Even though I’m an editor for hire, I firmly believe in self-editing. Each month I’m going to drop a tip for developing your ability to edit your own work or identify things to look for as you edit. Make sure to check out all the DIY Edit Tips to improve your self-editing.
10 Read Aloud
If you feel like grammar and syntax aren’t your strength, try reading your work out loud. Reading your work aloud is a great way to catch awkward phrases and rhythms, run-on sentences, and repeated or missing words.
Reading out loud engages a different center in your brain than when we read silently, and it’s easier to find repeated or missing words since you’ve moved from comprehension (which can rely on scanning and interpreting) to performing. The performance aspect is part of what can help you catch errors since you’re now trying to translate those written words into spoken words.
Run-on sentences can be easier to catch when spoken because you physically start running out of breath. If you find yourself taking an awkward gasp in the middle of a sentence, highlight it for further review. Sometimes it’s just a long sentence, which there’s nothing wrong with, but it could mean that you need to use the punctuation more effectively to help the reader navigate the sentence. Good punctuation helps group ideas and show how ideas are related in a sentence, thus showing a reader how to read the sentence. If you’re losing your breath on every sentence, evaluate if there are any you can shorten. A variety of sentence lengths engages the reader and makes your writing more exciting.
If you’re tripping over phrases as you read them aloud, that may be a sign that you should rework the syntax or review the diction. (Honestly, sometimes it means you wrote a tongue twister, so you don’t necessarily have to change everything that trips you up.) Some things don’t sound awkward until they’re read aloud, so taking a pass to read your manuscript—to an empty room or to a friend—can be a crucial step in cleaning it up.
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