7 best practice tips for copyediting your own writing

Copyediting laptop with biscuits

In a perfect world, we’d all have a professional editor at our disposal to check that our written work was top notch.

But with tight budgets and punishing deadlines abounding, that's increasingly unlikely.

There's a good chance that next time you’re crafting a report or white paper, you'll almost certainly be on your own. 

If you’re like most of us, you’ll know the gut-sinking feeling of spotting an error in something you’ve written. Usually, it’s just after you’ve hit the publish button or emailed your document to an entire mailing list. 

Try our simple tips to ensure your writing is polished, professional and fit for purpose.

Copyediting and proofreading: what’s the difference?

You’ve probably heard the terms copyediting and proofreading used interchangeably. In a nutshell, there are two distinct levels of revising written work. Copyediting looks at the big picture, while proofreading takes care of cosmetic edits. Both are essential parts of the revision process.

Let’s work backwards.

Proofreading should be the final phase of editing, and the last thing you do before you hit submit. It’s where you tidy up errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and style. It’s the time to pick up any inconsistent capitalisation and spelling. Think of it as the final polish.

But before you think about proofreading, it’s smart to complete a thorough copyedit. This is a substantial review of your text that is best undertaken once your final draft is complete. It’s where you do the heavy lifting by revising your draft and crafting it into text that shines.

This includes rewriting the text to improve its consistency, style and flow. Often, it also means rearranging sentences, reorganising paragraphs or doing big structural changes.

Why should I copyedit my work?

Once you’ve put all your thoughts onto the page, sticking to a few simple copyediting tips can make a world of the difference.

Copyediting ensures your next email, website copy or formal document is polished.

The aim? A document that is structurally sound, flows well, avoids ambiguity and includes all the information the reader needs.

Importantly, copyediting gives you the best chance of ensuring your document doesn't contain any embarrassing mistakes. A thorough copyedit can catch the flaws in your writing before they’re shared with a wider readership.

Like most of us, you probably want to be taken seriously and be respected professionally. If your written work is ambiguous, untidy or unclear, your readers will treat it accordingly.

Our best tips

What you think you’ve written and what is actually written can be very different.

If you’ve spent ages on a piece of writing, you’ll be highly familiar with it and less likely to spot omissions, errors or repetition.

Make sure that you’ve ticked the following boxes.

1. State your goal explicitly

It’s easy to assume that your readers will identify the aim, goal and key points you wish to convey. But unless you've clearly stated these upfront, it's unlikely. If readers can’t identify the gist of your message at a glance, they’ll be less motivated to read on.  

2. Check that you’ve signposted your work

Map out a clear path for your document and make sure you stick to it. Each piece of writing should have a clear structure with a beginning, middle and end. Your readers will appreciate being able to find the information they need quickly.

3. Lead with the most important aspects

Make sure your subject line, title and opening paragraph summarise what your text is about. Describe these in catchy or engaging wording to engage your readers early.

4. Remember that your writing is for your audience

Even though you’ve put your heart and soul into your writing, you’re actually writing for your readers, not for yourself. Consider what is useful and valuable to them. Ask yourself how each piece of information you provide will benefit them.

5. Check that you haven’t overwhelmed the reader with repetition

Often when we’re passionate about a topic, we stress the same point more than once. However, your readers will appreciate brevity and clarity.

6. Mix it up

In the same way that we find it easy to switch off when people talk in a monotone, readers need to be kept engaged. Try varying the length of your sentences. You may need to combine some sentences or shorten others. Paragraphs can be reordered so they flow more smoothly and text can be shuffled around.

7. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in

The art of writing is as much what you leave out as the words you leave in. If your text is full of waffle words that don’t serve a purpose or make a point, take them out. Your readers will thank you.

Copyediting is the first line of defence against mediocre writing. It’s worth an investment of your time and effort – you’ll be rewarded with clear, concise and compelling words that people want to read.

And don't forget - if you're too busy to copyedit your own work, we're here to help

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