Editing: An Introduction

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 means asking questions such as: What else? What’s next? As we discussed with reference to Joseph Harris: you revise arguments, ideas, paragraphs, essays; you edit sentences. Revision is rethinking, rereading, expanding, developing; editing is tweaking. This is what we will be doing through Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Revision and editing can sometimes blend. But for the sake of our efforts in this course, I 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. This is what you will be focusing on Friday.

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.” vs.

 “Reading engages the mind.”

Or a sentence where the actor is buried or hidden, and therefore the action that is the focus of the sentence is also unclear.

“It was the main point by the author that I didn’t really agree written throughout the book that a reader reads alone in a room.”

vs.

“In The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts argues emphatically for reading as an act of solitude and privacy. I disagree for these reasons…” 

focus today on 1-5: the issue of using active verbs and active voice [also discussed effectively in Harvey, chapter 2, and in this section of The Style Academy on Active v. Passive voice ]

  • 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]
    • Transitions: are there effective signals through the essay, toward the beginning of each paragraph (usually first sentence), to lead the reader and identify the focus at each point?
    • Go back through the draft to recall/find sections you might have left unfinished, intending to get back to. [for example: a section that has something like “add quotation here”]
    • Have in mind a few of the mechanical/surface errors you tend to make and will need to clean up–punctuation, spelling, wrong words.
      • You can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing Center.
      • Become active in getting a better handle on the grammar/mechanics/sentence-level issues you need to work on. I will focus on a few in workshops; but the point is for you to get used to using a resource like the Guide to Grammar and Writing to practice and correct on your own.
    • Proper citation format for any works you cite (which means directly quote or paraphrase). Consult Purdue OWL as a useful resource for citation basics.
    • Final Abstract: You will be turning in with your final version the final version of your abstract–the one with the latest, most refined statement of your argument. Here is an example of what an abstract looks like (the ways it identifies given/problem/response, identifies keywords, and provides a basic map for the evidence):
      • Although Frankenstein is typically viewed as a classic horror novel, primarily designed to frighten us, I argue that it can be read instead as a love story. Shelley emphasizes the romantic elements of the novel by way of the intertextual relation with Coleridge’s poem “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” where the focus is on communicating and connecting with others. Rather than scaring readers, Shelley’s forwarding of Coleridge’s poem works to connect her readers to the heart of her story.
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