Here’s How to Edit Your Drafts

how to edit your draft
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

Writing is the creation of written coherent thought. Editing is an integral part of the writing process because it guarantees clear and concise written communication.

In my experience as a writer, editor, proofreader, and writing instructor, I’ve discovered that having an editing system that allows you to break the editing process into different steps and focus on each important element of good writing is more effective than reading your drafts repeatedly to see what errors jump at you.

When you edit, you must keep the reader in mind. So, yes, I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve spent hours thinking about you. I went to bed last night thinking about you. This morning, I thought about you. I even told my mom about you. Okay, I agree. This is getting creepy.

Here’s how to edit your drafts.

Step 1- Focus on spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

how to edit your draft funny image

Correcting spelling errors and grammatical errors and using appropriate punctuation marks ensure that the gist of your draft is easy to digest. Doing these also make room for clear communication.

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bad punctuation meme

Although most people take only this step, the editing process doesn’t stop here.

Step 2- Focus on diction.

Diction refers to your choice of words. Many English words have various synonyms because each synonym best describes a slight variation of the concept captured by the word. Consider “devour,” “nibble,” and “eat.”

“Devour” paints the picture of someone consuming food voraciously, destructively, or recklessly. “Nibble” paints the picture of someone biting off small bits of food in small pieces. “Eat” simply paints the picture of someone… eating. It leaves a lot out for interpretation, and, depending on the context, it may be insufficient.

Consider this:

In an essay on corruption, which of the following sentences hits the nail on the head? 

  1. The politicians are eating government funds.
  2. The politicians are devouring government funds.

So, question your diction. Do your words paint the best or intended image?

Do you have writing anxiety? I’ve written this post just for you.

Step 3 – Focus on wordiness and repetition.

Good writing is clear and concise. Hence, wordiness and repetition – unless they serve a necessary stylistic purpose – have no place in good writing.

Often, college students (and some other groups of writers) resort to wordiness and repetition to meet a high word count requirement.

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At the end of this section, you will find a better solution to this problem. But first, let’s discuss what wordiness and repetition look like.

Wordiness means using unnecessary words. It embodies a narcissistic person who loves the sound of their voice so much that, instead of saying, “Could you take me home?” they say, “Could you take me to the place where I reside?” just so they can keep hearing their voice. 

A common example of wordiness is using “of the” when “‘s” would have done a better job. For example, writing “the wife of the man” instead of “the man’s wife” or “his wife.” Another example is writing “in order to” when “to” is sufficient.

Repetition, on the other hand, is when you express something that has already been expressed. It’s like a friend who tells the same story every time, like in the following exchange. 

Friend A: Dude, have I told you about the time I almost had a threesome? So, I was at this party, and-

Friend B: You have, Brandon! You have! Now, could you call the freaking ambulance?

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If a word, phrase, clause, or sentence doesn’t add to what has already been stated, it’s probably a child of repetition.

Spotting repetition often requires logic and a second take.

Consider the following sentences.

  1. A car is useful if you need to go places, like if you have transportation issues. If you have a car, transportation is easier. (Here, the second sentence is a repetition of the first sentence. Also, the second part of the first sentence is already inferred in the first part of that sentence.) 
  2. His young six-year-old daughter was home. (Do old six-year-olds exist?)
  3. The first Lord of the Rings movie has one short dwarf. (Do tall dwarves exist?)
  4. His beautiful friend is so pretty. (Don’t even get me started with this one!)

Earlier, I mentioned that some writers resort to wordiness and repetition to meet a high word count requirement. When faced with the same problem, simply ask yourself:

  1. Have I written ALL I have to say on this subject? 
  2. Have I written ALL there is to say on this subject? 

Adding to your content is better than watering it down with repetition and wordiness.

Step 4- Focus on structure.

The writer’s task is to take the reader from point A to point D. Unless it is a well-executed and necessary stylistic choice, if you structure your draft to take the reader from A to C to B to D (instead of A to B to C to D), you will lose the reader.

Earlier, I mentioned that you must keep the reader in mind as you edit your drafts. Here’s why. Usually, people don’t have immediate access to a writer when reading their work. So, when the writer has lost the reader, the reader can’t ask the writer for clarification. Therefore, you must write with this disadvantage in mind by ensuring your draft’s structure (i.e organization of thoughts) aids the reader’s digestion of your work.

Step 5- Have you followed the rules of that type of writing?

The requirements of a speech are different from that of a formal letter, and the requirements of a formal letter are different from an essay’s. 

If you don’t know the rules guiding the type of writing you’re engaged in, ask Google. When you’ve found the rules, follow them.

Step 6- Read your draft out loud or use a text-to-speech reader.

By reading your draft out loud or having a text-to-speech reader do that for you, you can ultimately put yourself in your reader’s shoes. As you do this, you will easily notice when you’ve made spelling and grammatical errors, omitted appropriate punctuation marks, fallen prey to repetition and wordiness, structured your draft poorly, and so on.

The disadvantage of reading your draft in your head (subvocalization) when you edit is that your brain, instead of spotting errors, may automatically correct them since it knows your intention.

Google Chrome has some incredible extensions that can read to you. Read Aloud: A Text to Speech Voice Reader is my favorite.

Instead of following this step, many have their friends and family members proofread their drafts. While this is a good idea, it will fail if the selected person can’t recognize bad writing or if they care about your feelings so much that they can’t give you accurate feedback, or both.

I must mention that the above steps will improve your draft ONLY if you know what to look for. Writing, like other skills, must be learned. If you don’t understand the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and other important elements of good writing, you’ll follow the above steps and still have a bad draft. 

You can take the easy way out by using editing apps like Grammarly. That said, note that these apps often miss some errors, and they can misinterpret your statements and give you wrong suggestions. When you’re blind, you can’t tell when a salesperson has given you a red shirt instead of a pink one.

Hiring a proofreader or an editor is always a great idea. If you do hire one, please pay them a fair price for the value they provide.

Step 7- Know when to stop.

This is more of a piece of advice. Once you notice that every thought you intended to include in your draft has been written clearly, concisely, and coherently, and that you’ve followed the rules guiding that type of writing, stop editing. Don’t worry, you’ll have other opportunities to display your witty analogies and fancy words.

Did I miss anything? Have you learned anything? How do you edit your drafts? Please, comment. I would love to read and learn from you.

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