Editing: 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, possibly your overall focus.

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.

A good practice for editing: be 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.

in writing pair: select a paragraph you want to focus on for editing–want to improve/revise. Have partner read your paragraph aloud. Then discuss for 1-2 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:

–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.

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Most Common Formal Errors

Here is a checklist of the most common formal errors found in college writing. These are the kinds of surface errors in punctuation, usage, mechanics, and grammar that we want to give our attention to when editing. This list was compiled by the Washington College Writing Center and dervied from research done by Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors. One effective way to use a list like this is to identify a few that look familiar (issues you know you have) and work on them, read more into them [at the bottom of this post, there are two resources you can consult, in additon to a text like Hacker Writer’s Reference], rather than try to take on all 20 at once.

  1. Wrong word
  2. Missing comma after an introductory element
  3. Incomplete or missing documentation
  4. Vague pronoun reference
  5. Spelling error (including homonyms: there/their, etc)
  6. Mechanical error with a quotation
  7. Unnecessary comma
  8. Unnecessary or missing capitalization
  9. Missing word
  10. Faulty sentence structure
  11. Missing comma with a nonrestrictive element
  12. Unnecessary shift in verb tense
  13. Missing comma in a compound sentence
  14. Unnecessary or missing apostrophe (its/it’s)
  15. Fused (run-on) sentence
  16. Comma splice
  17. Lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement
  18. Poorly integrated quotation
  19. Unnecessary of missing hyphen
  20. Sentence fragment


Two electronic resources you might consult for examples and information regarding these and other kinds of errors:

The Guide to Grammar and Writing (use the index to look up the error).

Common Errors in English (a boatload of them, including a surprising listing of non-errors)