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9 Simple Tips To Better Editing

9 Simple Tips To Better Editing

Photo Credit: Olivander via Compfight cc

I finished writing my soon-to-be-released book a couple of days ago and it’s currently undergoing comprehensive editing.

While that happens, there are some vital editing tips I’ve learnt and that I’m applying to the book. As I go through the stages of the editing, I find that the book improves gradually and tremendously.

So today, I want to share with you, those simple but very effective editing tips that you should always apply to your writing.

#1: Leave it for some time

You might not know, or you might know and downplay its importance, but taking a break from writing and returning at some other time refreshed, to edit it can do your work a whole lot of good. It can make you a better, less subjective critic of your own work. I’ve tried it several times and it works magic each time. I’ve heard many veteran writers also say they use it.

#2: Read your essay over again

Once you return to your essay, you should first read it over to get a clear picture of it. You may think this is basic, but re-reading your essay will make you realize what ideas you eventually wrote and which ones you did not due to their relevance and space constraints.

#3: Print your work to edit

I don’t know why this is so, but you won’t see some errors on your computer screen even if you read your essay many times. Hence, having your essay in hard copy for editing is better. Also, reading it aloud can reveal some errors you might otherwise miss.

#4: Revise your content

Editing isn’t just about checking for misspellings or grammatical errors. Those are part of it, but before you focus on those, you need to edit for content. Two major things you should work on are to:

  • Supply missing information: A missing date or name or ideas not adequately developed, etc.
  • Cut out redundant information: Superfluous adjectives and adverbs, acronyms lengthened many times, repetitive sentences, duplicated points, etc. For instance, it’s redundant to use any of “reverse back,” “fellow colleagues,” “stand up,” “sit down,” “enter inside,” “white teeth,” etc.

This revision makes your essay detailed without being superfluous. You should however be mindful of the minimum and maximum word count specified. Not even by a single word should you go outside this.

#5: Revise your essay structure

See how compliant your essay is with your outline, determine ideas that need to change positions, where you need to put a sub-heading, etc.

#6: Vet your diction and tone

If your topic looks like an academic essay, check whether your language is formal or technical enough. If it’s more of a creative essay, check whether your style is chatty and conversational enough.

Remember you’re not writing a purely academic essay. Neither are you writing a purely creative essay. It’s usually a blend between both. And the essay contest guidelines should tell you where to tilt.

In any case, you should write to communicate, not to please anyone. Avoid unnecessary complexities and vocabulary. Only use compound sentences, big sounding or technical words if unavoidable. Simplicity beautifies your writing. Ernest Hemingway, renowned for his uncommon simplicity of diction counsels that “big emotions [don’t] come from big words.”

I add that:

If you write to impress, your writing will be bad. But if you write to express, your writing will be impressive. [Tweet that]

#7: Check your voice

As a rule, you should never use a passive voice whenever you can use an active voice conveniently. The major difference between both is the positions of the subject and the verb. When you make the subject active, coming before the verb, you have an active voice. By contrast, when you make the subject dormant or passive, coming after the verb, then you have a passive voice.

Using the active voice helps you achieve brevity, reduce the use of weak words like “by,” “is,” “am,” “are,” “were,” “being,” “the,” “of,” etc. that decrease the strength of your concrete nouns, powerful verbs, and vivid adjectives. For instance:

  • I wrote this book to help writers (active voice) – 7 words
  • This book was written by me to help writers (passive voice) – 9 words

#8: Check your spellings and grammar

Except otherwise stated, you’re at liberty to choose British English or American English. You must however be consistent with the one you’ve chosen. You can use a dictionary like the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary which has a ‘reference section’ setting out the distinctions between both variants.

You can also set which one your word processor should use. But don’t rely completely on it as it may sometimes suggest wrong words or fail to spot errors. You should pay particular attention to:

  • Homophones: Such as you’re and your; they’re, there and their; see and sea; cite, sight and site, etc.
  • Apostrophes: Such as in “it’s” (it is) and “its;” “she’ll” (she will) and “shell;” “he’ll” (he will) and “hell;” “I’ll” (I shall) and “ill,” etc. Note that possessive pronouns don’t take an apostrophe: “his,” “hers” and “its.”

#9: Get an extra pair of eyes

I don’t mean you should buy it at your local store (well you can do that if you wish). You can get help from fellow writers or, if you have a budget, a professional editor.

Question: Do you know other editing tips I’ve not covered in this piece? Consider sharing them with me in the comments.

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-- Dr. Mahfouz A. Adedimeji | Fulbright scholar | Senior Lecturer, Unilorin | newspaper columnist

About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.


  1. Because you share your knowledge for the benefit of mankind Alighty Allah will continue to increase you in knwlege. May you live long.

  2. Many thanks Basheer. I appreciate your prayers.

  3. Tohir Olaitan says:

    Thanks for d advice well worded. I gain 4rm it

  4. Adebayo Jamiu Oluwashina says:

    May the good Lord continue to enrich and strenghten your source. You are an inspiration to many including myself.
    Ride on.

  5. Great work Abdullahi! Your zeal and unquenchable enthusiasm in writing pricks my literary conscience. To say you’re a challenge to most of us[authors and writers] is an understatement! The manner in which you write and share your knowledge is quintessential to breathing.

    I’m also an editor and a writer. I edit novels, short stories, essays and articles for publication. In this article, you’ve hit the nail…
    But I’d like to add my meagre quota to it.

    *I’ve learnt from experience that one of the best time you have as a writer to be audience-conscious is during editing. After you’ve written you work, coming back to edit it will sure leave you with such questions as:
    *why am I writing this?
    *who am I writing this for?
    * what you I intend to achieve by writing this? etc.
    These questions will arouse your consciousness for your audience and ensure that they’re put into full consideration. It makes you ‘chisel’ your words and sentences and ‘scrub’ them to suit your ‘guests’.

    *As a motivational speaker and coach, I’m into ‘speech engineering’ and so; I make sure my words are properly adjusted and fine-tuned to produce the desired effect. To me, every word produces a kind of effect cos writing and speaking have a very strong emotive colouration.
    I normally tell my students during coaching that: what you say matters but how you say it matters most! Editing also offers this salient but beautiful technique. I think in editing, it is also appropriate to check one’s use of adjectives and adverbs, and especially the mannerism of the writing. When editing is able to capture this rare feature in writing, the result is monumental!

    I wish to rest my pen with these…
    Thank you so much. Remain blessed and lifted!

  6. Baarokallahu feeka brother, may Allah spare your life on goodness. i found it useful

  7. Thanks

  8. testimony edet says:

    i’m always inspired by your post. may God give you the grace to continue. i have a book i’m working on at present, i don’t know if you can help me brush through it?

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