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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Editing 101

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.

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.


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, 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. 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]


editing workshop: looking AT/wordle

  1. My emphasis on looking AT prose and not simply looking Through it (the traditional model) is informed, as I have mentioned, by a teacher, writer, critic named Richard Lanham. In his book Revising Prose, 5th edition, he offers this summary of how to swiftly assess and fix some typical problems. He calls it the ‘paramedic method’:
  2. Circle the prepositions
  3. Circle the ‘is’ forms.
  4. Find the action.
  5. Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb. [for example: change “Birkerts is writing” to “Birkerts writes”
  6. Start fast–no slow windups. [he calls them “blah blah is that” openings; for example: “The fact of the matter is that Birkerts…”
  7. Read the passage aloud with emphasis and feeling; I suggest you do this at least once with the entire essay–or perhaps have it read and listen to it.
  8. Write out each sentence on a blank screen and mark off its basic rhythmic units with a ‘/.’
  9. Mark off sentence length with a ‘/.’ [can also do this by hitting return at end of each sentence, noticing sentence variety (or its absence).

Another way to use digital technology to look AT–really look at–our writing, the shape and vision of our writing: try Wordle. Copy your essay into the box: look for keywords that are important; look for words that are being used too much.


notes: first writing project

Revision workshop:

With help from John Boyd of the Writing Center, we emphasized the importance of all writers, any writer, getting response for their writing, finding audiences for feedback. This is different, I suggested, than needing or wanting to fix something. Not the teacher marking up a paper with a red pen. With our focal point of critical reflection, we used the hear/notice/wonder response sheet to give feedback to a writer in your writing group, focusing in particular on where you noticed the essay providing the kind of depth and understanding in the personal reflection (rather than the resume listing, the nostalgia of quick reference), and where you wanted to see more of it.

Editing workshop:

Focused on ways to think about editing as defamiliarizing our essay–in order to get outside of it and see and hear it from without. One way to do this: read aloud, have someone else read it aloud: listen for areas where the reading stumbles or slows or is unclear. The main point introduced–one we are working on throughout the semester in our attempt to learn about style and how better to grasp it in our writing: need to look AT our style, not just through it. Think more self-consciously about how style is created in the mechanics and machinery of the essay: the words, the sentence structure, the punctuation; all the choices we can make and edit.

As a starting point, we focused on a basic issue (and trap) we find in sentence structure: the difference between active and passive sentences. One of the ways we looked at this: finding places where we see lots of “is” sentences which tend to bury the action; also bury behind lots of prepositions. We began to change this around. The example I gave:

“One thing about reading that I believe is that reading is meant to be fun.”

change to: Reading should be fun.

further change to (recognizing the weakness and vagueness of ‘fun’): Reading cultivates pleasure.

Essay follow-up:

The critical vision–aka, the focus or ‘thesis’ of your essay. Traditionally, this comes in the beginning–you might have been taught at the end of an introductory paragraph. However, things don’t need to be that strict–nor would you want to be terribly blunt: My thesis is…. Sometimes it is effective to have a thesis at the end of an essay; or perhaps an initial statement of your focus/thesis–that you then furhter refine in a conclusion (or in the scientific model, completely change). It is important, however, to engage your reader’s focus directly in your introductory material, let them know, before getting into the “body” of your essay, the various examples and reflection, what you want them to be thinking about with you. You need to give them a thread to take with them. What you need to avoid, then, is a general statement such as: reading has many definitions. You need to go further–suggest what particular definition is on your mind and suggest how you want to explore that. This is something to do during revision: after you have a stronger sense of what you are, in fact, getting into (where your examples and reflection are taking you), then go back and refine and elaborate the thesis–and from this you can then build a more engaging introduction–a stronger way into the story you are trying to tell.