While every writer should invest in hiring a professional editor, sometimes you don’t have the time or budget, or sometimes it’s not something an editor needs to look at.
I’ve created this quick guide for self-editing to help you whether you’re doing the first round of edits on your next novel, editing a paper for class, or proofreading an email.
Regardless of the genre, here are the basic things to look for when self-editing.
1. Spaces after a period. Tons of people use a double space after a period. This comes from old typing habits on typewriters and isn’t necessary with digital manuscripts. Check your draft for double spaces after each period. Alternatively, also check that there is actually one space after your period!
2. Incorrect use of your/you’re, too/to/two, and their/there/they’re. Check out this post if you’re still unsure about these frequently misused homonyms.
3. Sentence fragments or incomplete sentences. Unless you’re using sentence fragments stylistically, a sentence should have have a subject and a verb. Read carefully, and even read out loud, to identify any sentence fragments hidden in your draft.
4. Spelling. This probably seems obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of drafts and manuscripts riddled with typos. A simple spelling check in Microsoft Word or Google Docs is essential.
Grammar is important but can be complex. Don’t feel like you need to be a master of grammar to do some basic self-edits for proper grammar.
1. Vague pronoun references. Sometimes we try to replace a noun with a pronoun to avoid repetition, but if you have multiple nouns preceding one pronoun, your reader may become confused. Be specific!
2. Subject-verb agreement. Ensure the numbers of your subject match the conjugation of your verb.
3. Passive voice. Prose should be active to hold your audience’s attention. Check out this popular post on eliminating passive voice in your writing.
4. Switching tenses. I see writers switching between past and present tense frequently. Before sending your draft to your editor, scan your writing for tense switches.
Punctuation is a crucial part of writing. Check your copy for these four things when self-editing.
1. Punctuation outside of quotation marks. Punctuation should always go inside of quotation marks, whether it’s a comma, period, or exclamation or question mark. Pay attention to this, especially in fiction writing and dialogue.
2. Em dashes. Em dashes are long dashes used in place of commas, parentheses, and colons to introduce, insert, or emphasize a particular clause.
3. Missing or extraneous commas. Some people don’t use enough commas and some people use too many. Use commas to link two independent clauses separated by a conjunction, to separate items in a list, to separate a dependent clause from the beginning of a sentence, to offer appositives, to introduce a quote or speech, and after introductory adverbs. For a complete list of comma uses, check out this post from Business Insider.
4. Too many exclamation marks. Surprisingly, I see exclamation marks being overused. When they’re overused, writing looks amateurish. If you want a character to exclaim something or yell, consider using a stronger verb in place of an exclamation point if you’re repeatedly using that mark.