Editing: Do it Backwards

Ever feel like even the most pleasurable activity falls into a rut? You’re still successful, perhaps. You still like what you’re doing; your audience still enjoys the end product, but you know it could be better. Maybe it’s time to change positions. I’m talking about the quality of your writing, of course. and about modifying your editing process.

Sometimes I get caught up in what I’ve written and find it impossible to edit sufficiently. I try as hard as I can to read it with a critical eye, red pen in hand, looking for those slight errors that separate good writing from great writing. But I get stuck. The problem is that my mind tricks me into reading what I thought I wrote, or intended to write, instead of what is actually on paper. One technique I’ve found effective at overcoming this issue is reading what I’ve written backwards.

I don’t mean read each sentence backwards. Backwards sentence each read mean don’t I. <— Worthless idea.

What I like to do is start editing at the last paragraph and work one paragraph at a time back to the beginning. This allows me to break myself away from the plot as a whole and look at each paragraph, each sentence, each word on its own.

It’s nice to write a great story or essay, but if you want it to be its best, you must pay attention to these details. Look at the paragraph to make sure it accomplishes its task. A well-written paragraph should have a certain level of independence. Likewise a well-written sentence has a job to complete within the paragraph. I think you see where this is going. Every word is important.

Reading your work backwards is only one editing technique, but I hope that looking at things from this perspective helps.


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4 thoughts on “Editing: Do it Backwards

  1. That is a great idea! I have the same problem and wind up missing things that I don’t find till the paper is returned to me … thankfully with 99% of the errors missed by professors as well ….

  2. I want a shirt that says ‘Editors do it backwards.’ now. Reading your work backwards really does wonders. It makes it a lot harder to skim over missing words or meanings as well.

    Reading aloud is something that I do a lot of when editing, but reading backwards is one of my favorite techniques to use. Great post :)

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