Be Your Own Best Reader: Tips to Develop Self-Editing Skills -->

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Be Your Own Best Reader: Tips to Develop Self-Editing Skills

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You may know how to be receptive to faculty feedback, how to incorporate feedback from the professionals at the Writing Center, and maybe how to give and receive feedback on your writing from your colleagues. You have even had to figure out what to do with negative feedback and how to engage with your instructor to address it. But part of taking your writing practice to the next level means learning to revise by training the most important source of feedback you will ever have: yourself.

statue sitting reading a paper

Be your own best reader
Really learning to write means learning to revise, and figuring out how to get perspective on your own work without help from others is hard. This may seem counterintuitive—after all, you are the one who wrote the draft, and you are the one who knows what you meant to say, so shouldn’t you be the best judge of whether you said it? Well, no, not always. It can be very hard to tell if you said what you meant to say or if what you wrote will be clear to someone else. This is because it did make sense to you when you wrote it—you did say what you meant to say, and knowing whether it will make sense to someone else is a skill you have to develop.

Take a break, get some space
Remember that writing a draft and revising your work are actually two different mental activities: one involves creating new material, the other involves evaluating material that already exists. Good revision comes from being able to take the perspective of your reader, and this means getting distance from the draft you just wrote. Schedule your writing practice so that you can take time off after you write the first draft—setting your draft aside for a few hours or a few days is usually enough. That way, you can get farther away from what you meant to say in your head and closer to what you actually said on the page.

Prioritize your goals
Even after you take a break from your draft to think like a reader instead of a writer, you know no reader can catch everything the first time through, and you do not want to waste time proofreading a sentence you will end up deleting later! The first few times you read over your own work, focus on the big things:

  • Purpose (does the draft meet the assignment requirements?)
  • Thesis (does it have a clear main idea?)
  • Organization (is everything arranged in logical order?)
  • Support (does the draft include appropriate evidence to support claims?)

These higher-order concerns are important. If they’re done poorly, they can stand in the way of your reader truly comprehending your paper. You should prioritize these goals in your self-revision process because they can greatly influence the quality of your writing and your reader’s experience.

Build a system to help you
Once you are sure your content is strong, focus on polishing everything up. Even the most confident writers have typos in their drafts, so don’t worry about sentence-level errors until you are sure those sentences are there to stay. At that point, figure out what your proofreading strengths and weaknesses are. Do you know the kinds of errors you typically make? Are there parts of grammar, citation, and general APA style you aren’t quite sure about? If you know the kind of editing help you need, see if there are resources and strategies to help you do it on your own.

Grammarly, a writing-enhancement platform you can access through the Writing Center, is an excellent resources for catching sentence-level issues that can interfere with clarity in your draft, so consider incorporating it into your writing practice too. The Writing Center website has plenty more information on revision and self-editing resources and different steps to revising, so be sure to check those out for more information.

It takes time, practice, and patience, but learning to be your own best reader will help you become a self-sufficient scholar and a stronger writer. It’s just one of the many ways you can develop the skills that will help you as a professional and a member of the academic community after you graduate!

Lydia Lunning
 is a Dissertation Editor and Coordinator of Capstone Services. She earned degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota, and served on the editorial staff of Cricket Magazine Group.

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