How to edit your own work like a pro

Editing is hard. It’s also rewarding. Great editing is like distilling a field of flowers into an ounce of fragrance. When writing is pure, ideas shine. 

The goal of editing is to put the reader first. And while it is challenging, it is possible to edit your own work like a professional.

Write with abandon then edit ruthlessly, keeping these four elements in mind. 


Write your first draft without censoring yourself. Get all your ideas out, then step away. If you have time, give it a day before you come back.

Read through your draft and consider the content. What do you want to communicate? What is extraneous or unrelated? Do you have a clear point and a call to action? 

Chances are there's a lot of scaffolding around your draft which you can remove to reveal cleaner, stronger work. With distance, you’ll see what is redundant, and what is missing.


Cut long sentences in half. Shorten paragraphs. Lose the adverbs and keep your writing present and action-oriented. Instead of saying time moves quickly, say it flies. The door didn’t close noisily, it slammed shut. 

The same goes for passive voice. Rather than saying the lights were left on, make it active and say, “I left the lights on.” Be clear about who or what caused the action. 

If appropriate, use bullet points. Listicles are popular because they are readable and accessible. Make sure to:

  • Punctuate points consistently

  • Use action words

  • Keep bullet points brief


For an inviting tone, write in the first person and make it conversational. Formal writing has its place too. Know your audience and stick to one voice. Mixing and matching will confuse your reader.

Be positive. Instead of saying what something isn’t, say what it is. Consider the statement: You don’t want to make these mistakes in your writing. If I rewrite it as: Avoid these pitfalls and improve your writing, I have turned an admonishment into an invitation.  

Contractions make writing more human. You are not a bot, you’re a real person. And nix jargon and complicated words. If I need Google to understand your writing, you need to simplify.


We all know about spellcheck, but did you know you can run readability tests? If the program you write in doesn’t include it, try this one. The Flesch Reading Ease test and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score tell you what literacy level a reader needs to understand what you wrote. In Canada, general guidance is to aim for a grade 8 reading level. 

I’m speaking to you from personal experience. My first draft of this article was a 1721-word jumble. Get comfortable being ruthless. Your readers will thank you.

About the Author

Susan Dixon is a Vancouver-based communications and research consultant, with expertise in knowledge curation, institutional analysis, workplace health and safety, sex and gender research, and women’s health. An established singer/songwriter, humourist, and burgeoning novelist, she has a passion for words of all flavours and worlds of all sizes.