How To Edit Your Own Writing

One of the more common questions we get at EditorNinja is if a writer can edit their own content. Usually this is asked because the company is trying to save money and do “good enough for now” to keep good enough content going out at a consistent cadence.

This is why we built EditorNinja, by the way: to make it easy and affordable to get professional content editing done right.

The answer to the question “Can I edit my own content, and if so how?” is “yes” but this answer comes with some important caveats.

In this article we’ll talk about if you should edit your own content. After that, we’ll talk about what writers who edit their own content do to make sure their content is as good as it can be.

Should you edit your own content?

Here at EditorNinja, we often hear from people who are deciding whether they even need “an editor.” When asked what they’re doing for editing currently, they say “Well, I should be editing my own content but I’m not. But I’m not sure I need an editor.”

What the decision here really comes down to is the type of editing you need.

There are two main types and levels of editing:

  1. Substantive editing, focused on the content in the piece, and substantive which focuses on if the piece should accomplish its goal by building an argument, containing an introduction and conclusion (and a call to action if merited).
  2. Line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. These focus on the words themselves and if they communicate what they intend as well as possible, whether the piece is on brand and formatted correctly, and ensuring that each piece of free of typos.

Edit for substance and correctness

If you are the writer or are working with professional writers who know the subject matter and can write about it well, then you can absolutely “edit” your own writing to make sure it does the topic justice, includes an introduction and conclusion, and is written according to brand standards of tone and voice. Any writer or good content manager should be doing and responsible for this.

Outsource line editing, copy editing, and proofreading

What most writers and content managers should outsource is the second part of writing, which is line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Line editing can be done in-house as long as the editor has an eye for details and is obsessed with language and vocabulary. Sometimes, though, we find that editors who know the subject too well will overlook things that are obvious to them but may not be obvious to someone who is just learning and thus does not have the same background.

Copy editing and proofreading, on the other hand, are trained skills. Copy editing, which is the most technical of editing and can cover multiple styles of writing and formatting such as MLA or APA, is a trained skill that professional editors study for years, often at the Master’s level. In fact, all of our editors at EditorNinja have at least one MFA in language and literature, including training on the various styles of writing. Most writers are not trained editors, and thus, this is the area where most writers and content managers should look to outsource.

Proofreading is a skill that many people believe they can do themselves, but the reality is that proofreading is more than “fixing typos.” At its base, proofreading does do that but also marks grammar, punctuation, and consistency errors (such as passive vs. active voice). Pretty much anyone with a decent education can correct for typos, but recognizing punctuation errors and consistency of copy is also a trained skill.

So, should you edit your own work?

In short, you can and should edit your own writing, or that of writers you work with, for correctness, structure, and brand tone and voice.

Line editing, copy editing, and proofreading on the other hand are trained skills that are usually best outsourced unless you have that expertise in-house.

How To Edit Your Own Writing

Writers who are editing their own content all have their own way of doing so. But after reviewing the processes of writers who also edit their own work, there are a few themes that stand out:

  1. Split up writing and editing,
  2. Edit to the brief given (assuming one exists),
  3. Review for grammatical errors and typos before reworking content,
  4. Review twice before sending to the client or publishing.

Split up writing and editing

Most writers will split up their writing and editing so that they approach the editing portion with fresh eyes. This is because writing is creative and involves exercising that part of your brain to create something you are proud of, whereas editing requires attention to detail and a dispassionate approach to the piece.

By splitting up writing and editing, you return to the content in a different frame of mind and can deal with it as if someone else wrote it. Otherwise, you are editing while still in a creator’s mindset, which does not return the best work.

Edit to the brief

Many writers find it helpful to edit according to the brief they’ve been given as if they were reading the brief for the first time.

Some writers treat the brief like a checklist to make sure they meet all of the requirements of the piece, such as a story at the start, a conclusion that ties the piece together, at least 3 subheadings and two lists, and a call to action at the end.

Using a brief or an outline to make sure you follow it is the best place to start editing your own work so that you’re ultimately sending back or publishing something that is right.

Review for grammar and technical errors before reworking content

Most writers are also voracious readers, and we all know that typos and errors in copy are distracting while reading. The same is true for editing.

Because of this, most writers who are editing their own work prefer to go through their rough manuscript to edit for typos and grammatical errors so that they are not distracted while editing for substance, structure, and clarity. In fact, almost every writer I studied does this before the in-depth structural and substantive editing to get themselves in the editing frame of mind.

Editing of this sort usually takes an hour per 2,000 words written.

Review twice before returning to the client or publishing

Once the writer is done editing their work, they take a break before taking one last pass at the piece. In this final pass they are looking for any errors they missed, anything that is still not clear, and making sure that hyperlinks work and images appear.

Only after all of this work is done do they return the piece to their client or upload and schedule it for publishing.

The editing needed depends on the quality of the writing and the writer

We often speak with people who are paying writers who are unqualified to write on specific topics, and then they’re looking for a subject matter expert to come in and fact-check to make sure that what was written is, in fact, correct.

This can be defined as “editing,” but it is a more accurate review of the content before it actually goes into editing. If a piece of content is incorrect in its claims, it needs to be rewritten. This sometimes falls on an editor’s shoulders, but really it should fall on the writer and the person who was responsible for hiring that writer.

A good writer should be reviewing their copy for correctness, following the brief, and for it to be as error-free as possible. A bad or more junior writer will not do this, and thus editing costs should be factored into how much they are paid. It is usually more economical to pay a better writer from the start than to try to make bad writing better or “good enough.”

Tired of editing your own copy?

Here at EditorNinja, we speak with a lot of writers who are simply working too hard. We’d love to take the technical parts of editing off your plate so you can focus on the content itself and communicating what you intend.

Schedule a free Editorial Assessment to learn more.