Which is better: digital vs hard copy self-editing

Self editing online or offline

Print or pixel, online or off, hard copies or software integration: which is better for self-editing?

Benefits of hard copy self-editing

Editing a book, essay or research thesis on paper may seem “old school”, but it has some significant benefits that you simply can’t get with digital methods.

There has been a slew of research on the benefits of reading physical copies rather than digital, including:

  • Faster, more accurate reading
  • Better recall of details
  • A more comfortable reading experience
  • Easier recall of location of particular text within the copy

And much more. Considering how intimately tied self-editing is to reading and re-reading your work, these benefits also apply to reviewing your drafts.

By editing on paper, you read through your work faster, can find those troublesome sections more easily, and generally feel better about the reading and editing experience—a very important factor, considering how unpleasant the act of editing is for some.

However, that isn’t to say that self-editing on a hard copy doesn’t have its downsides.

Editing a book, essay or research thesis on paper may seem "old school", but it has some significant benefit that you simply can't get with digital methods.

Firstly, there’s the fact that you actually have to print out, carry around, transfer and keep track of a physical copy with all of your edits. If you were editing a short story or an essay, this might not be a problem. But if you wanted to self-edit a book instead, those 300+ pages could quickly become a burden.

What if you lost it? Your edits would be gone forever. Hope you have great penmanship too, because chicken-scratch editing marks aren’t exactly going to cut it when you come to the final draft. And are you sure you want to spend however many dollars on paper and ink when you could just do it digitally?

Benefits of computer screen self-editing

Digital writing is ubiquitous these days; you can’t visit even the smallest business site without spotting a blog or news section. Everybody is writing, and the digital world is making it easier than ever to create, collaborate—and edit.

Self-editing on a computer screen is efficient, more than anything else. You write and edit all on the same piece of software, and any changes you want to make, you can make immediately without needing to print out another copy.

If you are collaborating with another writer, a colleague, or want to share your work with an editor, it’s as easy as a few clicks.

Read more: Want to write a better essay? Cut out “so”

It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s collaborative; but digital editing is still missing a certain something from the process. There is something very primal in the handling of an actual document, and I can speak from experience when I say that your editing improves significantly when you are dealing with a physical copy.

Every edit becomes important, and forces the self-editor to be careful with their adjustments. Digital can make it almost too easy; when you can make as many changes as you like, it can quickly feel like the editing process is never-ending.

There isn’t as much of a sense of progression, which is some cases can be even more detrimental than the lowered recall, accuracy and reading speed that was shown in the studies discussed earlier.

Which is better?

The big question: if you had to pick one, which would it be? The answer is, unfortunately, rather ambiguous: it completely depends on what you prefer to do for your writing.

For longer pieces, I tend to stick to purely digital editing, potentially printing out particularly important or troublesome sections to really get to grips with.

The ability to swap between the physical and the digital gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to make changes on the fly while still having a physical copy with a sense of weight to your adjustments.

Having two copies on hand, one in bits and bytes and the other in paper and pen, gives you the multitude of perspectives necessary to self-edit with confidence.

For shorter pieces, I simply print out the work. I prefer to do my first read-through solely on paper, and if the work is going to have a significant number of changes, I’ll switch over to digital. But not before doing a first round purely with pen and paper.

Having two copies on hand, one it bits and bytes and the other in paper and pen, gives you the multitude of perspectives necessary to self-edit with confidence.

This is why I always encourage my clients and fellow writers to double-space their work. It gives you more room to insert comments and make changes than otherwise. Even digitally, it makes the piece a lot easier to read—which you or your editor will thank you for.

So, in conclusion, which is the better self-editing method: paper or digital? Depends on what you have available, what you’re working with, how many changes you’re planning to make, and most importantly, what you personally prefer.

For more tips and tricks on self-editing, check out How to Self-Edit a Novel: A Practical 9-step Guide.

2 thoughts on “Which is better: digital vs hard copy self-editing

  1. For me, printing isn’t about length but rather importance. I never print shorts, but I printed about three different versions of my first novel and scribbled all over them. Even though it’s a ton of paper (not too expensive to print at a local warehouse stationery tho) it made the process of figuring out “What on earth should change here?” a lot easier. I think not just because it is a tangible thing, but because I could easily flick through my different pages of notes quickly and easily.


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