Editing 101Posted: February 3, 2010
Revision focuses on getting a handle on what your writing is about, where you want it to go. Generally speaking, revision is when you are still dealing with changes that could be as large as entire paragraphs, how your argument is organized, developed. It might also mean changing your entire focus, starting over.
Revision and editing can sometime blend. But for the sake of our efforts in this course, I will suggest that editing is what you do toward the end of a project. Editing concerns how your essay communicates to a different set of eyes and ears than the ones which wrote it. How it reads to a reader who is not in your head.
Therefore, a good strategy for editing is to become more self-conscious about the sound and shape of your writing–something we take for granted. In order not to take it for granted (since you have been working on this essay and it probably makes sense to you), we need to defamiliarize it.
- Read it aloud–hear the writing. Have a peer read it aloud or read it aloud yourself. Read it backwards, paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence: listening for places where the expression/communication (the how of the writing, the mechanics, the style) is not matching up with the idea. Usage errors would be one way expression and ideas get crossed.
- Workshop: in your writing group, select a paragraph you want to focus on for editing–want to improve. Have someone else read your paragraph aloud. Then discuss for a few minutes what you hear and see–suggestions for what you might need to do or want to do with the paragraph.
- More active than passive. Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method (from Revising Prose, 5th edition, Pearson 2007): one strategy to pay better attention to the way your “voice” is informed by the machinery of sentence length, verb (active vs passive), prepositions. These are not ‘errors’ but choices you make in presentation. We will be returning to this in later editing workshops. For today, let’s focus on the issue of crafting and clarifying the action of our sentences.
1]Circle the prepositions
2]Circle the “is” forms.
3]Find the action
4]Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb.
5]Start fast–no slow windups. [the passive construction is often connected with too-conversational kinds of beginnings: ‘One of the things that I think about reading is that reading is engaging for the mind.’ in contrast: “Reading engages the mind.”
focus today on 1-5: the issue of using active verbs and active voice [also discussed effectively in Hacker, p. 140]
- Some formal/presentational features to consider and not neglect at the end:
- Title? I will be crushed to see an essay titled ‘paper #1’
- introduction/conclusion: how do you bring the reader into your story? where do you leave the reader? A strategy to consider: start in with the narrative, or in the middle of an experience, before pulling back to more general set-up. And conclude by circling back to your beginning. [these are tricky–will continue to work on this in later workshops]
- Have in mind a few of the mechanical/surface errors you tend to make and will need to clean up.
- You can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing Center.