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Oct 9 / King Kaufman

7 good tips for your most important editor: You

Even if we still lived in that possibly mythical old world where three or four editors went over your story with a fine-tooth red pencil and polished it until it gleamed, the most important editor in your career would still be you.

In this world in which we live in*, being your own best editor is crucial. That’s why I like to pass along good editing and copy editing tips whenever I come across them.

* I was 10 when the Paul McCartney song “Live and Let Die” came out, with that ungrammatical phrase prominent in the first few lines. Even then, years before I had my first inkling of a future in writing or editing, or much of an interest in either, I thought, “Didn’t they have someone around to tell him to take out one of those ins?”

Social Media Today last week offered 7 Editing Tips to Improve Your Blog-Writing Skills, presumably because blogs are a social media, but the tips work for any kind of writing.

The post, by college student and social media marketing strategist Natalie Contreras, takes a few paragraphs to get going, but then gets into some solid advice, including something I’ve never tried but sounds like a great idea:

5. Read at random. Choose a random paragraph from your article and edit it. Then choose another random paragraph and edit that one. Do so until you have finished editing them all. I know you’re asking yourself why? This tactic stops you from reading in “autopilot.” You wrote this article so you know what’s coming next and you may miss obvious mistakes.

Contreras also suggests the free online tool After the Deadline, which allows you to paste a chunk of type into a box and offers suggestions on potential spelling and grammar mistakes.

But don’t get comfortable with tools like that because they aren’t as good at editing as you can be. Contreras acknowledges that with her fourth tip: “Don’t trust spell-check.”

  • Tim Coughlin

    In college some folks in our newsroom got in the habit of straight-up self-editing backwards, from the last paragraph to the first. I’d definitely recommend it.

    It’s also important to look for patterns in the errors you find in your own copy rather than just “getting through” the process. Anyone taking writing seriously should be interested in recognizing and eliminating those errors. For example, I realized I sometimes type “our” instead of “out” (and vice versa). And that’s why that fourth step is important, as many spell-checkers won’t point that out.

    I believe the writing internship has found After the Deadline to be useful as well, but it’s a good example of that, as it did not catch a test of “I went our the door.”

    • King_Kaufman

      I almost never type the right one out of:

      here / hear
      there / their (but they’re I get right most of the time)
      sight / site

      I probably type the wrong one 90 percent of the time. It’s not that i have trouble remembering which is the correct word to use. It’s just a typing thing. I know to look for it and usually catch it before publishing, but one occasionally slips through. A spellcheck won’t help me. Knowing to look for it is key.

    • Greg Pearl

      After the Deadline makes a great add-on for Firefox (and an extension for Google Chrome). It highlights mistakes in your tweets, B/R comments, emails—almost any text field on a site—without having to copy and paste. is another fave. It’s loaded with options and 100 percent free. It can’t be said enough, though: Nothing *replaces* good old-fashioned proofreading.

  • Tom Urtz Jr

    Great tips King, also digging the Paul McCartney reference. I also use the phrase “live and let live” even though I am corrected by people who say “live and learn”.