Writing Course: Self-Editing Your Work

You have written a story – short story or novel, it doesn’t matter. Now it is time to self-edit it. It is easy to find flaws in other people’s work, but quite difficult to recognise them in your own.

There are three components of self-editing:

1. line/copy-editing,
2. sentence editing,
3. content editing.


A point to remember, whilst the spell check in word processors will identify some misspelt words, you should never rely on it when self-editing as they do not pick up words that are correctly spelled but used in the wrong context (such as to, too, two, their, there, would, wood).

However, you should use the ‘find and replace’ function to check the following:

[table style=”1″]

What to Look For What to Do
Words ending with ‘ly’ Adverbs tell rather than show. A lot of the time if you strengthen the verb, you can eliminate the adverb.
and, so, but, however, because Avoid connectives where possible. Try a full stop and make two sentences, or rearrange and shorten the sentence.
that If the sentence reads well without it, delete it.
thing, stuff Don’t be lazy! Be specific.
he, she, him, her, his, hers If you have two or more characters, don’t rely on pronouns as the reader can become confused as to who is doing/saying what.


Sentence Editing

Once you’ve completed the basic line/copy-edit to correct spelling and grammar, you will need to examine your sentences and the words used. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the language specific, strong?
Do your words allow visualisation?
Is the main character well developed, convincing?
Will the reader sympathise with the main character?
Is there jargon or cliches that should be removed?
Are you too wordy or concise?
Is the word choice supportive of the setting?
Is the tone consistent?
Are there shifts in tone, tense, style or voice?
Is the dialogue convincing?
Does the dialogue move the story along?
Does the dialogue reveal character, conflict or emotion?

Content Editing

The course tackles this last but I feel this should be the first thing you do as major changes could result which may mean the work you’ve already completed in the line/copy-edit and sentence edit has been wasted.

Some more questions you should ask yourself:

What is your story about?
Can you sum up, in one sentence, what you story is about?
Are you saying what you want to say?
What does the main character want? Is this clear from the start?
Where is the story set? Is it important?
Will the reader relate to the main character?
Does the story have direction?
Is there a catchy beginning?
Is the conflict clear from the beginning?
Do the characters face interesting obstacles and make difficult decisions?
Does every action have cause and effect?
Is the main character well developed and interesting?
What is the character’s ruling passion or fatal flaw?
Does the character struggle, grow, change, make a stand?
Is the right character telling the story?
Does the setting create the right mood, have a strong sense of time and place, further the theme and plot?
Is there continuance, consistency and credibility?
Has the point of view or tense changed?
Are the characters believable?
Is the narrative voice right for the story?

Professional Presentation

Once the story has been written, rewritten and edited until it is the best it can be, it is time to take steps to ‘present’ your work in a professional manner.

I would recommend you using William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format Website as a guide, but here’s a quick checklist:

  • Use A4 good quality white paper
  • Use no less than 12 point black font
  • Never use colour ink
  • Use double spacing for manuscript content
  • Use a title page, or more often these days, insert the following onto the first page of the manuscript:
      story title
      author’s name
      approximate word count
      full name, address and contact details
  • Insert into top header, except first page, right aligned, in the following format:
      story title/ author’s surname / page number
  • Left justify content.
  • Make sure there is no extra white space between paragraphs and the first line of each paragraph is indented up to five spaces (3 is a good number).
  • Never bind pages.
  • Always keep a backup copy on disk (or, do what I do, email yourself a copy for safe keeping).
  • Most important, always read the publisher guidelines and do as directed. Always!


Editing Course: Putting it all Together

So far during the course I’ve learned many things. Some interesting theory about the publishing world and some stuff I already knew but was pleased to do a refresher for. The main thing I’ve learned, however, is the proofreading marks and conventions.

The topics in the current unit are now all practical exercises, putting together all the editing and proofreading marks I’ve learned so far so there’s nothing for me to type about. However, there was a simple list of quick tips I thought would be interesting to share.

Here is the list:

  • Take care with proofreading marks and make sure they are clear.
  • Make the marks short and fat rather than long and skinny. This will save space and give more room for marks on the lines of text above and below the one you’re working on.
  • Start your margin marks further to the left (in both margins) to allow room for other marks on the same line of text.
  • By pressing more lightly on the marking pen, the marks become clearer.
  • Use a ruler, if necessary.
  • Use white out to erase a mark. Even copyeditors and proofreaders make mistakes.


Editing Course: Introducing Copyediting

First rule to remember: A good copyeditor never relies on spell checkers.

Copyeditors mark up text in between the lines. There is no set process to follow. Each copyeditor develops his or her own system. And it is recommended to have a system, a particular set of rules to work by that works for you, otherwise mistakes will be missed.

Here are some steps to get a new copyeditor started:

Step 1: House Style

Ask the client if they have an in-house style manual or style sheets and refer to them. Set up a style sheet folder.

Step 2: Reading

Each reading of a text is called a “pass”. You would normally make three passes over a text. However, you would not read the text three times in one sitting.

First Pass – A light read to get the feel of the entire document. Correct literals as you go through the text.

Second Pass – This is when you do the real edit. You now look for grammar problems, inconsistencies and formatting errors. This is also when you have to concentrate on details such as language, spelling and punctuation. Read each paragraph carefully and slowly.

Third Pass – This is done after a break, at least overnight is preferred. Check the text one more time and check your mark ups are clear.

Important Note

As a copyeditor, you must be able to sport errors in text, formatting and inconsistencies. But you must also be aware of factual errors, plagiarism and faults in style and vocabulary.

Writers are too close to their work. They read what they meant to say, not what is actually written. The copyeditor must fix these errors but should never change anything that does not need to be changed. You are the copyeditor, not the writer.

Editing Course: Intro to Copyediting

Today, I had to go out and didn’t think I would be able to study at all. We arrived home earlier than expected, so I decided to grab the opportunity to go over the next topic as I really don’t want to fall behind this early in the course.

Luckily for me, the topic was short and I was familiar with the content, but as I’m a firm believer that we can’t go wrong in having a refresher course, that’s how I looked at the study period.

3: Introduction to Copyediting

Because there is so much to do in copyediting, it’s best to work in an organised, methodical manner. If the work to be edited is fiction, it will be approached in a different way to a commercial document.

Business documents are categorised into professional and non-professional work. By doing this, the editor can judge the formality of language used.

Novel and short story manuscripts are a different matter. The editor must determine the tone of the novel first and then start editing once they know the author’s approach.

The language/reading level for children’s books will need to be considered separately.

Once the above is determined (ie type of document and target audience) then the work is done in stages, depending on length and complexity. An editor should never try to tackle punctuation, grammar, formatting, inconsistency, etc all in one reading. It is too much. Instead, it is better to break the editing into stages. Start with grammar, punctuation and spelling then move on to consistency and formatting issues.

It’s important when copyediting not be become involved in the story when working on a novel/short story manuscript. A copyeditor must concentrate on the words presented on the page otherwise the brain will see what it expects to see and obvious errors will be overlooked.

Concentrate on all punctuation marks. Are they in the right place? Are the right marks used?

Look at each word individually and how it’s used in a sentence. Is it the correct word? Is it the best word? Are too many words used? Are words use repetitively? If unsure about spelling, always refer to a dictionary.

Check the grammar. Is the author using active or passive sentences? Are there too many fragment sentences? Are there a variety of varying lengths in sentences? Is the sentence structure correct? When unsure about grammar useage, always refer to a grammar tool. Never guess!

An editor looks for consistency too. A story set in the Australian 1920s will not have a driver fastening his seat belt as they didn’t exist then. They will watch for other consistency issues too, such as was the pregnant woman at the beginning of the story, still pregnant two years later when the story finishes? Did the blue-eyed blond at the beginning of the chapter suddenly end up with raven coloured hair by the end of the chapter? Was it sunrise when the hero started talking and midnight when he finished?

A good editor will pick up on all these things. They will also find the following errors:

1. Word consistencies, such as “e-mail” in the first half of the manuscript and “email” in the second half.
2. “Chapter 1: The Beginning” but later in the manuscript “Chapter Ten – Escape”.
3. A character talks formally all the way through the story, except for one scene.

A copyeditor looks for errors and inconsistencies, they should never change the meaning of a sentence. However, they should suggest a better way of phrasing a sentence if one exists.

Editing Course: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

The second day of my course was all theory. In an effort to retain the maximum amount of information, I intend to write about the theory topics here. However, I probably won’t write posts for the practical topics, which I notice will start from topic 4 onwards. We’ll see what happens when the time comes.

2: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

There are two types of editing:

1. *Substantive Editing for structure and substance.
2. *Copyediting for improvement of grammar, punctuation, factualness and formatting.

There are two types of proofreading:

1. *Proofreading to correct mistakes in text.
2. Comparative Proofreading to compare live copy (corrected text) against dead copy (original text that was marked up).

* The division between these can be quite grey though.


Substantive (or structural) Editing

  • Substantive editing is where there are changes presented to the author by the editor, in the form of suggestions or guidelines. The changes may be to do with character, situation or plot in order to improve or maintain the internal coherence in the story. Substantive editing is different to copyediting in that it is based on the editor’s creative input.
  • A structural editor only works with the author’s draft, and makes suggestions between the double-spaced text or in the margin.
  • The author should do their own substantive editing prior to submitting the manuscript to the editor.
  • There are no defined rules with substantive editing as there are for the copyediting and proofreading aspects. Therefore, to be a substantive editor is to be more highly skilled.
  • A good editor needs to be meticulous, apply commonsense, have determination, be patient and sensitive to the author’s intentions.



  • It is used to improve grammar and punctuation, correct factual errors, and ensure consistency of formatting (including headers, footers, margins, paragraph layouts and table of contents).
  • A copyeditor works with the edited draft of the manuscript (after the structural editor has finished with it).
  • A copyeditor does not usually write in the margins unless there’s no room between the lines of text.
  • In a distinct copyediting role, no substantive editing will be undertaken.
  • A copyeditor will likely correct and improve work based on established rules and guidelines.




  • Proofreading is the reading and correction of mistakes in a proof document (usually after it has been edited and copyedited).
  • Often clients confuse “proofreading” with an edit and proofread, so it is essential for the proofreader to know exactly what the client wants.
  • A “standard proofread” means checking for errors only, there is no copyediting improvements required and no structural information given.
  • The rate for a standard proofread is lower than that for copyediting and substantive work.


Comparative Proofreading

Once the editor or copyeditor has looked over the manuscript, the typesetter or author sets the work, making the suggested corrections.

The comparative proofreader then takes the corrected copy and the original copy and compares the two, checking that all corrections made by the copyeditor have been included.

This comparison between two texts is called comparative proofreading. It is a word-by-word, line-by-line check and is done with a ruler.

The job requires patience, concentration, a methodical approach and an eye for detail.

In Conclusion

Many publishers and corporate enterprises will outsource their editing jobs. A “complete job” often means “copyediting” and “proofreading” with a dash of “substantive editing” thrown in. For this reason, a professional editor should be able to do all the skills required for all of the above.