3 Essential Editing Tips For Writers


The science behind it

Nick Stockton’s article for Wired explains it. When you’re doing a high level task like writing an article, your brain generalises the simpler components of what you’re doing (like turning letters into words). This frees up ‘brain processing capacity’ for the more complex components of the task (like conveying a complex idea). 

Editing on autopilot

It’s this same generalisation that makes it difficult to recall your drive to work this morning. When you drive the same route every day, your brain engages its autopilot, freeing itself up to think about other things. This is bad news for editing your own work. Your brain is already familiar with the words, so it tunes out the details.

You’re no doubt writing because you feel you have something valuable to say, and want to be read. These editing tips will help your readers focus on your message and not your mistakes:

  1. Make it unfamiliar: Tom Stafford, lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at University of Sheffield, says it’s possible to trick your brain. When you make your work as unfamiliar as possible, your brain thinks it’s seeing it for the first time, and pays closer attention. Try changing the font or background colour. Alternatively, print it out and edit by hand.
  2. Train your brain: it’s all too easy to look up a grammar rule in the moment, apply it, and then move on without internalising the rule. Don’t move on. Draw up your own style guide. Explain a grammar rule to a colleague. Draw up that list of UK and US spelling. Do what you need to do to internalise the rules.
  3. Ask the experts: there is always someone smarter than you. This is a good thing. Learn from them, buy their reference books, and subscribe to their blogs.

All the best for ‘caching’ those typos.

If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme.

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This article has 0 comments

  1. Karen R. Sanderson

    I was reading a self-pubbed ebook last weekend and I found “….her waste…” instead of “…her waist…” and I was all, Ew! Another good type when editing and proofreading your own stuff – Change the font. You won’t believe what a difference this makes!

  2. Donna Radley

    Oh dear. That is an unfortunate typo, Karen! You wouldn’t want to put your arms around that.

  3. Amanda Patterson

    Excellent post, Donna. Thank you for the tips.

  4. Claire Atkinson

    Good ideas – thank you. Any suggestions for the nightmares?

  5. Claire Atkinson

    Good ideas – thank you. Any suggestions for the nightmares?

  6. Donna Radley

    Sweet tea works for me, Claire. And my trusty Oxford Dictionary, which reminds me – if you’re on Twitter, you can follow Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords). I find the language tips quite useful. They’re usually about a contested grammar rule. For example, yesterday’s tip was about split infinitives and whether the rule against splitting them still applies. Good luck!

  7. Matthew

    Nice article. Shared on Twitter. @mfrederick79

  8. Donna Radley

    Thanks, Matthew.

  9. Yuvrajsinh

    I was expecting for details over here.

  10. Magunga Williams

    I simply use Grammarly. Bad idea?

  11. Donna Radley

    Magunga, Grammarly is a good online resource. You can also Google ‘Grammar Girl’ (Mignon Fogarty). I also follow Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords) on Twitter. When using online resources: 1) refer to more than one website to ensure you have the correct information, 2) bear in mind the distinction between UK and US conventions when it comes to grammar and spelling (include ‘UK’ or ‘US’ in your Google search terms), and 3) avoid forums. While some opinions and answers on forums are correct, some are not.

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