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I write a daily piece and have been doing so for over 8 years. I think my writing has gotten better, but I still find mistakes at times, or more likely, my readers find mistakes.

Does anyone have good tricks for self-editing? Any tools? I spell check and use Word for grammar checking, but it doesn't seem to work so well and the pace of writing makes it hard to use anyone for editing on a regular basis.

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I don't think there are any "tricks" involved. It boils down to a talent you're born with, a skill you develop, or sheer discipline in approach. IMHO. – Zayne S Halsall Nov 18 '10 at 22:55
The question is asked and answered already, but "tips and tricks" questions aren't on-topic for StackExchange sites. I think what you're looking for is a process, and @StrixVaria kinda laid that out. – Neil Fein Nov 19 '10 at 4:06
Given that time is the great leveller the logical thing would be to take two weeks off from editing/submitting, but not from writing. Then your daily tasks are: 1. Edit what I wrote two weeks ago 2. Write my article for two weeks time. and 3. Final review and submit on todays piece. Of course if the piece has to be super timely that won't work... – One Monkey Mar 1 '11 at 15:04
up vote 22 down vote accepted

While it's not possible for your specific predicament, the question you actually ask is much broader than that.

Put the writing away long enough to forget your state of mind while you were writing it, then re-read it. For some people this could be as short as a day, but I have to wait closer to a month before re-reading what I've written for all the subtle things I could have done better to stand out.

I know that professional author Stephen King says he adheres to a strict schedule when writing. He writes all morning, then reviews all of the previous day's work that afternoon. This way he has plenty of time and other writing-related activities between writing and revising that piece of his story.

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Thanks, if I can get more than 2 days ahead, I have tried this and it has helped. – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:04
I've heard as long as six months for the advised wait before looking over a manuscript and revising it, in the context of scientific writing. – Charles Stewart Jan 17 '11 at 10:36

Print your work.

I've found that proof-reading a hard-copy is much more effective than proof-reading off a computer screen.

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Agreed, though I'm always amazed this works so well, and horrified at the wasted paper. – MGOwen Nov 18 '10 at 23:48
Nice idea, I'll try this. I do a podcast as well, so I "re-read" this on a teleprompter twice (practice/live) and that has helped. – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:03
As a scientist, I'd say that most colleagues are the same in printing out anything that needs to be read. Either their own work for editing/improving, or other's work for reading. – Paul de Vrieze Feb 6 '11 at 13:17
This absolutely works, but my boss can get carried away: he prints out all his emails! ;-) – Jon Ericson Feb 24 '12 at 0:30

You can read the story aloud. Some errors are better found when you hear them.

You can also record your own voice and listen to it later.

Next, is to have somebody else read the story.

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Somebody else reading it isn't exactly "self-editing" – StrixVaria Nov 18 '10 at 21:07
The schedule prevents me from getting timely feedback from others. Also, it's a burden on others, so I was hoping for other ideas. The self recording is interesting. – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:04
"Somebody else" can be a text-to-speech feature on your computer. – Adrian McCarthy Mar 2 '11 at 17:02

Read it backwards. That's what many newspaper editors do. You overlook mistakes, because your brain knows what there should stand and put it together correctly. You have to fool your brain. If you read backwards, the words do not make sense and you read more accurately.

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Do you mean read the words backwards or read the last sentence, then the next to last, etc.? – way0utwest Dec 6 '10 at 20:09
etc, last to next the then, sentence last the read or backwards words the read mean you Do. @way - If you are really good, try: cte, tsal txen eht neht ... ;) – John Smithers Dec 6 '10 at 20:13
I found this helpful in the bad-old-days before spllcheck. These days, I tend to read sentence-by-sentence backward and trust the computer for the spelling. Witch wont all ways work. – Jon Ericson Feb 23 '12 at 22:52

I'm an editor and I agree with the previous posts. Printing hard copies is a terrible waste of paper, but it's an excellent way to identify mistakes that we miss on our PCs. Taking time away from the piece also works.

In addition, I eliminate all distractions. I used to listen to music and reread my writing at the same time. Not anymore! I unplug the phone or let it go to voice mail, and will only proof important documents when I'm feeling alert. Maybe there's a particular time of day when you are more alert than others.

Also, often I magnify my screen up to 150 or 175 percent. It's downright embarrassing, but helps me to catch a lot of little errors. And I will spell-check the document in several places. Maybe I will check it once in my e-mail reader and again in Word. Sometimes things slip past me in Word that are picked up elsewhere.

Good luck. Sigrid

PS Don't accept all of the suggestions by the spell-check in Word. It can often be wrong.

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One trick I just recently learned was to change the font before editing. This kinda "tricks" the brain into seeing the writing differently. Milage may vary in the long-term, but it works for me.

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This works for me, from Times to Courier is one way, I added a layer to it be changing the background color. I learned from architecture that Blue is good for creativity and red is good for spell-checking, so I write on a blue screen and edit on red. – Stephan F- Apr 25 '11 at 22:20

I recommend the text-to-speech feature on the Amazon Kindle (or an equivalent device), with the read speed set to "slow".

When you read your own work, your mind tends to jump ahead of your eyes (because it already knows what the text is going to say, if only subconsciously). Because of this, you tend to read even the incorrect sentences and words correctly. Missed or duplicated if's, the's, ands and of's for example, are often overlooked.

Newer text-to-speech software are advanced enough to read in a narrative tone that is only slightly mechanical. When I used this approach for the story I'm writing these days, I found dozens of errors of all kinds in every chapter. And I had edited and cleaned up those chapters multiple times before that.

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I tried this and it absolutely works. One tip is that the Kindle text-to-speech (at least) does a poor job of handling kerning and hyphenation, so it doesn't pay to run a document though LaTeX and copy it as a PDF for this purpose. – Jon Ericson Mar 2 '12 at 1:50

I edit a number of times, each with a different goal. I will look at a piece once for readability and to eleminate clunky phrases, once for grammer and punctation, etc. Focusing on just one type of reveiw at a time seems to help when I edit my own writing.

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I wrote this article that gives you five good steps to editing your work. To summarise:

  1. Target overused word
  2. vary your sentence structure
  3. Eliminate cliches
  4. vary repeated words and phrases
  5. brainstorm using existing ideas

I think it gives some constructive steps that might help you.

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