6 Non-Grammatical Editing and Proofreading Tips

One-size-fits-all grammar rules aren’t the only editing and proofreading tools. These non-grammatical tips can refine writing without sacrificing creativity.

Community Publishing

Editing and proofreading are essential tools for improving writing. However, here’s a hot take: if I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “make my sentences more concise” or “switch every verb to active voice,” I would have a lot of money, and my writing would be worse.

Haven’t you ever read a powerfully long sentence, glorious in its abundance, composed of snowballing clauses upon clauses that develop like film, unhurriedly blooming, shapes and colors at first, minutia and emotions and senses second, revealing more and more with each continued phrase as the author gains momentum, seizes the reader’s attention, and forces them to ponder more than just a simple subject and predicate?

Keeping a list handy while editing and proofreading can help you remember certain errors to look out for!

Or haven’t you ever read a sentence so blatant in its passivity that your eyes catch and drag and resist each verb with just as much reticence as the subject? Passive voice can mirror a character’s lack of agency, extreme angst, or emotional distance from the very action they’re completing. Can active voice do all that?

The English language is malleable, ever-expanding, and subjective to each writer’s visions—it’s completely unrealistic to present one-size-fits-all grammar rules as the only means to improvement. After all, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens owe much of their fame to their incredibly long turns of phrase, and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye debatably canonized passive voice as a serious literary tool. Instead of restricting your editing and proofreading processes, consider these non-grammatical tips that will help you create your best possible work.

1. Use Edit-Tracking Digital Tools

Most writing software, including Google Docs and Microsoft Word, have a function that allows you to track changes as you write. Periodically checking old edits provides insight into your most-common common errors, keeps your edits organized, and saves deleted writing that you might want to repurpose later.

2. Keep an Editing Checklist

Take note of the writing issues you want to look out for each time you edit. This can include grammatical errors, spelling errors, character consistency, or even plot holes. Having a list at hand when editing and proofreading can remind you of small errors you might otherwise miss! Premade checklists like this one exist for free and can be a great starting point.

Keeping notes and checklists as you edit and proofread can help you look out for easily missed errors!

3. Edit the Overall Content of the Story First

Completing the proofreading process before holistic edits can cause writers to get hung up on line-by-line edits. Reflecting on your writing as a whole first can help you pinpoint places where scenes can be strengthened, better introduced or foreshadowed, or referenced throughout for better interconnectivity. Starting with these larger edits will prevent you from having to restructure everything later on during the proofreading process.

4. Change the Font

While this advice might seem silly, it’s surprisingly effective. When writing a piece, and reading it over and over again, your eyes can become blind to small errors—you might even read the words you thought you wrote rather than the actual ones you used. Changing the font, type size, or even printing your writing out can also help you catch hidden errors that you otherwise might have missed. Just remember to change your writing back to a professional font when you’re finished!

Reading books in the genre of your own writing, including both classics and contemporaries, can help you become a better editor.

5. Read as Much as You Can

This is one of the most common pieces of advice given to writers, but it’s just as important for proofreaders and editors! Particularly, try to read aggressively within the genre of your own writing. While reading other authors’ work, take time to meditate on the grammatical, rhetorical, and syntactical choices you wish to incorporate into your own writing. Articulate which elements are particularly successful and consider what kind of reactions they evoke.

6. Don’t Write and Edit Your Paper in the Same Sitting

Taking a break between writing and editing is a hugely underrated tool for improving your writing. The length of the break is up to you—some writers elect for one night, others for a few days, a few weeks, or even months. Letting your work sit for a short time can help you reattack it with renewed motivation and a fresh perspective. Having fresh eyes can help you catch more errors, fix unclear wordings, and fill in plot holes you may not have previously noticed. Plus, taking time away might even inspire you to dream up a new scene, character, connection, or ending that could make your whole work stronger.

Though often monotonous, editing and proofreading are integral parts of the writing process that can bridge the gulf between good and great writing. Just remember that different methods will work for different writers! However you choose to polish up your writing, let your creativity shine and enjoy the process.

Check out these articles on proofreading, grammar, and self-publishing for more!