This section of Ch. 7 will cover the following topics:
- editing for grammar, usage, and punctuation
- peer editing and using tutors
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–on word use, parts of speech, sentence errors, 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, peer editors, 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 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 consistency.
- 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. Most writing classes, including this one, use MLA.
Below is an example of MLA formatting:
Here is a description of the formatting displayed 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 day, month, year without commas.)
- Center the essay title below the heading. Follow the rules on capitalization in Ch. 3.2. 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.
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.
Now it’s time to edit your essay.
- Work through all of the steps outlined above, making final corrections to your essay. Focus on one type of editing at a time.
- If you want to edit on paper rather than on the computer, that is fine (many writers do this). When you have finished, put those changes into your typed draft.
- When you have finished checking the essay mechanically, format it to meet MLA guidelines.
Note: Writing is a “recursive” process. That means, you can repeat previous steps as needed until you are sure you are finished. What you have right now is what I call your “first final draft.” You are the one who decides what else the essay needs to be truly finished, but always factor in what the instructor has asked for.
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 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 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; 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 peer editor to tell you what they think your intention is. Hopefully, they got what you intended.
- 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 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 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. 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?
Important: If you are editing your own work, you can use these same questions.
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.
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.
When you have finished your essay, respond to the following:
- How was your experience using tutoring support on this assignment? What worked best? Was there anything you needed that you did not get?
- Identify two things you changed or fixed in revising your essay. Be specific. Don’t just say “It is clearer.” Explain how you revised your introduction so it was stronger or which detail you added to one of the body paragraphs.
- Identify two things you changed or fixed in editing your essay. Be specific. Don’t just say “I checked the grammar.” Explain how you identified and corrected fragments and run-ons or which MLA formatting problems you corrected.
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, you can 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