How to Edit Your Own Writing: The Recommended 3-Step Process

September 28, 2022
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
How to Edit Your Own Writing: The Recommended 3-Step Process

I used to dread emails from my editor. The pink strike-throughs of the Google Docs suggestion mode, the pale yellow of the comment box, and the inquisitive questions all over my work — had me breaking into a sweat in the middle of the night. 

Until I (almost) stopped getting them.

How?

I followed a strong structure to critically self-edit my writing before I sent it out. 

The process wasn’t easy; initially, it took almost the same time as the writing itself. 

But over time, I put systems in place that took all of the dreadedness out of the process. 

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Why you need to self-edit

Other than the fact that a self-edited piece makes your work appear more polished, it also:

  • Ensures you send out the best possible first draft
  • Saves your editor time
  • Reduces the rounds of edits on your pieces 

Edits you can avoid upfront

There are certain edits that you don’t need a complete round of editing for. By following three simple techniques, you can avoid these entirely and save yourself at least two hours of editing time. 

Here are the edits followed by how you can eliminate them: 

1. Brand-specific edits

Know the feeling when your editor changes ‘empathize’ to ‘empathise’ or removes an oxford comma?

You can avoid all of these edits by paying closer attention to the voice and tone guide provided by the brand you work with.

But with a number of brands on your plate, how do you remember the edit guidelines for each?

Here’s what I do: 

I make a checklist and paste it on top of each of my drafts—before I begin writing. This forces me to revisit the style guide every time I write. 

2. Spelling errors 

Spelling errors and typos crop up naturally when you’re passionately typing away at your keyboard. These errors are human. But they make for a very poor reading experience. 

Use a tool like Wordtune to ensure typos get fixed as soon as they occur. 

3. Uncited sources

You might have had the source for a stat open in your browser, but might have forgotten to add it to the draft. 

This has happened to me on more occasions than one. 

Here’s my hack on avoiding it:

Click ‘Control/Command + F’ on your doc and search for:

  • % and percent
  • Studies show
  • In a study by

This will highlight all the places you’ve used external research, and you can quickly scan through the text to check whether you’ve cited sources. 

Structures that go beyond generic ‘tips’

But how do you actually edit impactfully and holistically? Make edits beyond using synonyms and adding commas?

In the next section, I introduce the structure that helped me minimize the number of initial edits I got from my editor. It also helped me get rid of that third round of edits altogether!

‘Edit like every word costs $5’ — you’ve probably heard this advice dished out a lot while self-editing. But what does it actually mean?

To self-edit effectively, you don’t need a list of generic tips or a checklist. You need structures to understand:

  • Why something needs to be changed
  • How it can be improved
  • How to ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice. 

To make sure you get ahead of these (and wow your editor), look at editing like a three-step process:

Step 1: Developmental Edit

Step 2: Copy Edits

Step 3: Polishing 

Step 1: Developmental Edits

Developmental edits take into account the big picture. They gauge whether your piece is in line with the writing brief and the final goal. 

Here’s how you can quickly do a round of developmental edits:

1. Look at all your headings and sub-headings in isolation. 

As an example, let’s look at the headings in this blog on project management for creative teams. 

H1: The Complete Guide to Creative Project Management 
H2: Why Creative Teams Need Project Management 
H2: Essential Elements of Effective Project Management 
H3: Initiation
H3: Planning
H3: Execution
H3: Creative Sign-off
H3: Post-project Analysis 
H2: How does ‘creative’ project management differ from ‘traditional’ project management
H2: Project Management Best Practices
H2: Tools for Creative Project Management

After looking at this structure, you’ll realize that the order of the sections doesn’t flow intuitively. 

Before you get into the specifics, it would be more logical to explain how creative project management differs from traditional project management. 

Why? 

It eases skeptical readers who might have thought there isn’t much difference between the two. 

Secondly, the tools for creative project management should be given out before listing the best practices. This is because the best practices might explain why and when project management tools should be used. 

This is what an outline after developmental edits will look like:

H1: The Complete Guide to Creative Project Management 
H2: Why Creative Teams Need Project Management 
H2: How does ‘creative’ project management differ from ‘traditional’ project management
H2: Essential Elements of Effective Project Management 
H3: Initiation
H3: Planning
H3: Execution
H3: Creative Sign-off
H3: Post-project Analysis 
H2: Tools for Creative Project Management
H2: Project Management Best Practices

2. Ask, “does my writing answer the ‘why’ this topic brings up?”

If you’re not addressing the reader's questions, you’ll lose them way before you get to the heart of your article. But if you lead with their questions and then walk them through the answers, you’ll gain their trust. 

Let’s look at how to address reader intent with an example: 

When writing ‘The Complete Guide to Creative Project Management’, you should first answer why creative teams need project management in the first place. 

In another example, if you’re writing a blog called ‘Online Banking for Cash-Conscious Millennials’, you should first address what traditional banks lack that millennials seek in online banking. 

This advice is also true for each sub-section. 

Answer why you’ve added a section in the first place. 

3. Check whether you’re consistently addressing one audience. 

This is the part where I used to struggle the most. I’d be talking to one person at the beginning of a piece and another person in the next section. 

Here’s a snippet from a blog I wrote six months ago on how salespeople can better manage deals:

The biggest problem with this snippet?

It addresses two different audiences. 

I started by talking to sales managers and leaders in the beginning when I addressed organizing sales by different metrics. In the next sentence, I talk to salespeople when I tell them to document calls. 

This is a classic example of addressing two audiences, and it can be hard to spot because seemingly similar audiences can be confusing. 

Here’s a checklist to ensure you thoroughly understand your audience:

  • What are their pain points?
    (Note these down so you’ll notice if you start addressing different ones in your narrative. For example, salespeople might be concerned about rising privacy concerns around documenting sales calls.)
  • Who do they report to?
    (For example, salespeople report to sales managers.)
  • What are their objectives?
    (For example, salespeople want to hit quota and be the top performers on their teams)

4. Review the action you’re requesting from your readers.

Are your Calls-to-Action strategic? 

Did you talk about them throughout the narrative and then request action?

For example, in this blog for sales managers: 

Deal management is tricky. 
You can spend hours organizing deals by size, origin, and salesperson, only to end up with a more complex overview than when you started. 
And even the best tools don’t help because they’re highly complex themselves. 
What does help is starting with the basics. Getting to know each of your salespeople and the deals they’re responsible for—is the first step. 

A vaguely-crafted call to action does not align with the narrative and acts as a stand-alone snippet. 

XYZ provides you with all the tools you need to ensure effective deal management. Book a demo today. 

A strategic call to action for this snippet would be: 

XYZ tool integrates with your sales rep’s systems to monitor sales calls and get real-time insight. To see how it integrates with your system, book a demo today. 

This CTA brushes on the concepts brought out in the draft. It ties the narrative with the tool. 

As a part of the developmental edit, review your CTAs ruthlessly. 

Note: Developmental edits are crucial to ensure your content is aligned with your strategy. Miss them and you’ll have a choppy and mis-directed piece. 

Pro tip: Edit your intro after you’ve reviewed the rest of the piece. Ensure it touches upon most H2s, yet leaves a bit to the imagination. 

Step 2: Copy Edits

This step is where we get granular. After looking at the overall structure of the piece, we look at the construction of each paragraph. 

At this stage you need to check:

1. Flow:

Check if sentences flow from one to the next without friction. Then, do the same for paragraphs. 

This is best done after letting your first drafts sit for a bit. 

Here’s an example of piece of writing that has relevant information but doesn’t flow well:

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and a day to relax with family and friends. But marketers are left wondering how to cater to these different groups as they plan for memorial day celebrations. 

Memorial Day will fall on 30th May this year and is an opportunity for marketers to engage their audiences and drive early summer sales.

After editing for flow: 

Falling on May 30th this year, Memorial Day is both a day of remembrance and to relax with family and friends––creating quite the challenge for marketers.

In the midst of these contending themes, the question becomes: How can I create a relevant email marketing campaign that engages my audience and drives early summer sales? 

2. Objections:

If your piece reads like a dialogue, you need to build objections into your narrative. But this needs to be done strategically.

It needs to follow a structure:

1: Introduce the status quo.

2: Highlight the problem with the status quo.

3: Introduce how the answer solves the problem. 

Check if your paragraphs follow this structure. Very often, the objections are brought up in odd places. This creates a bumpy reading experience, and here’s what it looks like:

This is an example where objections appear randomly: 

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and a day to relax with family and friends. But marketers are left wondering how to cater to these different groups as they plan for memorial day celebrations. 

Memorial Day will fall on 30th May this year and is an opportunity for marketers to engage their audiences and drive early summer sales.

Here’s an example where we organize objections logically:

Falling on May 30th this year, Memorial Day is both a day of remembrance and to relax with family and friends––creating quite the challenge for marketers.

In the midst of these contending themes, the question becomes: How can I create a relevant email marketing campaign that engages my audience and drives early summer sales? 

While both these snippets convey the same information, the first one adds an introductory statement after introducing the objection. This forces the reader to move back a step and re-analyze the concept—making for a poor reading experience. 

There are two places where objections fit in naturally.

One, after introducing the elements that make up the objection. (Like in the Memorial Day example). If you do this, make sure to expand on the objection after introducing it. 

Here’s what this looks like in practice: 

Losing an engaged customer can feel a lot like going through a breakup. First they stop visiting your website, then they stop responding to your emails, and then they might even stop opening them. 

After all the time and personalized effort it takes to build a customer relationship, watching a person disengage from your company—perhaps never to return—can create a sense of dissatisfaction in even the best business founders and marketers. 

But is there a way to bring them back?

The second place to put an objection is immediately before introducing the solution. 

Here’s how: 

A strategic long-term approach to multichannel marketing builds a brand, and a targeted cross-channel approach builds sales — both are crucial in helping a brand succeed. According to Insider Intelligence, forecasters expect multichannel sales to make up 46% of all eCommerce sales by 2023.

But what do these cases tell us?

The common thread between these successful case studies isn’t a brand new marketing strategy or even an in-house multichannel marketing team. The common idea is to analyze where customers are dropping off and how they can be brought back.

3. Takeaways

Make sure that you add a takeaway at the end of every section. This helps your readers execute on your advice as they read the piece. 

Takeaways can be tools, resources, or next steps. Their objective should be to help the reader enhance her knowledge. 

This is what it looks like in practice:

Now that we’ve discussed all the ways content marketing can boost your brand’s online presence and conversions, here are some content marketers to follow on Twitter:

  • Tracey Wallace
  • Tina Donatti
  • Ryan Law
  • Amanda Natvidad 
  • Tommy Walker 

Note: This step is especially important if you’re writing ‘How to’ blogs and guides. 

Step 3: Polishing 

Once the developmental and copy edits are in place, you can start proof-reading and polishing your piece. 

Check for:

  • Grammar
  • Spellings
  • Punctuations
  • Language use (“American” or “British” English)
  • Regional colloquialisms (Get rid of these unless the brief or brand voice ask for it)

The most common edits 

These are the most common edits I, and a number of other writers, have gotten from their editors frequently. 

In this section, I explain how to get ahead of them. 

1. Edit: Not answering the ‘why’ or ‘how’:

Unedited example: ‘Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing brand awareness’. 

Edited example: ‘Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing traffic to your ecommerce store because people check their email 7 times a day.’

How to edit?

Ask yourself ‘why’ every time you make a claim in your writing. 

For example: ‘Alcohol is bad for your health’. 

Why?

‘Alcohol is bad for your health because it slows down your brain and scars your liver.’

2. Edit: Redundancy

People mistakenly believe that redundancy is just a repetition of words and phrases. Those are fairly easy to spot and edit. Tools like Grammarly can tell you when you’ve used a word or phrase too often and can even suggest replacements. 

What is harder to spot is redundancy of ideas. 

Here’s an example: 

Unedited: ‘Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing traffic to your ecommerce store because people check their email 7 times a day. You can also use email marketing to sell to customers by sending them offers that have them visiting your ecommerce store.

Instances of redundancy:

In the first statement, we say that email marketing can be used to increase website traffic. 

‘Have [customers] visiting your ecommerce store’ also says the same thing using a different angle. 

Edited: “‘Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing traffic to your ecommerce store because people check their email 7 times a day. If you’re emailing relevant offers, your customers might forward these discounts and promotions to their friends and family and in turn, increase your brand awareness.

How to edit?

Ask yourself if every sentence adds a new point to the existing narrative. 

3. Edit: Poor readability 

Interestingly, this is the one problem that creeps up due to an abundance of knowledge. 

You try to fit too many ideas into one sentence or paragraph and often lose the reader. 

Here’s an example,

Unedited: “Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing traffic to your ecommerce store because people check their email 7 times a day. If you’re emailing relevant offers, your customers might forward these discounts and promotions to their friends and family and in turn, increase your brand awareness. Automated email flows can help you regularly check in with customers without writing every email yourself. 

Why this snippet made for a poor reading experience: 

It introduced too many ideas:

  • Stats about how often people check their email
  • Emailing offers
  • Brand awareness
  • Automation

Edited: Email marketing is one of the most reliable methods for increasing traffic to your ecommerce store because people check their email 7 times a day. If you’re emailing relevant offers, your customers might forward these discounts and promotions to their friends and family and in turn, increase your brand awareness.

And brand awareness is critical if you want to scale as an ecommerce store. 

But how do you scale with personalized emails without writing hundreds of promotional and transactional emails a day?

Answer: Automated email flows.”

How to edit?

I use this rule: One claim/thought per sentence and one concept per paragraph. 

And Finally

Even the most thorough round of self-editing cannot replace a good editor, but it can build credibility and authority. If you do this yourself, your editor won’t have to waste time highlighting silly mistakes and can actually instruct you on more crucial aspects of narrative-building. 

Here’s a resource to access excellent editorial advice: The Cutting Room by Tommy Walker

It’s a live stream where editors of some excellent brands (Animalz, Grizzle, CXL) edit a piece of content live. 

P.S.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

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