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How Can I Improve my Editing Skills?

Editing skills will get better the more they're practiced.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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Writing a paper, blog, report or memo is only half the battle. Many people consider a document finished when they have reached the end of their thoughts. However, evidence to the contrary shows that most written documents could benefit from enhanced editing skills. In fact, editing is the other half of writing. Good editing skills can give your written words a more finished and professional feel.

One can improve editing skills by keeping a pocket style manual near your writing space. Such manuals often include common grammatical mistakes, lists of words that are easily confused like “affect/effect,” and pointers on punctuation. Many word processing programs also have grammar programs available, which may point out obvious mistakes or spelling errors.

While these programs may be initially helpful, they sometimes err. Spellchecking programs often mistake words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. So on such words like their/there or it’s/its, be certain to choose the correct spelling. Don’t rely only on spelling and grammar checkers to proof your writing; instead resort to a style manual if necessary to put the suggested changes to an editing skills test.

Further, editing skills often improve when people read their papers aloud to someone else. Alternately, another person can read a paper to you. Reading should be done slowly so that one can catch missing words and typos. Many find that reading aloud to yourself is not quite as productive, because your mind may naturally fill in missing words or overlook typos.

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If you cannot read your work aloud to someone else, then read the paragraphs out of order. Alternately, read each sentence starting from the bottom of your work, and work backwards. This process halts the brain from filling in the blanks because the sentences are read out of context. This can be an excellent exercise for improving editing skills.

If you find your grammar is consistently lacking, consider improving your editing skills by working through a grammar textbook. This can be particularly helpful if you purchase a teacher’s manual, since you will have access to the answers. It is never too late to learn to improve grammar. Taking a writing class is also an excellent option, and can be accomplished with little expense at the community college level.

Also, most people who seem to have a natural “feel” for grammar and for editing have this because they are readers. Reading the work of others, particularly in the same style that you must emulate, can help one develop this feel. Though editing skills may be harder to master for some people, they are not impossible. It just may require work to help one enhance editing skills.

A few tips for improving editing skills are the following:
1. Know or possess a list of the most commonly misspelled words.
2. Avoid using commas to separate two independent phrases, called comma splicing.
3. Avoid using the verb to be, which is called passive construction.
4. Strive for clarity by avoiding complicated words.
5. Vary sentence length.
6. Know a paragraph should work out one idea only.
7. Clearly state your central idea at the beginning of paragraphs.
8. When possible, let someone else read your work aloud to you, and comment on your work.

As one improves editing skills, one learns that writing is a process that really never ends. In fact, most good writers and editors will look at their own work and think about ways they could have changed it. Perfection in writing is nearly impossible. Good editing skills won’t make your writing perfect, but they can make writing clearer. Ultimately, for most writing tasks, clearly stating your points, and minimizing grammar and spelling errors are the highest objectives.

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