I love to edit other people’s work- I mean, hey, I’m the editor for our Her Campus chapter! I find grammar fascinating, have Thesaurus.com on my bookmarks tab, own a physical copy of the AP Style Guide, and have had passionate debates on the Oxford comma (I am pro Oxford comma, no matter what journalists think is right). But there’s one thing that is always daunting.
Editing my own work.
It feels like listening to a recording of your own voice, and half the time it’s hard to notice errors you yourself wrote. When you’ve looked at it a million times, your eyes skim right over the mistakes, and you can’t tell if there’s a good flow because it already looks like a completed puzzle.
Figuring out how to get around these issues can be tricky, but I’ve got a handful of strategies up my sleeve that make it a little bit easier.
1. Read your work out loud.
This tip is first because I think it is truly the most effective way to catch any small mistakes you might be glossing over. When you’re speaking out loud, it makes it a little harder for your eyes to jump to the next line or ignore that “you’re” that should be “your.” It also draws your attention pretty quickly to any phrasing that’s awkward; if you stumble over your words because they’re in a weird order, they’ll probably trip up a reader, too (obviously, this doesn’t apply to words you just can’t pronounce, especially if you’re writing a chemistry paper).
2. Read your work out loud. Again.
I’m serious, do it more than once. Read it slowly. Read it as if you’re presenting it to an audience. Read it as if you really need to convey the information to someone. Read each individual sentence at random.
Make sure you read it for comprehension out loud, and not just the sounds of the words; you should know what you’re saying, because that way you’re in tune with the words and can feel out any mistakes or places that need clarity.
3. Work backwards when looking at transitions.
Written pieces are like climbing ropes in middle school gym class. The whole thing connects to itself, and you use the knots both up and down. In an essay, blog post, or article, the knots are your points, and you read along the rope, going knot by knot.
When you’re writing, you may jump from one point to the next without a transition that properly connects the two. When you read the work forward, it’s not always easy to notice the gap in the knots, because in your head, you already know where the rope is. When you read the work backwards (either sentence by sentence for something really short, or paragraph by paragraph for a longer essay), any places where transitions are lacking become much more apparent. You can figure out what order your points should be in that makes them connect better, or add a sentence that clarifies a less obvious, but still correct, transition.
4. Look carefully at your commas and semicolons.
The biggest grammar issue I, and many others, run into is when and how to use a comma versus a semicolon. A lot of people find semicolons mysterious and scary, and I don’t blame them; for a long time I couldn’t figure out where they should replace commas. This is another place where reading your work out loud can help. If the two parts of a compound sentence are related, but not directly connected in phrasing, use a semicolon instead of a comma, especially if there’s no conjunction. For example:
“The trip was amazing; we had a lot of fun” instead of “The trip was amazing, we had a lot of fun.”
Or, make sure there’s a conjunction in there: “The trip was amazing, and we had a lot of fun.”
5. When in doubt, ask a friend!
If you truly can’t find any issues with your work but feel like you might have missed something, ask a friend, consult a peer tutor, or use a service like Grammarly. Self editing takes a lot of practice and it’s okay to not feel confident right away. Remember your Her Campus chapter editor is there to help, and the Official Her Campus Stylebook is always available to reference. Happy writing!