Editing Tools


You don’t have to know what the name of the tool is to know how to use it. It does help knowing if you’re going to work with other people.

For years, I knew the basic tools of punctuation, but for me a dangling participle was a monster hanging from a high branch or light fixture. It was funny learning that I’d known the concept of misplaced modifiers since watching Animal Crackers as a kid.

Groucho Marx: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas, I don't know.”

I didn't absorb that part of the curriculum at school. Mind you, I went through primary school when the board was experimenting with ignoring spelling and grammar because it stifled children’s creativity. That’s why my younger sister used to proofread my early stories. They’d gone back to teaching the basics by the time she was in school.

My sister would read my stories aloud, warts and all. Since I started off writing longhand and had a messy hand, there were a lot of warts. I listened and often ended up in tears of laughter. Even when I got a computer, my brain still ran ahead of my fingers and words got left out or turned around with amusing (or confusing) results.

I learned spelling and grammar through reading. I learned why spelling and grammar was important for communication by hearing my mistakes read out to me...and then correcting them. I started editing and writing freelance but if I had been given a test to match up the name of a grammatical rule and its example, I probably would have failed.

Now that I’m freelancing again, I thought, let’s learn more about the tools in my toolbox. And it’s not too late to learn something new, like what things are called.  Here’s what I have so far:

  • Many successful editors don’t know all the grammatical rules by name either.
  • I’ve been doing the 4 critical editorial steps for 25+ years without being told that’s how you do it.
  1. Content
  2. Structure
  3. Style
  4. Presentation
  • Reading a document backwards is a great way to catch typos. (That was a new trick for me.)
  • Reading aloud saves time and energy. After working on a piece for a while, it becomes overly familiar on the page or screen, whether it’s your writing, or someone else. Familiarity breeds mistakes.

Do you edit your own work?
What is your process?

Please add your tips to the comments OR

Comment and add your tips to: https://www.facebook.com/alison.e.bruce 


 When I lost my sister to cancer, I was fortunate to find a group of friends and fellow authors to read with. Through the Deadly Dames, as we styled ourselves, I received peer feedback as well as hearing what I actually wrote, not just what I intended to write. By that time I had been copy editing for clients for about fifteen years, but editing my own stories seemed a lost cause until the Deadly Dames came together.

Thank you:

  • CathyAstolfo, author of Sweet Karoline and other books;
  • Melodie Campbell, author of the Merry Widow and Goddaughter series;
  • Joan E. O'Callaghan; and 
  • Nancy O'Neill 

COVID put an end to our monthly in-person readings, but your constructive criticism made me a better author and editor.