Editing and Revision Tips for Your Work

Updated on October 7, 2019
Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe is an author with three novels under agent and small pub consideration. She's been self-editing for years and knows what works.

Transform Your First Draft With Highlighters

At my first local half-day conference two years ago, I attended a workshop titled, "Editing and Revising Your Work." I’ve copied down tons of notes. This first half deals with editing and revision.

As writers, we either love or hate to edit and revise our work in many drafts to get it down and polished for a final manuscript.

Editing is done after every draft, and it helps to organize the edits and their purpose. For the second draft, we should highlight the wrong words in different colors. For anything we need to research, we should put in brackets. If you write fiction, we should print, then read it out loud those areas we need to "show" rather than "tell." In the third or fourth draft, we should correct the highlighted words.

When you highlight your manuscript, you should choose different colors like yellow for dialogue, blue for words that don’t fit like -ly words and extra words, and red for characters. Your highlighted text will help you make sure it sounds right. You can check dialogue vs. narrative, and also to see if what doesn’t propel the story, and if their character traits are consistent.

Find Shortcuts With Your Keyboard


Your Computer Is Your New BFF

Your computer is your new best friend with a couple of keys to fix your work. You can move around sentences and paragraphs with the cut and copy and paste keys. You can find a name, phrase, or a place with the Find and Replace option. You can highlight text with a color and indent in your toolbar. You can also use the zoom feature to spot things and enlarge your manuscript in the view tab.

"Writing Is Rewriting"

In your word processing software, you can cut and copy/paste with those icons. It can help you improve your story structure to move words and sentences, anywhere in your manuscript. Complete sentences are desirable to make your piece read smoothly, enhance tension, and begin with a bigger bang.

As for Find and Replace, you can click on “find’ to “replace” any unnecessary words to erase adjectives and adverbs such as very, just, so, even, rather, that, quite, suddenly, and so on. Use them sparingly.

Indents are used to indent the first line in the paragraph. Keep the chapter length consistent and shorter, like 6–15 pages. Your margins should be an inch around paragraphs, so adjust the tabs by indenting them for paragraphs. Space breaks should be used for shifting POV or the time.

Editing Isn't About Grammar

Good grammar alone won’t sell your manuscript. It’s the story and how well it’s written that will. That’s what you need to concentrate on when writing the first, second, and third drafts. Your first paragraph should be powerful and engaging, introduce your characters early on, and use all the good elements of writing: lively writing, believable dialogue, captivating scenes, intriguing or memorable descriptions, and so on.

Here are some revision tips you need to concentrate on to make it sparkle with life:

  1. Print it out after you think it’s finished. Some writers edit on a screen when you can easily miss mistakes, typos, and awkward sentences. Then put it away. Don’t look at it for a couple of days. Then when you’re ready, you can read it with a fresher perspective.
  2. Next, read your work out loud to hear how it sounds. If you have someone to trust, or have a knowledgable friend or spouse to read the manuscript, they could give you feedback. You can also dictate words into a tape recorder and play them back. Listen for voice (is it clear or sound stiff), if you breath runs out before completing long sentences (time for a comma or period), if your tongue trips over certain words (one- or two-syllable words are often best). Reading out loud helps you notice if it flows smoothly and catches awkward sentences, and realize if you need to explain something in greater depth.
  3. When you’re merely looking for repeated words or typos, give this a try: scan your work backward, from the bottom to the top of the page. This forces the eye to focus on one word at a time, which stops the mind from skimming over errors.
  4. Here’s another idea to help you out with your editing. Take your hard copy and go someplace else to read and edit it. A different environment would help you look at your work with less familiarity. After you set it aside for a while, then read it in a different place (coffee shops and libraries are great!), you can see it almost as someone else’s work. Imagine that you’re an unknown reader passing time waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office and happen to pick up the article, essay, or book. Then read it as someone far removed from the piece. After the first paragraph, is this worth reading further? Interesting? Is prose clear and engaging, etc.?
  5. KILL YOUR DARLINGS!!! Go back through your piece and cut, reword, perfect. Imagine you’re a sculptor and need to hone and polish your masterpiece. Sometimes we think our prose is so wonderful, and then when we read it out loud, it doesn’t sound so hot. You might think it’s brutal, but kill them (or cut and paste into a file marked ‘'My Darlings'’), and see if the story or article reads better without it. Then you can decide on what needs changing, or if you should put it back. When you cut the darlings out, sometimes it tightens the storyline and makes it much more effective. Remember, sentences that begin with ‘'In my opinion", or ‘'One time I" (Watch for too many I’s in first-person prose), or “In conclusion,” are unnecessary banter and should be eliminated. Take out meaningless adjectives that don’t really describe anything, such as beautiful, cold, delicious, which are all subjective. Show the reader WHY it was beautiful or cold, etc., through more descriptive words, scenes, and dialogue.
  6. After careful word-by-word editing, now consider the content of the piece. Ask yourself this question: What’s the central idea I’m trying to communicate? This is something you should really do as you write the piece, but oftentimes the story gets away from you, so it’s a good idea to remind yourself what you’re really trying to convey in the piece.
  7. Trust your inner voice and intuition. Something about the piece feels nagging, but we have a tendency not to listen to what our writers’ instincts are telling us. Read the piece two or three times out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over the same sentence or paragraph, be honest with yourself and realize it needs to be cut or revised.
  8. Finally, have someone you trust—another writer or someone who reads a lot—to thoroughly read the manuscript and give their honest opinion. (So don’t use your mother, who will love it no matter how bad it is!) Always consider their criticisms, and you may see that they're right.

However, do keep in mind how you feel about the changes suggested, and then respond accordingly!

Print Out Hard Copies With a Printer

I love my brother's laser printer.
I love my brother's laser printer. | Source

Final Notes on Editing and Revisions

I hope these eight steps on editing and revising your manuscript on your computer and hard copy printouts help you refine your work to a polished and final version. Please feel free to share, comment, and copy these notes for further reference!

© 2015 Kristen Howe


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    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Jonas.

    • profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      4 years ago

      Helpful tips, Kristen. Good job!

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Kaliinin! I'm glad the tips I've learned from a workshop worked wonders for your own work!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      5 years ago from California

      This hub gets me all fired up for some serious editing! I actually enjoy editing. I find it deeply satisfying when I find and correct a mistake, re-write a sentence or cut out those redundant "darlings". Great hub, thanks for sharing!

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Esther. I'm glad to help fellow hubbers out in editing our writing.

    • Esther  Strong profile image

      Esther Strong 

      5 years ago from UK

      Reading backward to find typos etc is an interesting idea I will keep in mind for future reference. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome Margaret. I'm happy to share them to everyone here on HP that can be used in various writing forms. Thanks for the visit.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Kristen, I'm a professional editor for a jewelry making magazine. One of the things I realized long ago is that everyone needs an editor - even editors who also are writers. These are excellent tips that can improve anyone's writing. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome Sandeep.

    • sandeep15r profile image

      Sandeep Rathore 

      5 years ago from New Delhi

      As a writer, I find your tips extremely informative. Thanks!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Great advice here. Thanks for sharing what you learned at a professional workshop. I really like number five, Kill Your Darlings. The idea of cutting out familiar passages and saving them to a separate file is a good one. That way they aren't gone forever if we decide the piece needs them.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Rich, you're such a sweet friend here at HP. Thanks for the vote and kind words on my hubs. Please do bookmark it and stay tuned for part 2 in a week or two. You're very welcome on your hubs.

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 

      5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Some great tips here Kristen! As a writer of fiction myself these tips will come in handy in future. I'll have to bookmark this hub and come back to it later when it comes time to edit my manuscript(s).

      Thanks for all the kind words you leave on my hubs. You are an inspiration to me!

      Voted up and interesting!


    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      thanks for stopping by and commenting Mel. I agree. We have our own preferences. Part 2 is coming up in a week or two.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Beautifully concise tips. Personally, I'm not one to print out my drafts and edit them in that fashion. I claim to like saving trees and just editing on the computer, but it's mostly because I am lazy and the word processor has been my salvation. We all have to work around our limitations, I suppose. Great hub!

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      No worries Bill. I'm behind as well with everything in my life. Thanks for stopping by and commenting as well. I hate a love/hate debate with revision. Aww that's amusing my friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I am disgustingly behind this week and it's only Tuesday. Sorry I'm so late to the party today. Great suggestions. I love the revision process. For me, that's where the book really comes to life and the characters really become friends to me. :)

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Alicia. Stay tuned for part two later this month.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing these great tips from your workshop, Kristen. They're very useful!

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Rachel. I just copied down my notes for the past couple of days. You're welcome and thanks for the vote.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      5 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      You obviously did a lot of work on this hub. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing, I voted up.

      Blessings to you.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      5 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting and useful tips. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      So true, Flourish. You'll never know what you're going to miss.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Reading aloud is especially valuable. It can reveal trip-ups that flow beautifully in one's head.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Benny. I hope you and other fellow hub writers improve their writing, one step at a time.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Benny. I hope it helps you improve your writing, one line at a time.

    • Benny01 profile image

      Ijeoma Peter 

      5 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Nice one

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Good for you, Poetryman. It works best that way. Thanks for your many visits to my hubs. I owe you a bunch.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      Reading aloud often helps me to catch things that I would catch in no other way.

    • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Ron. That's what I've learned a few weeks ago at the conference. It doesn't hurt to try something new to improve your craft. Thanks for the visit.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I like your #7. I've had to learn that when I stumble over a sentence in reading it, or feel that there's something that's just not right about it, I need to pay attention to that and rework it. Good tips.


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