As writers, self-editing is one of the hardest things we have to do.
We love our work. The way that we have expressed our ideas makes perfect sense in our own heads, and so analyzing it sentence by sentence can be disheartening and difficult. But it is essential.
When you are in the flow of writing, it’s more important to get your ideas out and maintain your momentum. Scrutinizing every word choice and sentence structure as you go along slows you down and distracts you. So write with reckless abandon and then schedule time to go back and tighten it up.
Below we’ll look at how to avoid some of the most common writing pitfalls by using an editing tool. Good writing is about much more than just good grammar; it’s about clarity, construction, variety and word choice.
Let’s look at some of the issues that a writing tool can highlight for you.
1. Understand Your Document Score
Your document score will give you a breakdown of how your writing performs across grammar, spelling, style and terminology. As you can see above, the blog post I ran through ProWritingAid has low grammar and style scores, both of which can be improved with the tool’s suggestions.
The overall score will give you an idea of how much editing work you have to do, and flag key areas to focus on throughout the editing process.
2. Improve Your Writing Style
The breakdown of your writing style involves the use of passive voice, overuse of adverbs and removing hidden verbs. These elements distract from what you’re trying to say and make your writing weak.
Adverbs make your writing rather unclear, or like Stephen King says, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
From the report above, passive voice isn’t an issue, but there are way too many adverbs and a few hidden verbs to clean up as well. It’s not a problem here, but typically passive voice can be hard to spot, so it’s nice to have a tool that will illuminate this problem for you.
Unless your piece is intentionally bureaucratic, hidden verbs will make it sound stuffy and act as a barrier between your point and the reader. Using adverbs, hidden verbs and the passive voice together can produce sentence structures like this:
Original: It was noted that the unanimous intention of the committee is to fully submit a report of their findings by June. (21 words)
Revised: The committee will report their findings by June. (8 words)
3. Discover Your Overused Words
There are certain words in the English language that have been used to death and drained of all their meaning. This includes using wishy-washy words, vague language, words that “tell” rather than “show”, and sentences that start with an “-ing” word. These words and structures are not problematic on their own, but if you use too many of them your writing will be less persuasive.
From our ProWritingAid analysis, there are two words that have been overused, including initial “-ing”. Time to cut them out and add something better.
4. Clean Up Your Grammar
We all make grammar mistakes. Even authors who have published multiple books might have a few misplaced commas here and there. Grammar can be tough to master and even tougher to implement on the fly as you write.
ProWritingAid picks up where traditional grammar tools have left off. From the report above you can see that 34 grammar issues and 4 spelling issues squeaked through the cracks.
Not every suggestion will be applicable to your work, but being able to use a tool that goes beyond simple spell check will help to iron out any common grammar mistakes.
5. Vary Your Sentence Length and Structure
Repetitious writing sounds flat and does little to keep your readers glued to the page. Yet again, this can be hard to catch on your own. The sentences look good, and there are no glaring errors, so why change them?
Your paragraphs should have a combination of medium, short and long sentences. Too many long sentences and your work sounds verbose and will be hard to follow. Too many short sentences and it’ll sound choppy and out of place.
The analyzed post did pretty well with regards to sentence variety and length, but there are still sentences that are too long.
6. Get Rid of Sticky Sentences
Sticky sentences ramble around before they get to the point. They contain far more glue words than necessary. Glue words like act as filler and don’t do much for your writing except add space and confusion.
If the editing tool highlights a sentence as sticky, have a look and see if it can be made clearer. Let’s do a quick example for this one:
Original: It has been shown that the levels of the sea have been on the rise ever since the middle of the 1970s. (63.6% glue index)
Revised: Sea levels have been rising since 1976. (28.6% glue index)
See? In the second sentence, we have made the same point but in a concise way.
7. Simplify Your Language
Good writing is clear and simple. To draw from Orwell’s six rules of writing, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
Use the Readability Report to check the Flesch Reading Ease Score for your writing. The higher the number, the easier it is to read and understand:
- 90-100 means an average 5th grader can understand it.
- 50 means an average high school student can understand it.
- 0-30 means you probably need a college degree to understand it.
Calculated slightly differently, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Measure tells you the school grade that will be best able to understand your writing.
Before you began writing, you should have figured out the target audience for your work, and your prose should reflect that. If your book is a high-level examination of complex physics aimed at scientists in that discipline, then a low reading ease score is fine. If you are writing for members of the general public, you should aim for a minimum score of 60.
8. Remove Bland and Corporate Wording
The last thing we want is our writing to be vague, stiff or abstract. ProWritingAid will identify the words that we’ve used throughout our text that may cause these effects. Cut them out and you’re on your way towards bringing your writing back to life.
The report for our sample post turned up quite a few vague and corporate words. Time to head to the chopping block and choose some simpler, descriptive words.
Editing should be easy, not something you struggle through. We’ve shown just eight of the many ways that a tool like ProWritingAid can help make the process as pain-free as possible.
If you are passing your work onto an editor, then using an editing tool will help to improve the quality of your feedback. Instead of wasting their time cleaning up commas and removing adverbs, they’ll be able to offer high-level feedback on structure, impact and making the most of your specialist knowledge.
And if doing multiple rounds of self-editing is your final step, then using an editing tool will help to catch glaring errors you may overlook, make the self-editing process easy and enjoyable, and enhance the quality of your writing.
Note: Authority, VIP and Thought Leader members get a discount off ProWritingAid. Visit the member dashboard for details.
Kevin Wood is a freelance writer for hire who has a deep love for poetry and dystopian fiction. You can find him furiously typing away at his computer, getting lost in the woods, or making poorly timed jokes.