Of course, everyone should self-edit his or her own work. I’ve written several articles on self-editing, including Ten Tips for Self-Editing, Editing: Turning Dreck into Prose, and a seven-part series on editing that is focused on editing your own work.
If it’s not critically important that your work reflect a level of excellence, editing yourself is fine. I edit my own casual writing, including blog posts. No one needs to hire an editor to edit an email—unless the email is important to closing a sale or resolving a problem for an angry client or preventing adverse consequences in a critical situation.
Self-editing alone is not enough when it is important that your work be the very best it can be. For books or important articles, I use an outside editor. Even though I am a professional editor myself (and a very good one, if I say so myself!), I don’t catch my own mistakes as effectively as I catch the errors of others.
There are several reasons most of us find it difficult to be the sole editor on our own work:
- As writers, we know what we meant, and we tend to read what we meant, not what we actually wrote. I’m notorious for leaving out the words “no” and “not,” saying exactly the opposite of what I mean. When I read my own work, though, I tend to read the words that aren’t there—because I know they’re supposed to be there.
- None of us knows everything, so we will miss errors that we don’t know are errors. Perhaps we have a wrong understanding of what a word means or how it should be used, or maybe we’re confused on when to use an ellipsis and when to use an em dash.
- We read from the perspective of someone who is an expert in the subject matter, not from the point of view of our target audience, who may not be familiar with jargon we use or who may not understand what we write because they lack background knowledge.
- The way we express ourselves makes perfect sense to us, but sometimes what we’re saying is not so clear to others. Our sentence structure may be awkward or our word usage confusing to others, but we will never recognize those problems.
A professional editor can give you a different perspective that can make the difference between a mediocre article and a great one. Even asking someone else who isn’t a professional editor to read and give you feedback is better than trusting your own editing.