10 Editing Errors Writers Should Avoid At All Costs

10 Editing Errors Writers Should Avoid At All Costs


Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we look at the 10 editing errors writers should avoid at all costs.

Writers write, but writers also often edit.

Editing is the necessary evil of writing; editing is killing your darlings, then butchering the rest with care and the help of a word processor.

The editing process begins when a writer makes changes to their article, short story, screenplay, or novel manuscript. Usually, this process takes the writing piece through several drafts – and this process might be continued by a later edit-for-publication and proofreading.

Great writers don’t always make for excellent editors, but editing is a professional skill that can be learned and improved on just like writers can learn how to write better.

Learning how to edit and avoid editing errors includes learning spelling, grammar, and style.

If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.

10 Editing Errors Writers Should Avoid At All Costs

Here are the most common editing errors writers make.

1. Not Minding House Style And Style Guides

“House style” refers to the preferred style guidelines for a specific publication or publisher. Most companies also have their own style guides.

Style guides are useful to any writer learning the ropes of editing. They contain basic rules of how to cite sources, how to note quotations, and the preferred rules for formatting and grammar, including punctuation.

Study style guides, and study publications for a summary of how they like to cross their t’s if a specific style guide isn’t freely available.

Here are some examples:

  1. Chicago Manual of Style
  2. AP Stylebook
  3. Microsoft Style Guide
  4. The MLA Style Center

Remember: when self-publishing your work, you’re the house. Create your own style guide for your work.

2. Confusing Different Types Of Editing

Editing isn’t all the same thing. Different types of editing are for different steps of the process, and a writer is wise to know how they’re approaching what they hope to edit.

  1. Draft editing looks for changes immediately after the first draft and might have several drafts.
  2. Developmental editing looks for larger, broader changes.
  3. Final editing looks for edits closer to final publication.
  4. Proofreading look for spelling and grammar changes.

Top Tip: Consider having an appraisal before you begin the editing process.

3. Starting (Or Ending) Wrong

The beginning and ending of an article, story, book, or chapter should always start and end with sentences which make an impact on the reader.

First drafts rarely get these right. Editing almost always involves consideration of opening-and-closing sentences and paragraphs, sometimes entire scenes. It might involve some moving around, or it might involve rewriting sections to make more sense.

When an edit “doesn’t feel right yet”, it’s time to look at how your scenes and sentences start or end.

4. Style Inconsistencies

Style should be kept standard (that is, the same) throughout an entire piece of writing.

When you say “4 AM” in one section, don’t change it to “4 a.m.” in the next. When CHAPTER is in caps, don’t switch to writing it down as Chapter elsewhere.

Consistency is important; editing is the part where writers fix it. This can be more difficult to keep track of within longer manuscripts, but remains vital for the flow of the entire writing piece.

Another common manuscript inconsistency to look for is accidental variations in place names, surnames, character names, time periods, and dates.

Is someone called Karen in one paragraph and inexplicably referred to as Catherine a couple of chapters later? (An editor’s job is to find out.)

5. Missing Your Own Mistakes

When editing your own writing, it’s a fact that self-created mistakes are harder to see. When you’ve gone through the piece several times in the same time period, these mistakes can become almost invisible.

Self-editors miss nuances that outside editors would spot; we’re used to the way we talk and write, and we don’t spot that we might overuse certain words or sentences. One of the ways to avoid these mistakes is by reading your work out loud.

A beta-reader can help with this, but writers should also look carefully at each edit.

6. Discarding Sliced Bits

Editing can mean slicing considerable parts of writing: sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are known to fly off during the process to get your writing fine-tuned.

A common writer’s editing mistake is discarding these sliced bits of writing.

Instead, learn to keep the sections, sentences, and paragraphs removed during the editing phase. Stash all of these in a file that’s appropriately labelled. When it’s time to find some writing inspiration, then it’s time to look towards the cutting room floor.

7. Not Backing Up

Writers write, writers edit – and writers should back up.

Editing means taking a piece of writing through several drafts and changes. This means keeping track of these drafts and changes (and knowing where you are on the map). Not backing up writing means that you could potentially lose eons of work through simple computer trouble.

  1. Store writing on an external USB drive, and on the cloud.
  2. Mark all drafts clearly with a serial number or the current date.
  3. Turn word processor “track changes” on to see recent changes.
  4. Leaving comments (CTRL+ALT+C) can also help writers to keep track of made edits.

8. Losing The Plot

Developmental edits are more intensive edits which look at the broader scope of the article, story and plot – and sometimes, this is where the most drastic changes happen. Sections are cut, chapters are moved, plot points can often be altered at this point.

A writer has to make sure they’re editing their manuscript in the right direction.

Edit with an outline of important scenes and plot points (plus where they lie within the manuscript). It’s easier, it’s faster, and it keeps you from losing the plot during the editing process.

With a clear scene-outline, there’s no need to wonder, “Which scene is the first introduction of the evil twin?”

Just check.

9. Formatting Mistakes (Editing Writers Make)

Use a standard word processor, and save your file in a standard format such as .doc or .docx.

Also, use a standard eye-friendly font (and thus, never Comic Sans) and double-spacing.

This achieves two goals for the editing writer:

  1. The manuscript is compatible for everyone on a variety of word processors, and
  2. The manuscript is easier to read (and to edit) whether it’s done on a PC screen or printed on paper.

Formatting nightmares are common. If this happens to you, select and copy the text; then right click into a new document and look for the Paste Unformatted Text option. (Usually, this takes the text formatting back to standard settings, and might require a reformat, but can get rid of 99% of weird word processor formatting errors).

10. Not Having Editing Experience

Would you be ready to play the World Series of Poker after one casual card game with a few friends? (Answer: probably not.)

Would you be ready to edit-to-perfection if you have never approached editing before? The answer is the same.

Editing is an entirely separate discipline to writing well. It’s a bad idea to throw yourself into the deepest end of the pool without any experience (and eventually how you edit will show this).

Take an editing course. Read every article about editing that you can find. Work at editing just like you’d work at writing.

And of course, good luck!

The Last Word

If you want to avoid editing errors, read these posts:

  1. 18 Things You Need to Know About Editing and Proofreading
  2. 10 Editing Tips That Will Instantly Make You a Better Writer

If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.

 By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read his other posts:

  1. The Essential Copywriting Crash Course
  2. Everything You Need To Know About Business Writing
  3. About Essays (& How To Write A Great One)
  4. From Full-Time To Freelance Writing: Ways To Cope
  5. 9 Practical Tips For Being A Faster Writer
  6. 6 Ways Bridge Can Make You A Better Writer
  7. Invaluable Safety Tips For Journalists
  8. 12 Newspaper Archive Resources For Journalists & Writers
  9. The 18 Essential Rules Of Journalism

If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Renee Broadwell

    You left off the first and most important rule of editing for writers: hire an editor.

  2. D. H.

    How do you share the link to this great article by text or email?

Comments are now closed.