How To Become a Great Self-Editor: 7 Questions To Improve Your Writing

25 Feb 2019


We’ve said it before, and we’ll probably say it again: Editing is an essential part of the writing process. Every writer — from the bestselling novelist to the complete novice — can benefit from a thorough review by a critical, impartial eye.

Of course, it’s hard to be critical and impartial about your own work. This is also true for every writer, which is why professional editors exist.   

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to become a skilled self-editor. Like writing, editing is a skill: The more you practice, the better you get — and the easier it is to approach your own writing with a set of fresh eyes. 

Want to sharpen your editorial skills? Here are a few questions to ask as you review your draft:

  1. 1. Is each sentence as clear as it could be?

    Each sentence in your writing should say exactly what you want it to say. Vague details, confusing descriptions, or meandering run-ons can cloud your meaning and confuse your reader.  Hands down, the best quick reference to concise writing is (still) Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

  2. 2. Are there any sentences that feel clunky or awkward?

    A good way to check: If you suspect that a sentence is a bit unwieldy, read it aloud. Nine times out of ten, you’ll know if you need to revise.

  3. 3. Have I varied my sentence length?

    Too many short sentences can make a piece of writing feel choppy. Too many long ones can feel rambly. Ideally, your writing should have a good balance of short and long sentences.

  4. 4. Can I eliminate any passive sentences?

    Passive sentences are almost always a no-go. Rewrite them. Here are a few examples:

    Passive:  “The book was written by a ghostwriter.

    Active: “A ghostwriter wrote the book”

    Passive: “The patient was examined by the doctor.”

    Active: “The doctor examined the patient.”

    Passive: “Each component is designed and built by an experienced engineer.”

    Active: “Experienced engineers design and build each component.”

  5. 5. Does every paragraph begin with an interesting sentence?

    The first sentence of each paragraph should make you want to keep reading. As you review each paragraph in your draft, look for opening sentences that surprise, raise questions, or build suspense.  

  6. 6. Does every paragraph “flow” into the next?

    Look for a logical progression of ideas. Does each paragraph feel connected to the one before it? The one after it? Are there any paragraphs that seem like they don’t “fit” together? Any jarring or abrupt shifts in time, subject matter, point of view, or tense?

  7. 7. Does this “sound” like you wanted it to?

    When you started writing, you probably had an idea of the tone, or “voice,” you were aiming for. Read your writing aloud. Do you want your writing to sound more casual and conversational, like you’re chatting with a friend? Use lots of contractions, start sentences with “and” and “but,” and don’t be afraid of sentence fragments. Want something more formal? Stick to English-class grammar rules and sentence structures instead. 

Stephanie Hashagen 
Stephanie’s expertise in English and writing spans over a decade in freelancing and teaching. Stephanie worked as a staff writer and editor for The Houstonian, contributed to The Huntsville Item, freelanced for The Houston Chronicle and spent four years teaching English and reading at the junior high and high school level. She has a Master’s Degree in English from the University of St. Thomas and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Sam Houston State University. Stephanie has also ghost-authored several non-fiction and fiction manuscripts, numerous fashion and travel articles, and countless press releases, pitch letters, taglines, and print ads. Her copywriting and journalism experience includes technical copy for Tyco Flow Control and customer communications copy for a major American credit card company. Stephanie has also worked on copy and campaigns for Hilton and Carpet One Floor & Home, North America’s largest floor covering retailer.

At The Writers For Hire, she has overseen, edited, proofread, or written copy for over 50 clients. Stephanie is an exceptional proofreader, writer, and editor and has a gift for adding a creative flair to projects while keeping copy professional and concise.

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