Part of my job is running the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas, where journalism students can get one-on-one help editing their work. It’s always best to have a second set of eyes on anything you write for publication (or a grade), to catch awkward or unclear passages as well as typos, skipped or duplicated words, and tricky homophones. It’s hard to see mistakes in your own work, since you already know what you meant to say, even if it’s not what you actually wrote.
However, sometimes getting an editor is just not possible – nobody ever writes anything the day it’s due, right? So if you’re in a pinch, here are a few things you can do to try to catch your own mistakes:
1. Read your writing out loud.
Reading aloud helps you find awkward passages, places where you need punctuation, or spots where you’ve repeated a sentence (or paragraph). If you’re reading aloud and you pause, it’s a signal that you should probably have punctuation there, so look closely at the sentence to see what you need. If you get lost in a sentence reading it aloud, chances are your readers will be confused reading it on the page, so recast it. And if you find that you copy-and-pasted instead of cut-and-pasted a section you wanted to move, decide where you want to keep it and delete the other one.
2. Take a break.
Putting a little distance between writing and editing is always a good idea: You can clear your head of the swirl of ideas that went into your writing, and return with somewhat fresh eyes. Go for a walk, play a game, have a little nap, then return to your work for the edit.
3. Print it out.
Research suggests that our brains process screen reading and paper reading differently, so looking at a hard copy may help you spot typos, missing words or punctuation errors. A printed copy might also help you assess structure and navigability in longer documents, because you can see the whole document at once rather than constantly scrolling back and forth.
Ideally, you’ll have an editor for everything (definitely for your important writing), but when you don’t, these tips should help you improve your own work.