Welcome to our new series on one of the most important aspects of writing: editing. Food blogger and freelance editor Marlene Cornelis wants to make editing less daunting for food bloggers, whether you're editing your own work, working with an editor or writing for an edited publication. Today Marlene shares 11 tips for editing your own work so your words entice readers to make and share your recipes.
Let’s face it: writing is hard work. You may convey fresh ideas using your unique voice, but do you polish your writing until it’s as appealing as the recipes you tested three times and the photos you painstakingly styled? Editing may not be very exciting, but it’s essential. Once you’ve experienced the “big save” — catching that embarrassing blooper before clicking “publish” — you just might approach this necessary chore with more enthusiasm.
Good editing isn't about stifling your style and forcing you into a grammatical box.
Don’t worry — good editing isn’t about stifling your style and forcing you into a grammatical box. Perhaps you make up words (chocolicious sounds good to me), use sentence fragments, and generally have an easy-breezy tone. That’s all fine, but readers can discern between style and unintended mistakes.
Sometimes it’s the story you tell in a blog post or Instagram caption that entices readers to make your dish. On the other hand, poorly organized writing, distracting errors and broken links can cast doubt on your recipe’s credibility, making your readers move on.
The most memorable (and laughed about) mistakes tend to be inadvertently sexual or puerile.
Still not convinced? According to Stanford’s Web Credibility Project, typographical errors are among the top 10 factors that diminish a website's credibility. And if that’s not bad enough, the most memorable (and laughed about) mistakes tend to be inadvertently sexual or puerile. I once edited a recipe that called for 2 teaspoons of cumin. I’d worked my way down the ingredient list before a mental alarm went off. Going back, I saw that what I’d read as “cumin” was actually missing the “in.” Can you imagine the reaction if that had been published? That catch alone earned my fee that day.
That example illustrates a major challenge of editing your own work: we tend to see what’s supposed to be there. According to this article from Wired, that’s a sign of our brain’s power. Know this and beware! Then use these tips for editing your own work.
11 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing
1. Set Some Ground Rules
Establishing style standards for your blog makes editing easier, as you only make these decisions once. Canadian or U.S spelling? Formal tone (cannot) or conversational (can’t)? Spelling of frequently used words with variations (yogourt, yogurt, yoghurt)? Abbreviations or full words for measurements? Oxford (serial) commas or not? Anytime you look something up, add it to the list.
2. Gather Your Tools
You don’t have to be a grammar nerd to edit your work. As in cooking, having the right tools helps. The basics are a dictionary in your version of English, either hard copy or online. A style guide is helpful when it comes to formatting titles, abbreviations, numbers and more (your web designer can implement your formatting style in your blog's style sheet so you never have to worry about it!). Wondering if you should use “farther” or “further”? A grammar and usage guidebook is useful, but I usually search online when I’m stumped. Here are the resources I use most frequently:
- Oxford Canadian Dictionary (hard copy)
- Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (online subscription)
- The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing and Creating Content for the Digital World.
- Grammar Girl for usage advice
3. Read Your Work Over, More Than Once
Yes, the most obvious rule of editing is to actually review your work. But some people don’t and it shows. Isn’t it disrespectful to expect your readers to read something you haven’t? I guarantee there are errors in there, 99.893 percent of the time. (<-- editor's note, we double checked Marlene's numbers and she's bang on with her stats tee hee!)
Review your work at least twice. The first time is to edit for things like flow, word choice, passive voice and overuse of a word or phrase. The final pass is when you proofread, looking for “mechanical” issues like typos and punctuation errors.
4. Switch Formats
Most of us do our writing on screens, but you might find it easier to spot errors on a hard copy. I recommend using a red pen to mark corrections; red ink is easy to see (and it makes you feel powerful, too).
5. Read in a Different Order
Some people edit their work from the last sentence to the first, as this diminishes the “seeing what’s expected” effect. It may not be for you, but it’s worth trying.
6. Read Out Loud
Reading out loud is not only a good way to catch stylistic and mechanical errors, but it gives you a chance to practice delivery for your upcoming podcast series.
7. Don’t Blindly Trust Spellcheck (or Grammar Checkers and Autocorrect)
Spellcheck is a great tool that catches a lot of mistakes. It also approves correctly spelled words that happen to be entirely the wrong choice. Never blindly trust spellcheck. Case in point: When I worked in human resources, one day the office erupted into laughter. Why? Someone had sent in a job application letter that began: “Allow me to intercourse myself.” I’m guessing they didn’t get the job.
8. Use "Find and Replace" for Hot Button Errors
Hot button errors are those you tend to make, especially the embarrassing ones. Find and replace is great for identifying and correcting potential errors, whether misspellings or overused punctuation. (Has anyone else noticed a breakout of dashes recently?)
9. Take a Break
If you aren’t on the brink of a deadline, take a break before editing your work and between edits. Reviewing your writing with fresh eyes can make a world of difference; while you’ve been otherwise occupied, your subconscious may have found a solution for that awkward sentence.
10. Find an Editing Buddy
Do you have a friend with a keen eye for typos? They might be willing to read your drafts over. If they’re also a blogger, consider setting up a buddy editing system.
11. Correct Errors After Publication, Too
How often have you noticed an error immediately after sending your work into the world? Subscribe to your blog and read new posts on your phone; with the pre-publication pressure off and reading on a different device, you just may notice the one that got away.
If you discover an error in a piece that’s already published, hopefully that’s not because your typo has gone viral. (And yes, it’s okay to use hopefully that way.) Make the correction, whether your post is new or old. If you’re changing a recipe measurement, you might want to add a note; otherwise, just make the change, knowing that your writing is all the better for the next reader.
In the months to come we'll be covering more topics, like how to find and work with an editor, writing for an edited publication, and a special feature on writing and editing recipes.
- Going on a Word Diet: Tips to Tighten Your Writing
- Writing 101 — Embracing Your Writer's Voice
- Who Are You? Finding Your Writer's Voice
Writer, Edit Thyself — 11 Tips for Editing Your Own Work was written by Marlene Cornelis. Marlene writes the food blog Urban Cottage Life where she focuses on modern scratch living: scratch cooking, modern twists on classic recipes, and relaxed hospitality. She also works as a freelance editor and writer at her business, Veranda Editorial. Marlene's areas of concentration as an editor include food (of course), business and legal writing. Her professional aspirations are to edit a cookbook and eradicate misplaced apostrophes everywhere. Connect with Marlene online at Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.