Writing is an important skill, but revising your writing is also. In this lesson, learn the basics of self-editing, including editing for content and for mechanics, such as grammar and misspellings.
How to Fix Mistakes in Your Writing
Picture this scenario. You are getting ready for an interview, making sure your hair is nice and neat. You are freshly showered, and your clothes are pressed and ready to go. You decide to give yourself one last look in the mirror – only to find there is a big stain on your shirt. Oh, no! You quickly change shirts, dash past the full length mirror and see you are still in slippers! Oops. That was almost a big one. Into your dress shoes and ready to head out the door, you look over your interview papers and for the first time, notice this one sentence stating: ‘This interview will be taking place at a cattle ranch. Please be sure to wear jeans, a tee shirt and athletic shoes.’ Quick – back to your closet, throw everything off and get into the best jeans and shirt you can find and lace up those shoes. Sweating and tired, but grateful for the last look, you are finally ready to head out the door.
I know. It seemed like a lot of work, but each of those steps mimics what happens when we are editing our own writing. In this video, we will be walking through the process of self-editing.
When it comes to editing your own writing, there are two areas where we need to focus: 1) editing for content and 2) editing for mechanics.
Editing for Content
Editing for content is the first step. In our scenario of dressing for an interview, this really mimics the last thing we did – finally reading the paper and realizing we weren’t quite dressed appropriately at all. Editing for content is ensuring that you are following the very heart and directions of the writing assignment given. Editing for content means you do three specific tasks:
- Make sure your writing is answering the original question asked of you. It doesn’t matter how well an essay or paper is written if it doesn’t fit within the parameters of the assignment. Telling a person in eloquent prose how the sunset glistens on a beach doesn’t quite explain the process of photosynthesis. You must take the time to ensure you are truly answering the question asked of you.
- Make sure your main points are in line with your thesis statement. Have you ever had a conversation with a person who seemed to be arguing with themselves? This is the equivalent of having main points that don’t align or, even worse, conflict with the thesis you are putting forward in your piece.
- Ensure there is a proper flow in your writing. The universal mechanics of an essay include an introduction, main points or body and a conclusion – in that order. This is expected in academic writing. As you progress to more structured writing with various other headings, including a methods section and discussion, you will find the introduction, main points and then conclusion ordering continues to hold true. Your piece should flow in this order for it to be read by your audience with ease.
Editing for Mechanics
Now that we have discussed editing for content, let’s discuss editing for mechanics. In our interview scenario, this is similar to our noticing a stain on our shirt or slippers on our feet. It really doesn’t have to deal with our understanding of the topic, but looks do matter. If mistakes that are simple to correct, like wearing appropriate shoes, are ignored, it makes people pause and wonder just how much time and effort you spent on the content. We often hear the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and while that is really nice to hear, it just simply isn’t the case. In fact, there is a reason why books we find in stores and online have such pretty covers. Taking care of the mechanics allows the reader to take their time with our content and truly read what we wanted to convey.
There are three areas we are going to look at when it comes to mechanics.
- Spelling and grammar: Spelling and grammar are intrinsically tied together in the English language for a number of reasons. The first is our extensive number of heterographs. Heterographs are words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. This includes words such as two, too and to; there, their and they’re; site, cite; four, for; right, rite and even bare, bear. Heterographs can be hard to see at times when editing because the word is spelled correctly, just the wrong word was used. So, you might not get the benefit of the lovely, red underline alerting you to a problem. In addition to spelling, you need to edit for comma errors, proper tense, correct punctuation and the other rules of the English language.
- Proper citing of sources: You need to ensure that you always cite your sources properly. This helps to avoid plagiarism, in addition to being a universally accepted, ethical practice.
- Parameters set within the assignment: This includes such things as page length, number of sources, organization style (like APA or MLA) and any other requirements set forth for the assignment.
When it comes to self-editing, there are three general rules that allow the practice to go as smoothly as possible.
- Set time aside for editing. If you are writing a timed essay, make sure that you set aside some time for editing. You should budget at 10-15% of your allotted time for editing.
- If time allows, spend a couple of minutes away from your piece before editing. The brain is a powerful muscle that can sometimes see what we intended to write instead of what is actually on the paper. Have you ever quickly looked over a paper after writing it and found no error, only to look at it five minutes before handing it in, only to see one, two or more errors glaring right before your eyes? That is because your brain knew what you meant to write, and that is what your eyes saw immediately after you finished your paper.
- Try reading aloud and backward. Reading your paper aloud allows you to stop seeing what you intended to write and hear what is actually on the paper. It allows you to more easily check for the proper flow and experience the level of difficulty it will take to read your paper smoothly. This process helps with editing for content. Reading your paper backward allows you to see each word. This process helps most with spelling, word choice, grammar and overall mechanics.
In this video, we covered why editing our own work is important. We covered three tips for editing for content, three tips for editing for mechanics and three tips for making your way through the editing process.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Define editing for content and editing for mechanics, and understand what you have to do for each
- Explain the three general rules of self-editing