This section of Ch. 7 will cover the following topics:
- editing for mechanics (grammar, usage, punctuation, formatting)
- using peer editing and tutors for feedback
Readers do not notice correct spelling, but they notice misspellings. They look past your sentences to get to your ideas, unless the sentences are awkward and poorly constructed. They do not cheer when you use “there,” “their,” and “they’re” correctly, but they notice when you do not. Readers (including classmates, teachers, bosses, and customers) are impressed by an error-free document.
While some essays are more clever, more informed, or more persuasive than others, anyone can produce an error-free document if they spend enough time editing. The chapters of this book on word use, parts of speech, sentences, punctuation, and capitalization will help you eliminate mechanical errors in your writing. Track which topics you master and keep working on the ones that challenge you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your instructor or MHCC tutors.
Step 5: Editing
The final step after revising content is editing. When you edit, you examine the mechanical parts of the paper: spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and formatting. The goal of editing is correctness.
Do not begin editing until you are sure the content is complete. Then, do your first round of edits on the computer so you can fix problems as you go. Always do a final read-through on the printed page; you will see things that you miss on the computer.
Look for problems you know you have, as well as the following common errors:
- Check capitalization and punctuation, especially commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, and italics.
- Use words correctly. Avoid clichés and generalizations. A void words like “aspect,” “amount,” “things,” “interesting,” and “flow”; they are vague and often used incorrectly. Don’t use “you.”
- Be sure sentences are complete, no run-ons or fragments.
- Look for common grammar problems, including parallel structure, pronoun use, subject/verb agreement, misplaced or dangling modifiers, and verb tense inconsistency.
- Run a spellcheck, but be sure it hasn’t overlooked words.
- Double-check that you have formatted the document correctly (see Ch. 7.3).
requires patience; it is very easy to miss a mistake. Wait at least a day after you have finished revising to proofread. Some professional proofreaders read a text backward (the last paragraph, then the one before that, and so on) so they can concentrate on mechanics rather than being distracted by content. Another helpful technique is to read a paper aloud, paying attention to every word, letter, and punctuation mark.
Proofreading takes time, but the benefits can be seen in the quality of your work, the response of your readers, and the grade you earn.
After working closely with a piece of writing, we need to step back and show our work to someone who can give us an honest response about its strengths and weaknesses. Every professional writer does this. Every student writer would benefit from doing this. Getting feedback is your opportunity to learn what confuses and delights a reader so you can improve your work before sharing the final draft with a wider audience. The best feedback for college students is from tutors and classmates.
The best time to get help from a tutor is…any time. Tutors can help with challenges along the way or by providing final feedback before you submit work for a grade. They can help you spot, understand, and fix grammar or mechanical problems. They can provide suggestions on clarity and organization.
What tutors won’t do is fix your paper for you. Don’t expect that. But they will help you fix your own paper. One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to take advantage of tutoring support.
A college instructor rarely has time to go over drafts in detail with students. Your mom and your best friend aren’t going to say anything bad. Even a tutor is only going to give you one opinion. But a small group of students who are working on (maybe struggling with) the same assignment, learning the same information, and as invested as you are in succeeding is a perfect group to give helpful feedback.
How many peer editors do you need? Three or four is plenty. Fewer, and you will have a hard time separating subjective reactions from objective advice. More, and you will just get duplicate information.
“Peer editing” is more than just asking someone for feedback. You should trade papers with your peers and edit their work as they edit yours. Trading papers has a hidden benefit: the best way to become a good editor of your own writing is to practice editing someone else’s work. It is much easier to see problems in someone else’s writing and your editing “muscles” get exercised and trained. You will learn almost as much from doing a peer edit as you will from getting one.
Remember that the purpose of peer editing is to receive constructive criticism, not just compliments. Although you may be uncomfortable sharing your writing at first, it gets easier and the value is immeasurable.
Becoming a good editor does not happen spontaneously, but the more you do it, the better you get. Our initial tendency may be to say only what is wrong with a piece of writing, to praise it excessively, to remain silent, to argue every point, or to say what we think the writer wants to hear. Try to avoid those pitfalls.
The following guidelines will help you become a better editor and a better writer.
First, as the writer
The version of your essay that you share for feedback should be what you think is a finished document. When you give your essay to a reader for editing, you are saying, “I think I am done. Do you see any problems I have missed?” Giving an unpolished draft to a reader is lazy; you are basically saying, “Will you finish my assignment for me?”
When you give your work to an editor, don’t apologize for how bad or unworthy it is. (If it’s that bad, it isn’t ready for peer editing.) Don’t explain your intention; it should be clear. In fact, it can be helpful to ask your peer editor to tell you what they think your intention is. You may ask an editor to pay particular attention to something that has caused you problems. Otherwise, just say, “Thank you” and let go.
Then, as a reader
- Be respectful. Don’t criticize in a way that makes a writer feel stupid. Believe in the possibilities of the essay. Avoid sweeping judgments (“this is good,” “this is bad”); if you can’t say why, the writer won’t know what to do. Give specific input (“I can’t find the thesis,” “The transitions were easy to follow.”) Avoid the word “you”; talk about the essay, not the writer.
- Write on the essay. In fact, write all over it!
- Read the essay at least twice. The first time, get familiar with the topic and note mechanical errors. Then, go over the essay a second time. Look deeper. Consider organization, clarity, and writing quality. Note anything that confuses you, interests you, or bores you.
- If your instructor has provided a grading rubric, use it as a guideline for which areas to check.
- Here are some questions you could answer, but don’t hesitate to offer anything that seems useful.
- Is the formatting correct?
- Is the title interesting?
- Is the introductory paragraph engaging and does it indicate the direction of the essay?
- Is the thesis clear and specific?
- Does the body of the essay develop and support the main idea?
- Are transitions clear?
- Does the essay include extra, unnecessary material, or is more detail needed? If so, where?
- Does the conclusion feel meaningful?
- Finally, answer these two questions. Every writer needs to hear something good, but nobody has ever produced a perfect document on a first try.
- What one thing most needs to be improved in this essay?
- What one thing did you like best or remember most clearly?
We won’t be doing peer editing as a class, but you are encouraged, invited, and applauded if you want to set up a peer editing group on your own.
After your essay has been critiqued, whether by a tutor or peer editors, read the input you receive.
- If the mechanical suggestions are correct, make those changes. Always double check; do not simply take an editor’s word for a grammar or punctuation rule!
- Decide which suggestions on the content will improve your essay and which will not. Incorporate the ideas you like. If several readers note the same problem, take the advice seriously. However, you are always the final judge about what you do in your own essay.
Now Am I Done?
The writing process is “recursive.” That means you can repeat steps at any point if you need to do so. If you start drafting and realize your thesis needs to be clearer, go back and work on Step 2 again. If you are in the middle of revising and think a paragraph needs more detail, do a quick prewrite to see what other details you can discover.
When should you consider your essay finished? Donald Murray wrote this in “The Maker’s Eye”:
“A piece of writing is never finished. It is delivered to a deadline.”
The best writers always have an urge to keep tinkering. If you give yourself enough time to work through this process, however, you WILL reach a point where you have a good product, and you will do so before the assignment is due.
- Editing is a skill that improves with practice.
- Using feedback requires you to be open to input but also able to identify what will help you achieve your purpose.
- If you use this writing process, your final document will be much better than it would have been otherwise.
examining writing carefully to find and correct mechanical errors such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typing errors