Whether you wish to improve your skills in revising your own writing or become more adept at editing the work of others, the same basic principles apply. Here are some suggestions about making yourself a better editor.
1. Analyze Edited Content
If a professional editor works on your writing, make sure the person uses the change-tracking function in Microsoft Word or the word-processing program he or she works in. When you receive the edited version, activate the feature and study each change the editor has made. If you don’t know why the editor made a particular revision, consult writing or editing handbooks or online resources and study the issue until you understand it and know how to avoid making similar errors. If you don’t understand the issue, ask the editor for clarification.
2. Study Resources
Read print and online writing and editing resources. On DailyWritingTips.com you'll find a new article every day about grammar, punctuation and style. GrammarBook.com offers hundreds of tips on English grammar. Find books and other websites with editing exercises. In place of some leisure reading, browse writing and style guides and grammar and usage handbooks. One of the best style guides available for free online is The Guardian and Observer Style Guide.
3. Be Consistent
If possible, select a single style guide and a single dictionary as resources of record. If you’re a freelance editor with multiple clients, you may have to consult different style guides for various projects (such as The Chicago Manual of Style for book manuscripts, the Associated Press Style Book for websites, and The American Medical Association Manual of Style for articles to be published in a medical journal), but otherwise, find out which guide your employer uses and stick to it. If you simply need a resource to help you edit posts for your own blog, choose your own resources. In any case, keep such resources handy and consult them often.
4. Complete Coursework
Take one or more editing courses through an accredited continuing-education program. Some programs offer online courses, but you might get more out of an experience in a physical classroom with real-time interaction with the instructor and fellow students, so attend a real-world class if possible.
5. Don’t Read—Edit
It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to edit at a reading pace. But editing must be slow and deliberate. To train yourself to work slowly, read content aloud, or pause after each punctuation mark, or read from the end to the beginning, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. Also, if you’re editing your own writing, delay editing for a day or two so that you’re revising with a fresh perspective.
6. Treat Substantive Editing and Copyediting as Separate Steps
If you’re asked to provide both structural editing and mechanical editing for a project, or you’re editing your own work, divide these diverse tasks into two phases. On the first pass, focus on big-picture aspects: organization, narrative flow and sequence, and, for fiction, setting and characterization and character motivation. Then, revise to improve grammar, syntax, usage, and style. Better yet, take a couple of passes for each phase, but take a break between each pass. These strategies will help you do a better job with both aspects of editing.
7. Read Superior Writing
Just as keeping yourself on a diet of excellent prose helps you be a better writer, it will also aid you in editing by modeling effective word choice and phrase, sentence, and paragraph structure. You needn’t exclusively consume top-notch writing, but include plenty of it in your reading material.