Rereading past press releases and promotional copy can cause many to blush in embarrassment as self-edited writing is often rife with errors and awkward sentence structures. Copyediting is it’s own art, but you don’t need to master the craft to ensure your correspondence is clean.
When I edit documents for clients, I catch out-of-place words, inconsistencies and other errors, but there are steps you can take to edit your own day-to-day writing. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing just about anything:
1. Let it breathe
The simplest way to catch any errors you make is to finish writing and walk away. Go have lunch, work on a different project or take a short walk outside. Just get your mind off what you wrote for at least 10 minutes, although if time allows, try going a whole day without looking at your writing. With fresh eyes, you will more easily catch the typos, the awkward phrases and anything you may have forgotten.
2. Read it out loud
Speaking what you write will help you find sentences that need improvement, as poorly phrased paragraphs will stand out when spoken aloud. Quietly whisper the words back to yourself to spot any odd sentences. This will also help you catch words that are spelled correctly but do not match the context of the sentence.
3. Go backwards
Start at the end of your document and work your way back to the top, word by word. Removing the flow of each sentence from the equation will help you find errors that you would otherwise just be glossed over. Spell check can’t catch everything!
4. Don’t expect perfection in the first draft
Nobody’s first draft is perfect. A draft’s main purpose is to allow the writer to put down all the ideas swimming in her head, while the rewriting phase is designed to organize and clarify.
5. Stay in the active voice
This is an old adage that remains true. Passive voice is boring and rips the excitement from any sentence. A tell-tale sign of the passive voice is “by,” although passive phrases can exist without it. For more details, review this handout from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.