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5 Ways to Edit With Fresh Eyes

As writers, we all struggle with editing our own work. We know what we intended to say, so often our eyes see our intentions in place of what is actually there.

Is all lost? Are we completely unable to edit our own work? Are we forever reliant on the assistance of others?

At some point, we are reliant on others to edit our work. Besides reading our work with fresh eyes, others also bring a world of experience that is different than ours. Others also read our work with (perhaps) different goals in mind–for example, perhaps I intend a piece to be entertaining, and a reader believes the same piece (at least at first) to be educational.  These different perspectives change how our work is interpreted, so we may not get our intended message to the reader.

However, there are several techniques we can use to look at our own writing through fresh eyes.  I have used each of these techniques with varying degrees of success, and have found them to be successful at finding different types of errors.

1. Change your work’s appearance

By changing the size, color, or font of your work, you force yourself out of the familiar feel of your favorite font.  Suddenly, words that fit poorly with the flow of the rest of your article, story, or other work pop out due to the changed appearance.  The best font to use is one that changes which words are on the edge of a page–so, as an example, you might use a fixed-width font like Courier instead of your typical variable-width font like Times New Roman.

This method is best used for looking at the general flow of your article and making sure that it makes sense.  You may also find that this method helps find double word errors, such as “the the” or “of of”.

2. Give yourself some time

The worst time to edit is immediately after you’ve finished writing a piece.  At this point, everything is still clear in your mind, so you’re more likely to fill in holes with what you intended to say.

Instead, go out for a walk, a cup of coffee, read a book, or just about anything to get your mind off what you just wrote.  For best results, you should stay away from what you wrote for at least an hour, and preferably as long as a day.

Once you get back, use this in combination with one of the other strategies to make sure that you are looking at your work in a different mindset than when you wrote it.

3. Read out loud

This method forces you to read what you’ve written, instead of mentally filling in gaps with what you intended to say.  You will find this helps you determine whether your style of writing is consistent–for example, in this article, my tone should be conversational, my transitions fluent, and readers should be able to hear, as well as see, the different techniques I want to get across.

You will also more easily find missed words/phrases, poorly worded phrases, confusing sentences, and many other errors when you hear yourself speak your work aloud.

4. Print off a copy

This is a variation on changing the appearance of your text.  Something about sending information from your computer to your printer invariably introduces grammar errors, so you may as well print it off when you think it’s done and find out what new errors popped up.  Some real-life examples from my past:

  • My phone number inexplicably was incorrect after I printed off a resume, though I was sure I had checked it.  Sure enough, somehow the printer changed the phone number on my monitor also.
  • Several years ago, I tested out some voice recognition software to write an English paper more quickly.  When I printed it off, the result was something that passed a spelling checker, but made zero sense (think of the poem, “Eye Half a Spelling Chequer”.  Even after making dozens of corrections, several still crept through because I didn’t spend enough time editing.  My English professor was less than impressed.  I no longer use voice recognition software.

Speaking of voice recognition software, be very wary of anything you write using that software.  Sometimes, the software has a mind of its own, and it can be very dark:

As I said, please be careful when using voice recognition software.  This was a live demo, so you can imagine what interesting things happen outside the demo as well.

5. Make a list of your most common errors

Every writer I know tends to make the same types of mistakes over and over.  The trick, for you, is to know your own most common errors and look specifically for those problems.

Looking for the issues most common to many writers is a good place to start.  Read through this partial list of common errors…do you make any of these common errors?

  • Run-on sentences
  • Paragraphs that mix several different subjects with no transitions
  • Mixing up “their,” “there,” and “they’re” — “Their” is used to imply ownership, “there” indicates a position, and “they’re” is a contraction meaning “They are.”
  • Using repeated words like “the the”, “of of”, etc.
  • “Can not” vs. “cannot”  — This error is common, and there is a subtle difference between the two.  “Can not” means that something is optional…you can do it, but you can just as easily not do it.  “Cannot” means that you are prohibited from doing something.
  • “Its” vs “It’s”  — “Its” implies ownership.  “It’s” is only used as a contraction that means “It is” or “It has”.  If you use “It is” or “It has” in place of “it’s” in a sentence, and the phrase sounds awkward, you probably want the possessive form “its”.
  • “Your” vs “You’re” — “Your” implies ownership.  “You’re” is a contraction for “You are”.

Of course, these are just a few of the very common errors.  Use this list to start, and add your own “gotchas” as you find them.

Using these 5 strategies will help you to significantly improve your own writing before you pass it on to others.   Catching your own errors will also help you to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Did we miss a strategy you prefer to use?  Do you rely on one or more of these strategies to improve your own work?  Did you see something you plan to try?  Leave a comment below!

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9 Responses to “5 Ways to Edit With Fresh Eyes”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Odyssey Publishing and Eric Krause. Eric Krause said: RT @writingislife 5 Ways to Edit With Fresh Eyes #writing http://bit.ly/3uPFaN […]

  2. TheBartender says:

    This post was featured in the “Just Write” blog carnival. Feel free to check out this and other articles at http://www.missyfrye.net/Blog/?p=1925

  3. […] presents 5 Ways to Edit With Fresh Eyes posted at Writers Anonymous, saying, “Ever had a hard time editing your own work? Here are a […]

  4. Loved the video. It reminded me of using the SR on my smartphone. What it typed wasn’t anything like what I said. Glad I checked the text before sending because it was downright vulgar.

    Great editing advice!

  5. TheBartender says:

    Another fun site to check out is http://damnyouautocorrect.com. It’s not quite the same as the speech recognition mentioned here, but phones often autocorrect to something you would never have intentionally written.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. Morgan says:

    Reading out loud is one of my favorite and most effective ways of editing. That is, if I don’t have a friend or fellow writer to proof read it for me. Having fresh eyes always seems to be the most effective method.

    I had never considered #1, so that’ll definitely be something I’ll try during the next editing phase.

    Great tips!

  7. […] to the rest at Writers Anonymous via […]

  8. asrai says:

    Serenity Software has a great program called Editor that points out common mistakes in writing.

    Love the advice to “change your appearance”

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