Quick Editing Tips to Keep in Mind

Some quick tips to keep in mind when you are editing your work:*

  1. Take a break before you begin. If you just finished writing a masterpiece, take a moment and walk away from the screen. This gives you a chance to get away from the screen, so that when you sit down again, you will see what’s actually there instead of what you thought was there.
  2. Ok, now it’s time to get started. Let’s begin by asking yourself if your words make sense. Did you say what you wanted to say? Awesome! Buckle down. You’re ready to start editing.
  3. Check your tense. Did you start in present tense? Stay there. Are you in past tense? Stay there. Don’t bounce between tenses unless there is a logical reason to do so. If your story is 2nd person future, you will be keeping it that way the whole time. Unless there is some time travel happening, keep the tense consistent.
  4.  Check your person and number. If you start with 1st person (I, me, my), you should stay there. Please don’t jump to 1st person plural (we, us) unless your speaker has developed multiple personality disorder or is royalty. If you start with 3rd person (he, she, it, they), don’t suddenly jump to 1st or 2nd person.**
  5. Check your dialogue format. Each new speaker should be indented. Each quote should have the proper punctuation and maybe even a tag line (she said). Unless you want to be like Hemingway and have readers count lines to determine the speaker, you should probably identify the speaker somehow; he said and she said gets really old after a while, but it’s better than no tags at all. Identify your speaker in other ways (the older man said, the girl squeaked, the tall man cried).
  6.  Check your commas. I know, I know, commas are overrated, but they are how readers navigate your soup of words. There are only six main reasons to use a comma. If one of those situations doesn’t apply, don’t use the comma. Avoid comma abuse.
  7. If you want, think about your word choice. Are you using big words just for the sake of using big words? Did you overuse the Thesaurus option in Word? Sometimes, less is more; simple is preferable. Does your main character, the high school student, start using words way above (or below) the expected vocabulary when it doesn’t matter?

*You do edit your own work, of course, right? The answer should be a resounding “YES!” You should read your work at least twice before you send it off to anyone else–whether sympathetic friends or complete strangers. You won’t catch everything, of course. That’s what friends and editors are for. But you are the first line of defense here, and it’s up to you to do the first round of heavy lifting. Words are your tools. You should use them properly so that your amazingly wonderful brilliant world can show up in someone else’s mind. Asking for help is great, but you should give all of your words a once-over before you set them free from your computer. This list gives you some things to focus on.

**Using 2nd person in your story is wonderful, but incredibly challenging. You are asking the reader to become the “you” of whom you speak. If the reader can relate to the “you,” your story works brilliantly. If the reader is not the “you” of whom you speak, you have just knocked the reader out of the story. You do have some leeway here–you may want to comment to the reader or ask a rhetorical question now and then; usually this works just fine. But it can backfire when the narrative voice gets too involved in the story (You know what I mean, right, right, RIGHT?!). Use Control F to find the “yous” in your wok. Ask yourself if you need all of them. If there’s no pressing reason to use “you,” replace it with the person you mean.


On Getting it Done

Image result for just do it

So I sort of volunteered for this big project at school, and I have to put on my big girl boots and get things done. There are a few things I need to keep in mind while I do this–and the more I think about it, the more they apply to writing as well, so here goes:

  1. Have a plan.

It doesn’t have to be detailed down to the tiniest molecule, but a rough outline of where you’re going never hurt anyone. Having a direction lets you know where to go from here–and even if that focus shifts a little to the left, don’t worry! This is a plan, not a monument carved into stone. Plans change. But you should still have one.

2. Follow your plan.

Yeah, yeah, I know I just said to change the plan as you go, but that doesn’t mean that you create a plan just for the sake of it and then run headlong down a different corridor altogether. Use your plan as intended. Don’t use it as a way to make yourself feel better about having a plan and then completely ignoring your wonderful big picture and wandering around for the next few weeks or months or however long your project is going to take.

3. Just do it.

Nike was really onto something with this. It seems obvious. Well, of course you’re going to do the thing! Why wouldn’t you? Would you like me to answer that for you? Hmm, let’s see…life? Work? Family? Wanting to curl up on the couch with a loved one instead of working on the project? Needing to go grocery shopping instead of working on your project? Deciding to see those friends you haven’t seen in forever instead of working on your project? Sitting down to work on your project and then deciding that you know, you haven’t really cleaned the bathtub as it should be cleaned in a while, have you? Why not re-organize the garage while you’re at it? The project can wait. It will be there. And that’s the problem, right? The project will wait! And wait. And wait. Langston Hughes had something to say about “Dreams Deferred”and he was onto something. Don’t let your project shrivel up like a raisin in the sun. Do it.

I could add more wonderful things here like time management and making small deadlines, but really, instead of typing this, I should be working on that project. I’m going to take my own advice and just go do it.


Great Conversation

Image result for great dialogue

So, you have this great scene in mind between your two lead characters? Great! I’m a sucker for good conversation. Except that’s only true when the dialogue follows the conventions of English.

Let’s review the guidelines for written dialogue, shall we?

Every time a new person speaks, he/she is indented on a new line (and because WordPress won’t let me indent, I’m using XXXXX to show where you would indent):

XXXXX “What are you doing?” Samantha asked, peering at her husband from her distant perch on the chair across the room.

XXXXX “Rearranging matches,” Sebastian answered in a bored tone, his fingers continuing to move slowly back and forth across the table top.

XXXXX “Why?” Samantha inquired, a small bubble of curiosity balancing atop a storm of frustrated derision.

XXXXX “I have no idea,” Sebastian admitted, pushing the matches into a pile and leaning back into the cushions.

When a character speaks both before and after an interjection, the punctuation should look like this:

XXXXX “You never have any idea,” Samantha sneered, “and that’s why I’m leaving you.”

XXXXX “You can’t leave me,” Sebastian replied, “because if you do, who will organize your things?”

Unless it’s a complete sentence after the break, which would look like this: 

XXXXX “You never have any idea,” Samantha sneered. “That’s why I’m leaving you.”

XXXXX “You can’t leave me,” Sebastian replied. “If you do, who will organize your things?”

If you have more to say beyond the spoken words, it can stay in the same paragraph as long as it relates to the same speaker: 

XXXXX Samantha glared at him. “I don’t need anyone to organize my things,” she snapped. “I was just fine in my organizational skills before you came along. I don’t need someone to look after me like a child.” She scanned the library, her haughty eyes taking in other annoying details of his obsessive compulsive disorder.

XXXXX “Huh,” Sebastian scoffed. “You couldn’t tell that from where I was standing, dear.” He turned away from his latest project to stare at her. As usual, her clothes were in disarray, her wrinkled pants and untucked shirt almost screaming her need for his guidance. “Come here, Sam. You look a mess.”

XXXXX “You could use a good mess!” Samantha shouted, then she stalked angrily from the room.

Remember that all periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks in American English (British English follows different conventions. That may be why your Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings looks different). 

Note: There is never a reason for “double” “quotation” “marks” next to one another unless you are making a list of quoted items (My favorite poems are “The Raven,” “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and “Wedding Ring.”). Everything spoken aloud at one time can go between one set of quotation marks.

I look forward to reading your properly formatted dialogue!


Semicolons: It’s more than just a wink!

Image result for semicolons funny

Does that little punctuation glare at you balefully from the keyboard, one dot like an eye angrily judging you for not using it enough–or is it for using it too often?

Worry no more! There are only a few reasons to use a semicolon, and here they are:

  1. Use a semicolon to connect two complete sentences that contain closely related ideas.

Ex. The concert was brilliant; the crowd gave the band a standing ovation.

Ex. I said I’d do it; I didn’t say when I’d do it.

Note: If you can also add “,and” between the two complete sentences, you can add a semicolon to join them. Remember that you need a complete sentence (subject and verb–someone has to be doing something) on either side of the semicolon in order to use it like this!

  1. Use a semicolon to separate a series of items if the items are long or if they contain commas.

Ex. The Millenium Falcon blasted out of Mos Eisley with Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Master; Luke Skywalker, the untried farm boy; Han Solo, the scoundrel; and Chewbacca, the hairy co-pilot on board.

Note: Without semicolons, that list gets weird. You’d have Obi-Wan, another Jedi master, Luke, some other farm boy, Han, some other scoundrel, Chewie, and some other hairy lifeform on the Milennium Falcon–and YT1300s just aren’t that big! Use semicolons to break things into chunks (like you would in a list of cities and states: I have lived in Chicago, Illinois; Tampa, Florida; and Las Vegas, Nevada.)

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two complete sentences joined with transitional phrases (on the other hand, in fact, for example).

Ex.  The Force only works on the weak minded; for example, the stormtroopers whom Obi-Wan tricks into thinking their droids weren’t the ones they were looking for are easily fooled.

Note: When you use a transitional phrase between two complete sentences, you put a semicolon before the word(s) and a commas after it (them).

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two complete sentences joined with conjunctive adverbs such as also, anyway, finally, hence, however, instead, next, therefore, and thus.

Ex. The cantina was filled with alien life forms; however, the two droids were not allowed inside.

Note: This is the same rule as above, but most grammar books will distinguish between transitional phrases and conjunctive adverbs–and they are right to do so! These things are quite different…but not when it comes to semicolon usage. When it comes to punctuation, they often behave the same way.

So that’s it. The semicolon is not a super comma. It’s not used to show a contrast or to slow the reader down (dashes are great for that!). You only have four reasons to use it–three really if you lump #3 and #4 together.

Feel free to glare back at that little key all you want. Now you know when to call it into play.

Editing Vs Proofreading

Is editing the same thing as proofreading?

Not exactly. Although many people use the terms interchangeably, editing and proofreading are two different stages of the revision process. Both demand close and careful reading, but they focus on different aspects of the writing and employ different techniques.

Some tips that apply to both editing and proofreading

Get some distance from the text! It’s hard to edit or proofread something that you’ve just finished writing—it’s still to familiar, and you tend to skip over a lot of errors. Put the work aside for a few hours, days, or weeks. Go for a run. Take a trip to the beach. Clear your head of what you’ve written so you can take a fresh look and see what is really on the page. Better yet, give the paper to a friend—you can’t get much more distance than that. Someone who is reading your work for the first time, comes to it with completely fresh eyes.

  • Decide what medium lets you proofread most carefully. Some people like to work right at the computer, while others like to sit back with a printed copy that they can mark up as they read.
  • Try changing the look of your document. Altering the size, spacing, color, or style of the text may trick your brain into thinking it’s seeing an unfamiliar document, and that can help you get a different perspective on what you’ve written.
  • Find a quiet place to work. Don’t try to do your proofreading in front of the TV or while you’re chugging away on the treadmill. Find a place where you can concentrate and avoid distractions.
  • If possible, do your editing and proofreading in several short blocks of time, rather than all at once—otherwise, your concentration is likely to wane (and Pinterest is right there for you to check out…).


Editing is what you begin doing as soon as you finish your first draft. You reread your draft to see, for example, whether the work is well-organized, the transitions between sections are smooth, and if applicable, your evidence really backs up your argument. You can edit on several levels:

Content: Did you say what you wanted to say? Does everything you’ve said relate to what you wanted to say?

Overall structure: How do all of the pieces of your work fit together? One way to check the structure of your work is to make an outline after you have written the first draft.

Structure within paragraphs: Does each paragraph have a clear focus? Are there any extraneous or missing sentences in any of your paragraphs?

Clarity: Have you defined any important terms that might be unclear to your reader? Is the meaning of each sentence clear? (One way to answer this question is to read your work one sentence at a time, starting at the end and working backwards so that you will not unconsciously fill in content from previous sentences.) Is it clear what each pronoun (he, she, it, they, which, who, this, etc.) refers to? Have you chosen the proper words to express your ideas? Avoid using words you find in the thesaurus that aren’t part of your normal vocabulary; you may misuse them.

Style: Have you used an appropriate tone (formal, informal, persuasive, etc.)? Is your use of gendered language (masculine and feminine pronouns like “he” or “she,” words like “fireman” that contain “man,” and words that some people incorrectly assume apply to only one gender—for example, some people assume “nurse” must refer to a woman) appropriate? Have you varied the length and structure of your sentences? Do you tends to use the passive voice too often? Does your writing contain a lot of unnecessary phrases like “there is,” “there are,” “due to the fact that,” etc.? Do you repeat a strong word (for example, a vivid main verb) unnecessarily?

Citations: Have you appropriately cited quotes, paraphrases, and ideas you got from sources? Are your citations in the correct format?

As you edit at all of these levels, you will usually make significant revisions to the content and wording of your paper. Keep an eye out for patterns of error; knowing what kinds of problems you tend to have will be helpful, especially if you are editing a large document like a thesis or dissertation.

Once you have identified a pattern, you can develop techniques for spotting and correcting future instances of that pattern. For example, if you notice that you often discuss several distinct topics in each paragraph, you can go through your paper and underline the key words in each paragraph, then break the paragraphs up so that each one focuses on just one main idea.


Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, focusing on surface errors such as misspellings and mistakes in grammar and punctuation. You should proofread only after you have finished all of your other editing revisions.

Why proofread? It’s the content that really matters, right?

Content is important. But like it or not, the way a work looks affects the way others judge it. When you’ve worked hard to develop and present your ideas, you don’t want careless errors distracting your reader from what you have to say. It’s worth paying attention to the details that help you to make a good impression.

Most people devote only a few minutes to proofreading, hoping to catch any glaring errors that jump out from the page. But a quick and cursory reading, especially after you’ve been working long and hard on something, usually misses a lot. It’s better to work with a definite plan that helps you to search systematically for specific kinds of errors.

Sure, this takes a little extra time, but it pays off in the end. If you know that you have an effective way to catch errors when the work is almost finished, you can worry less about editing while you are writing your first drafts. This makes the entire writing proccess more efficient.

Try to keep the editing and proofreading processes separate. When you are editing an early draft, you don’t want to be bothered with thinking about punctuation, grammar, and spelling. If your worrying about the spelling of a word or the placement of a comma, you’re not focusing on the more important task of developing and connecting ideas.

The proofreading process

You probably already use some of the strategies discussed below. Experiment with different tactics until you find a system that works well for you. The important thing is to make the process systematic and focused so that you catch as many errors as possible in the least amount of time.

  • Don’t rely entirely on spelling checkers. These can be useful tools but they are far from foolproof. Spell checkers have a limited dictionary, so some words that show up as misspelled may really just not be in their memory. In addition, spell checkers will not catch misspellings that form another valid word. For example, if you type “your” instead of “you’re,” “to” instead of “too,” or “there” instead of “their,” the spell checker won’t catch the error.
  • Grammar checkers can be even more problematic. These programs work with a limited number of rules, so they can’t identify every error and often make mistakes. They also fail to give thorough explanations to help you understand why a sentence should be revised. You may want to use a grammar checker to help you identify potential run-on sentences or too-frequent use of the passive voice, but you need to be able to evaluate the feedback it provides.
  • Proofread for only one kind of error at a time. If you try to identify and revise too many things at once, you risk losing focus, and your proofreading will be less effective. It’s easier to catch grammar errors if you aren’t checking punctuation and spelling at the same time. In addition, some of the techniques that work well for spotting one kind of mistake won’t catch others.
  • Read slow, and read every word. Try reading out loud, which forces you to say each word and also lets you hear how the words sound together. When you read silently or too quickly, you may skip over errors or make unconscious corrections.
  • Separate the text into individual sentences. This is another technique to help you to read every sentence carefully. Simply press the return key after every period so that every line begins a new sentence. Then read each sentence separately, looking for grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. If you’re working with a printed copy, try using an opaque object like a ruler or a piece of paper to isolate the line you’re working on.
  • Circle every punctuation mark. This forces you to look at each one. As you circle, ask yourself if the punctuation is correct.
  • Read the work backwards. This technique is helpful for checking spelling. Start with the last word on the last page and work your way back to the beginning, reading each word separately. Because content, punctuation, and grammar won’t make any sense, your focus will be entirely on the spelling of each word. You can also read backwards sentence by sentence to check grammar; this will help you avoid becoming distracted by content issues.

Proofreading is a learning process. You’re not just looking for errors that you recognize; you’re also learning to recognize and correct new errors. This is where handbooks and dictionaries come in. Keep the ones you find helpful close at hand as you proofread.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t make you a better proofreader. You’ll often find things that don’t seem quite right to you, but you may not be quite sure what’s wrong either. A word looks like it might be misspelled, but the spell checker didn’t catch it. You think you need a comma between two words, but you’re not sure why. Should you use “that” instead of “which”? If you’re not sure about something, look it up. Google is wonderful!

The proofreading process becomes more efficient as you develop and practice a systematic strategy. You’ll learn to identify the specific areas of your own writing that need careful attention, and knowing that you have a sound method for finding errors will help you to focus more on developing your ideas while you are drafting your work.

I know you may think careful proofreading is a waste of time. Please check out what Taylor Mali has to say about this topic:

Think you’ve got it?

Then give it a try. This blog contains seven errors—maybe you already spotted them: three spelling errors, two punctuation errors, and two grammatical errors. Try to find them, and then check to see if you’re a proofreading star.


  1. It’s hard to edit or proofread something that you’ve just finished writing—it’s still to familiar, and you tend to skip over a lot of errors. (“to” should be “too”)
  2. Clear your head of what you’ve written so you can take a fresh look and see what is really on the page. (need comma before “so”)
  3. Someone who is reading your work for the first time, comes to it with completely fresh eyes. (unnecessary comma before “comes”)
  4. Do you tends to use the passive voice too often? (“tends” should be “tend”)
  5. This makes the entire writing proccess more efficient. (“process” is misspelled)
  6. If your worrying about the spelling of a word or the placement of a comma, you’re not focusing on the more important task of developing and connecting ideas. (“your” should be “you’re” here)
  7. Read slow, and read every word. (“Read Slowly”)

This blog post adapted from http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/proofread.html

Punctuation can change everything


Emily Dickinson is known for her use of dashes, for her emphasis on punctuation, for the weight she gives a comma, the intensity of a semicolon. Meaning is often determined by the punctuation marks that divide words from one another, that break up chunks of letters into sentences that contain specific ideas. Move a comma or a period–and the entire meaning shifts or is lost completely.

Punctuation completely alters the sentence above.

It may seem like these marks are such tiny little things–but they are what allow the reader to decipher your meaning at all!

Editor defined

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Editor (noun)

One who prepares the literary work of another person, or number of persons for publication, by selecting, revising, and arranging the material; also, one who prepares an edition of any literary work.

The OED is more than just a place to define words–it also gives the literary history of words, explaining where each one first appeared and in what context. “Editor” also refers to the position at a publishing company, an office of the person who decides what gets published. It wasn’t always a “doing” job; sometimes it was  “deciding” job. Editors didn’t check your grammar; they decided if your work got published at all. Today, editors often do both–massaging your words while making those executive decisions.

This kind of background is important to understand when thinking about words. It’s more than just what it means today. Words have baggage, geographical and cultural influences as well as long-term effects and derivatives.

I try to keep that in mind when editing. Yes, it’s about the rules of English and how it’s supposed to look. But it’s also about the writer’s vision, and the context of the words, and sometimes it’s better to break the “rules” in favor of the effect. Of course, you can only break the rules when you know what they are, so an editor is a handy reference guide to have around.