How to Edit like a Professional Writer

The most important lesson that a professional writer learns is self editing. The reason for this is so that the work they present to potential publishers is word perfect. Their reputation depends upon it, and a publisher will certainly not accept work which has not been edited properly. It shows sloppy attitude and it also shows the level of professionalism employed by the writer. One of the lessons people learn when starting their writing career is that the extra bit of time taken in editing may just mean the difference between earning and being on the bread line.

Time is money

The first thing which is of major importance is always to write in a professional word processing program that tells you as you type when you have made an error. This is particularly useful when you write to a market abroad, or one that uses a different English than the one you are accustomed to. American English is very easy to set on a professional program, and setting up the word processor for the project is the first step toward editing. This saves time, and helps the writer to correct spelling errors as they work. Once you see an error arise, correct as you go. This form of editing is only the first step in editing professionally, but it’s a very important one.

Read your guidelines

When you submit work to an editor for publication, it must meet the editor’s guidelines. Make sure that the work that you have written meets every requirement. This includes layout. It includes making sure that the work produced has no reason to be rejected. Of course, some work will always be rejected and is a fact of life for a writer, but reading over the guidelines and adhering to them helps you make a nobler attempt at getting your work published.

Is your turn of phrase correct?

Look over the publication or website where you will attempt to publish your work. Get a feel for the kind of work which is published before you go into the final edit on your work. You should have already researched your market, but this final last check helps you to make decisions during the final editing stage.

Margins and general layout guidelines

Make sure if you are sending your work for print publication that the margins are wide, so that editors can make printing notes in them. Make sure that the spacing is double spacing, and that your pages are numbered.

First edit

The first edit is a quick read through after you have finished typing the work. This allows you to get a feel for how satisfying the reading is. Don’t judge it too harshly, and don’t be afraid to change words where the phrases run clumsily. In fact, this is the ideal opportunity to read out loud, as if you were the reader of the publication in question. Reading aloud also allows you to hear where there are stilted areas which need to be given more clarity. Although this isn’t always a practical solution to your editing needs, if you cannot read out loud, then reading it carefully really does help, sentence by sentence.

Letting the work rest

It’s important to let the ideas that you impart in your work settle. Overnight is the best bet. The reason that you do this is because it gives you a chance to look once more at the work you produced with a fresh eye for detail. It also means that you may develop fresh ideas to incorporate within the writing which you may not have thought of at the time of writing. The reflection period is a luxury and one that the professional writer can take advantage of as a means to improve their written work.

Final edit

The final edit is to make sure that the spacing is correct. It is also for a final read, before the work is sent off to the publisher, or published online. It’s important because it gives the writer an edge over those writers who don’t bother to edit and send out work which is far too speculative and error ridden to grab the attention of the publisher. The way that the work is presented is paramount to whether it even gets considered. Single spacing may eliminate it from the editor’s final choice. Incorrect spelling may eliminate it after the first paragraph. Checking the word count here is vital, as this final draft is the one which needs to meet all the guidelines of the editor of the publication or the website upon which the article is to be posted.


There is a myth that not all professional writers are editors. While there may be many writers who don’t bother editing their work, or employ someone else to do it, the professional writer who does bother and who edits their work in the manner shown above will have total control over the works that they write.

A professional editor may actually make mistakes, or misinterpret what is being said, whereas the original author knows exactly what it is that they intended to say. Therefore, the professional writer will care sufficiently to edit what they write. Those who do not take this precaution cannot consider themselves professional, since these stages should happen before any work is read by another editor or is posted to a website.

Another myth is the belief that any writer is a good writer who doesn’t need editing. Of course, every written piece needs scrupulous editing to give that work substance, to present it in an error free manner and to maximize the opportunity of writing. The best writer in the world can create typos. They can say words which don’t really say what they intended. It is only by editing that the professional writer can be satisfied that the work they have produced is the best they can produce, given the time-line required to be respected. Those who edit like a professional writer will understand the criteria and will add the editing part of preparation of their work as a matter of course.