The life of a writer tends to be fairly isolated. We are alone most of the time, working away at our computer as we create content of all types. While many writers have writing groups and friends to run things by, it’s impractical to think that you can run everything by your writing peers. This means that no matter how robust your writing community is, you still have to self-edit your work. When you self-edit, you’re bound to miss some of these common errors, needlessly taking the shine off of your polished work.
Just to clarify, every writer self-edits on a continual, on-going basis. This is at the heart of any type of writing, from business to fiction. We all are on a quest to find better ways of saying things. What I’m speaking about here is the final-cut style editing that helps ensure perfection before something goes to print or gets in front of an end-user.
So what are these common mistakes and how can you avoid them?
1. Inconsistent formatting
This refers to not keeping your document consistent in form, from beginning to end, in terms of headings, margins, tabs, spacing between headings and content. Do you space one line or two after a header? Do you put one or two spaces after a bullet point or number? Little things like this can distract readers and make your document look less than professional. Set up a style sheet and follow it to help reduce this problem.
2. Double words
Double words are often an editing remnant, meaning one of the repeated words is left over from a rewrite. You’ll see this often with words like “the” or “and” because our brain tends to skip over them as we review content. You can set some of your spell and grammar check tools to look for repeated words to help catch this problem.
Every writer worth the print on their page knows the difference between their and there, or know and no. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t accidentally get caught in a homophone trap. This doesn’t happen because of lack of knowledge, but rather from quick re-reads and selectively looking for large errors, making the small ones harder to spot. Slow down as you re-read and practice looking for common homophones, asking yourself each time you see one, “Is this one correct?”
4. Word skipping
Your brain is great at filling in the gaps as you read. This can be handy but it can also create problems if you’re editing content. Little words like such as at, that, the, and, is among others can easily be mentally filled in as you read. Slow down when you read and make a mental note to look at articles and prepositions as these are the most likely words to get skipped.
Do you want to avoid these errors? Slow down, look for them specifically as you proof your pieces and take a break from your writing so that you can look at it with fresh eyes. Just a 15 minute break from staring at the same text can revitalize your editing.
A bonus tip would be to read your piece out loud because we tend to read slower and with more attention to detail when we give voice to our words. I do this a lot which may make me sound crazy to those around me, but is certainly helps me create better content with fewer mistakes!