Rewriting ripens what you’ve written.
—Duane Alan Hahn
Proofreading and editing are different skills. Proofreading is the tedious, scientific task of making your paper error free. I’ve posted earlier about proofreading, including Eight Steps for Proofreading.
But let’s talk now about the art of editing. Deep editing is part of the art of writing. It is the kind of editing that a good writing coach might do for you and the kind that so many of us avoid. Deep editing requires a systematic attack on your paper and an objective eye. While you must still keep your writing hat on, you must approach your writing as if you were a reader—or a plastic surgeon. Deep editing is precise, surgical work and it requires a finely tuned aesthetic sense and a good ear.
Block Out Time for Self-Editing
First, carve out time for rigorous self-editing. Editing is the most important part of writing, so you are cheating yourself if you don’t build in time for editing. Professional writers are neurotic about self-editing, so they always leave time for editing. And editing will always take more time than you might think, so save a generous block of time.
Edit with a Vengeance
Approach your paper as if you were a slightly deranged reader with a knife in hand. Deep editing is driven by substance and it requires you to review for structure, substance, sound, readability, appeal, clarity, and integrity.
Review Your Paper in Print Preview
You cannot edit effectively unless you can see what your work will look like to your reader. Edit at least once in hard copy. If you refuse to print for environmental reasons, then at least review your paper in Print Preview or Full Screen Reading View.
Say Your Sentences Aloud
At this first stage of self-editing, your job is to focus on sentences and to cure clutter and check for plain English. Say each sentence aloud—if only in your head—to edit for plain English and to cure clutter and grammatical errors. If you are smart enough to make it through law school, the grammatical rules of modern English are embedded in your brain and ear. Saying your sentences aloud is the only tool an educated writer needs for effective sentence-level editing.
So read through your paper sentence by sentence and rely on your well-trained and unforgiving ear to weed out clutter and confusion. Click here for more tips on plain English editing.
Once you have finished sentence-level editing, you can begin editing for structure. I’ll post soon about structural editing, so stay tuned!
P. S. My Book contains many more tips on writing.