 3, ensure you make the same adjustments on page 30.
16. Try Reading in Reverse
In some instances, you might have heard about reading in reverse to assist with proofreading. This mostly works by helping you circumvent your mind’s inclination to fill in what it expects to see, enabling you to spot spelling mistakes and missing words that you might otherwise overlook.
This is futile, however, with regards to content, where meaning comes from the various phrases and order of words. Rather, read from back to front, from one sentence to another (or perhaps from one paragraph to another) to ensure that every sentence and passage is coherent internally—that is, it makes sense on its own.
17. Proofread Your Content Slowly
While proofreading, you might be inclined to rush since you feel that you are about to finish. However, that is a big mistake. Despite the fact that you can see the end coming, it’s advisable to read slowly. That implies seeing each word and processing every sentence. Consider going through the sentences twice to be sure.
By systematically applying these strategies, you’ll be able to clearly assess, correct, revise, and improve your work, from the shortest blog post to the most complex novel or nonfiction project.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either—self-editing is an amazing thing, but even the best and most experienced writers rely on professional editors and proofreaders to help them polish their work to be the best it can be.
The key is being willing to learn, grow, and revise at every stage of the writing process. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and tackle your writing again a second time, through revisions, and you’re well on your way to writing success!
For more on editing and refining your writing, read on!
- How to Self-Edit: Tips to Improve Your Manuscript, Save Time, and Be a Better Writer
- How to Find an Editor for Your Book with Step-by-Step Instructions
- Understanding the Different Types of Editing