English Composition I
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Most writers confuse revision and editing. They are related, but there are also some significant differences. Revision, as you learned on the Revision Information Sheet, is about the big picture: making sure that the essay has a clear thesis and organization and that every element of the essay works with the thesis. Editing is about the final look and feel of the essay. It's the final wax on the car, the polish, the shine. Editing doesn't affect the content as specifically as the other stages of the writing process, but it does affect the overall way that your reader sees and responds to your essay and its content.
Editing works with all of that grammar and syntax stuff that you've learned in all those years in school. Wait ---- come back!!! I said that it works with the grammar, not that I'm going to make you do page after page of verb tense worksheets. You already suffered through the years of worksheets. You've already learned the basics of grammar. Now you just need to gain the confidence to use those skills.
First of all, you need to understand that MOST of your writing is grammatically correct. Even those of you who think you have horrible grammar are probably correct in your grammar usage more often than not. We use, for the most part, the same grammar rules for oral and written language. Do people understand you when you speak? Then you understand and can use the rules of grammar. You may not be able to name all of the verb tenses, but when it comes right down to it, you can use them all quite well. The proper usage is what's ultimately important.
Most writers, even the ones who feel that they have horrible grammar problems, really only have a few problem areas. Successful writers are not writers who have eliminated their grammar problems. Successful writers are writers who have learned to recognize WHAT their problems are, and edits accordingly. If you know that you always misspell beuatiful, I mean bueatiful, err, beautiful, then you need to pay attention when you use that word. If you regularly write in fragments. Then you need to look carefully for fragments when you edit. Fixing them whenever they are found. It's a beuatiful beautiful feeling to finally conquer that demon.
Recognizing what IS a problem allows you to spend much less time worrying about what ISN'T a problem. For example, I rarely misspell words, so when I edit, I do a quick runthrough looking for spelling, but I don't worry too much about it. At the same time, I regularly use passive verbs, so I always look for use of helping and "be" verbs in sentences to make sure that they aren't passive, or that they need to be passive. Every other writer has his/her own unique problem areas. You should identify your problem areas and get to know that section of your Handbook quite well. Re-visit that section on a regular basis to remind yourself of how to fix the problem. Keep a list of YOUR personal spelling demons, spelled correctly of course, next to your computer/desk/typewriter.
Here are some editing techniques that have worked for many writers/students over the years:
- Computer Grammar/Spell Check
- A lot of people rely on their computer to check their spelling and grammar. That is a good saftety net, but don't rely too much on the computer. For one thing, spellchecks can be changed to include misspellings (I had a student once who did this as a prank). They also don't understand many of the most common misspellings like there/their/they're or to/too/two. As for the grammar checks, the computer does not understand writing style, just the rules. Most writers regularly bend the rules to achieve certain effects. Fragments are an error, unless you are intentionally using one to make a point. The computer won't understand the context of the point, just that you have a fragment. If you want to write like a computer, follow the grammar check's recommendations completely. If you want to sound like YOU, use its recommendations as just a starting point. top
- Backwards Method
- When we read our writing, we know what we intended to write. Thus, when we read it back, we tend to fill in the blanks, whether the words or punctuation are actually there or not. This method takes the sentences and evaluates them out of the context of the essay as a whole. Remember, revision is when we deal with the overall argument and ideas. Editing is about the bits and pieces, the individual words and sentences, so reading the sentences out of context is not only acceptable, it's downright helpful.
- Go to the end of your essay and begin reading the last sentence. After you've confirmed that it works as a stand-alone sentence. Go to the next sentence in the conclusion, and so on until you've gotten to the first sentence in the introduction. This method is not designed to emphasize how many problem sentences you have. This method is designed to help you recognize how many of your sentences are solid, while also helping you identify the ones that DO have problems. top
- Out Loud Method
- Language is verbal as well as written. The same primary rules of grammar and syntax apply to oral language as they do to written language. Most writers feel much more comfortable speaking the language than writing it, however. You can take advantage of that fact. Your ears are wonderful grammar editors. After all, you KNOW when someone mis-speaks and uses the wrong verb tense or pronoun. You can hear it.
Read your essay out loud, slowly, but still in a natural speaking voice. Force yourself to read what is actually on the paper/screen, not what you intended to write. You will hear when a sentence isn't quite right. Force yourself to verbalize an alternative to the written sentence, and you'll almost always correct the mistake immediately. Combine this method with the backward method, and you'll really be able to identify problem sentences. top
- Two-Finger Method
- Every writer has certain patterns that they regularly use in their writing: a certain vocabulary, a certain set of phrases, a certain sentence construction, etc. One of the more useful patterns is sentence length. Take a look at a finished essay that you've written. Count the words in the sentences. The vast majority of those sentences will have a word count within a word or two of each other (8-10 words or 13-15 words, for example). As you grow more sophisticated and comfortable with your writing, the sentence length and complexity will change, but within a given essay, the length should be fairly standard.
- The 2-finger method assumes that most of your sentences are about the same length. You take your left index finger, and place it on the first letter of the first word of the first sentence of your essay. You then take the right index finger, and place it on the end punctuation (usually a period) of that sentence. Notice how far apart your fingers are. Then move your fingers to the start and end of the next sentence. Your fingers should be about the same distance apart. When they move closer together, mark that sentence. When they move farther apart, mark that sentence. These marked sentences have a higher potential for error, with the shorter sentence more likely to be a fragment and the longer sentence more likely to be a run-on. Notice that they are only more likely to have errors. Sometimes you will have legitimately written a shorter or longer sentence. top
- Circle Method (Highlight Method)
- Once you have identified the element that gives you difficulties: commas, pronouns, helping verbs, etc., then you can use the circle method. Review the section of your handbook that references that element, so that you are comfortable with its proper usage. Simply go through the essay and circle (or highlight) every time you used your problem element. Circle/highlight all of the commas, or all of the pronouns. Then go back and look more closely at each use of the element. Compare to what your handbook shows as proper use. Most of them will be used correctly (and more will be correct as you continue to improve), but the ones that aren't used correctly can be easily corrected. This method has the added benefit of helping you ignore the rest of the essay, the spelling, the verb tenses, etc. and focus just on what you KNOW to be your problem area. top