5 tips for editing your own work

5 tips for editing your own work

photo of magnified eye

Five brain hacks for tricking yourself into seeing text with fresh eyes are covered in this episode, an adaptation of my post on the now-defunct copyediting.com. While originally written for editors, these tips can help writers editing their own writing too; they are ways to trick your eyes into seeing what is actually there rather than what your mind thinks should be there.

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TL;DR—The Five Tips

1. Have the computer read the page aloud.

This is the tech twist on the “pair reading” strategy used by proofreaders. It activates the listening part of your brain, and makes you interpret the words anew. And the computer won’t skip a single word or fill in any missing ones. Macs have this feature built into the accessibility options, Acrobat will do it for PDFs too. Look for “speech” in the system preferences.

2. Change the font to Comic Sans.

Any dramatic font change will help you see the words in a new way. You could also change just the colour of the font, or the background page colour. If you change the font by modifying the “normal” style, it’s easier to undo the change, and this causes fewer styling snafus. Even just changing the margin width can have a dramatic effect.

3. Chunk the editing tasks.

Sweep through the manuscript doing one task at a time: run your macros, then set all head styles, then vet trouble words, then check all captions; read only the first line of every paragraph to check the overall structure and flow. You get the idea. Here’s a longer post with a suggested workflow.

4. Read pages out of order.

To make sure she doesn’t miss anything, Wendy Toole is an editor who uses this strategy: “I [go] through it reading every page ending in zero, then every page ending in one, and so on, till I had covered it completely … and found several more bloopers!”

5. Take a break.

Really. Editing is hard, demanding, often thankless. If you don’t feel the need to attack the day with a style sheet, you should find something else to do for a bit.

What do you do to see the words anew? Leave your comments below.

Mentioned in this episode:

First and second episodes: Error Rates in Editing: What’s Your Save Percentage? and How many errors trigger a book reprint?  (Spoilers: data shows 95% is the best humanly possible and, secondly, precious few.)

Read more about using colour to spot typos and what to triage when time is just too tight.


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The image for this episode is by chrisbb, used under CC BY 2.0 license.

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