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A top self-editing tip for writers

Posted by Dan Hatch on 17th October , 2023 in Copywriting, Editing & Proofreading
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I lay myself upon the ground before you, a humbled man.

I’ve been writing for a living for almost 25 years. I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

That entire time, both as a journalist and a content marketer, I’ve relied on other people to provide the quality control. Copyeditors. Subeditors. Proofreaders.

This incredible band of men and women have saved my batooty thousands of times. I owe them a huge debt. It’s exactly why Sarah and I always use a professional proofreader (take a bow, Wendy).

Let’s not be lazy

But knowing that backstop is there—knowing someone is going to switch out affect for effect if you use the wrong one, or fix your modifier if it’s dangling—can also make you lazy. I have a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. I never open it. Because I have Wendy.

I have fallen into bad habits. Over time, I have stopped doing some of the quality control checks we’re all meant to do before we send our copy to our editors and proofreaders.

I realised this recently when a 90,000-word book I’d written came back from a beta reader with notes about an alarming number of prepositions that were simply missing from sentences.

I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I’d read every last one of those sentences. Yet my eyes had skimmed over the missing words every time.

Good writing practice is to read aloud everything you write before you send it to your editor. It helps you catch those missing words. It’s something I used to do but at some point stopped doing—clearly, at a cost.

Speak up

Then I got a hot tip from my book’s editor, who has an even more thorough solution. She suggests using Microsoft Word’s “Read Aloud” tool and having your computer read your words back to you. That way you pick up all those missing words, the “throughs” instead of “thoughs” and “thoughts”, and any clunky sentences.

So, I tried it—and immediately found a missing preposition in the article I was writing.

As a tool, Read Aloud is a bit rudimentary (what’s with that, Microsoft?) and there’s only one voice (Samantha) that I’d even consider using. But it is effective at helping you pick up errors. Give it a shot. Let me know what you think.

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