How to Edit Your Own Writing in 4 Steps

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One of the most crucial skills students must develop is the ability to write. But simply writing isn't enough – you also need to learn how to go back and edit your own work. The reason is simple: We use a different thought process to write versus when we edit. Writing is an act of creation, whereas editing is at least in part, a skill for subtracting what we don't need in our writing.

Whether you're writing a research paper, a discussion board post, or even a cover letter, it's important to look back on your work and systematically edit out inconsistencies and awkward phrasing. Try these four editing approaches next time you need to write:

1. Edit After You Write

It probably happens every time you write a paragraph: You put a sentence on the page and immediately feel tempted to modify it, change it, or scrap it. Resist that temptation! Writing and editing are two inherently different skills, and just as our minds are not made to effectively multitask, it's difficult to do them both at the same time. When you're writing, focus on getting your ideas on the page. Save the editing for a more focused session after you've cranked out your first draft. Your writing may turn out better for the additional focus you invest into editing your work.

2. Edit in Phases

Another way to assist with the editing process is to do it in sections separated by task. Instead of trying to do all your editing at once, for example, one first pass might consist only of correcting spelling and grammar. Once that's out of the way, you won't be distracted by the small stuff while you complete a more in-depth editing task (like making sure you're using the correct tense or fixing formatting) and can therefore get the job done more quickly and effectively.

3. Say One Thing at a Time

One of the rules I live by when editing my own work is to try to make sure every sentence says only one thing at a time. Sentences that say too much, flit back and forth between ideas or thoughts, or run on too long, often distract from the primary point you're trying to make, especially when they're contained within a longer paragraph or piece of writing, whether it's a discussion board post, a research paper, or a cover letter. (See how meandering that last sentence was?) When you edit your writing, try setting a goal to make sure your sentences share only one idea or thought. A focused, tight sentence that shares a single idea makes for stronger writing.

4. Borrow a Fresh Set of Eyes

After staring at a piece of your own writing for too long, it can be easy to miss inconsistencies and mistakes that another person would catch the first time they read your work. So borrow a friend's eyes! Ask a family member, friend, or even a mentor to take a look at your next cover letter, important email, or even research paper to make sure your writing reads smoothly and logically. Even more importantly, a peer reviewer can give you objective feedback about how well your writing communicates the ideas you're trying to share.

Doing your own editing is important, but don't forget there are resources to help, like the Writing Center in the Smarthinking tutoring resource in the Virtual Campus. You can also find more tips on writing great papers here on the AIU blog.