This section of Ch. 7 will cover the following topics:
- editing for grammar, usage, and punctuation
- peer editing
- using 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 teachers, bosses and customers) are impressed by an error-free document.
The first chapters of this book will help you eliminate mechanical errors in your writing. Track which topics you master and which you still don’t understand, then keep working on the ones that challenge you. Do not hesitate to ask for help from your instructor, peer editors, or the college’s writing lab.
Step 5: Editing
The final step after revising content is editing. When you edit, you examine the mechanical parts of the paper: spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation, 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 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. Avoid 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.
The format of a document is how it is laid out, what it looks like. An instructor, a department, or a college will often require students to follow a specific formatting style. The most common are APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). Guides like Diana Hacker’s A Pocket Style Manual and websites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab can help you understand how formatting works.
Below is an example of MLA formatting (commonly used in writing classes):
Here is a description of the formatting above:
- Use standard-sized paper (8.5” x 11”).
- Double-space all of the paper, from the heading through the last page.
- Set the document margins to 1” on all sides.
- Do not use a title page unless requested by your instructor.
- Create a running header with your last name and the page number in the upper right-hand corner, 1” from the top and aligned with the right margin. Number all pages consecutively.
- List your name, the instructor’s name and title, the course name and section, and the due date in the heading on the top left of the first page. (Notice the date is written in day, month, year order.)
- Center the essay title below the heading. Follow the rules on capitalization in Ch. 3. Do not increase font size, use bold, or underline.
- Begin the paper below the title. No extra spaces.
- Indent paragraphs 1” from the left margin.
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.
Editing 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.
A reviewer is your first real audience. This 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 editors for students are other students in the same class. 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, who are learning the same information, and who are 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 not just asking someone for feedback. You should trade papers with your peers and edit their work as they edit yours. Trading papers for peer editing 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, but your editing “muscles” still get exercised and trained. You will learn almost as much from doing a peer edit as you will from getting one.
In your notebook, respond to the following:
What are your strengths as an editor? (They are probably the same as your strengths as a writer. Maybe you are good at grammar, or have a strong vocabulary, or simply care about the quality of your writing.)
If you have never received a peer edit before, what are your concerns about being edited? How could you avoid a bad experience?
If you have been edited by peers in the past, what were the pluses and minuses? What could you do to avoid a repeat of the negative experiences?
Guidelines for Peer Editing
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; it is a skill that has to be learned and practiced. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. Our initial tendency may be to say only what is wrong with the work, 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
When you give your essay to a reader for peer editing, you are saying, “I think I am finished. Do you see any problems I have missed?”
- 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 editor to tell you what they think your intention is. Hopefully, they got what you intended.
- You may ask a reader to pay particular attention to something that has caused you problems.
- Otherwise, just say, “Thank you” and let go.
Then, as the 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 a 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 do a little light commentary. Maybe note errors in mechanics.
- 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. Here are some questions you could answer, but don’t hesitate to offer anything that would help the writer achieve her purpose.
- Is the formatting correct?
- Is the title interesting?
- Is the introductory paragraph engaging and does it indicate the direction of the paper?
- 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 ever produces 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?
Lastly, as the writer again
After your essay has been critiqued, 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.
- Peer editing is a skill that improves with practice.
- Providing a peer edit requires you to be respectful, thorough, and specific.
- Using feedback requires you to be open to input but also able to identify what will help you achieve your purpose.
examining writing carefully to find and correct mechanical errors such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typing errors