Editing tips to improve your writing

The first rule of writing is to just write, the second rule of writing is to reflect, the third rule of writing is to try to understand what the hell you have written and the fourth rule of writing is to edit and make sense.

Just recently I was asked how to get a rough first draft into final copy and I was stumped. Stumped because writing and editing has become an unconscious competence, which basically means I just do it.  And I bet if you ask any writer the same question they will have to think what their process actually is.

So…  here are some of the processes I go through, though not necessarily in this order…

Have an editing plan

The editing plan is my list of things I must remember to do.

editing plan


Have a change log

When you find something that needs changing make a note.

change log


Refer to your outline

I put mine up where I can see it and keep asking, am I following the plan? Have I answered the questions?

Book outline


Format your work for clarity and flow

Now… I am the sort of writer who sets up her workspace (page size, style sheets etc.) before she starts, so this is the easy bit.  If you are the kind of writer who opens up a blank document and just writes, now is the time for you to format your work.  This means putting all of the headings and formatting the main body.

Format your document


Turn on the navigation pane and rulers

This really helps you to see where you are and how the document flows. It’s the outline on the left.

WORD navigation paneWhat, why, how and what if

Does the text answer all the questions you think it should?

Highlight questions / answers

What questions does this chapter answer? Go through and highlight the text which answers the questions.
questions and answers

Start to make sense of your writing

Read, reflect, annotate, mark up, delete, decide, rewrite etc.



There is so much more…

Word checks

  • Small words – It, so, or, of
  • Sound like – Their and there – Your and you’re
  • Consistency
  • Overused words
  • Make a list of no no words – search & replace


  • Pick different words, try them for size
  • Be careful that your new word makes sense


  • Don’t start sentences the same way
  • Mix up long and short sentences
  • Highlight parts – use bold – put quotes in italics

Analogies / stories

  • Do they make sense?
  • Are they in context?
  • Are they consistent?

Share with others

  • Take it in turns to read aloud
  • Can you follow?
  • Does it make sense?

Slash redundancies

  • Cut and slash
    • WORDS
  • If it doesn’t make sense get rid of it
  • Move it to where it does make sense

Spell and grammar checker

  • Check for different things – just spelling, just grammar, grammar and style, etc.

Check the steps

  • Do they make sense

And there is even more

But this is where we stop for now. You could of course consider a professional copy editor to scrutinise your work…

Good luck.




19 Replies to “Editing tips to improve your writing”

  1. Thank you for this great bit of advice! Writing is the easy part, it’s the editing that is hard. Making the work make sense, rewriting, deleting, rearranging…it’s mind boggling!

  2. Loved the topic of this post because I needed it badly!!! It is so hard to stay focused on the how and why you’re writing after you’ve been doing it for a while. So thank you for this outline. I’m taking notes. 🙂

  3. Awesome help and advice. Will print this off… Do you write with a pen and paper or keyboard to get the initial words down while ‘in flow’ …

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your editing tips. I don’t have a plan but I should. Each time I correct my writing I always find something I missed.

  5. Oy oy oy. When I was an English and writing tutor in college, I always told students exactly what you say here.

    And guess who doesn’t follow her own advice?

    I really need to get back into doing this.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jacqui!

    1. The thing is Angie all of this is what we learn in school, we just forget and it becomes part of the overall noise of being there. It’s only when we concentrate on the one subject our writing do we bother to try and improve it. I am learning all the time. Or is that re-learning.

  6. I enjoyed this post. Like you, I’d have to think about the steps and was pleased to realise, as I went through the post, that I do actually do them! As you know, editing is a particular love of mine which perhaps makes me a little odd. It does mean that I enjoy something that other people don’t tend to. I’m also big on planning and am always telling people – tutorial students, clients, people in the street – that the more you plan, the more fun and the easier your writing tends to be. On the other hand, there always has to be some flexibility as the act of writing itself tends to bring up ideas, amendments and clarifications which need to find a home. Thank you for a really practical and thought-provoking post.

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