Editing is an important part of the writing process. Once your document is fairly well-developed, you need to edit. While your instructors may prize thoughtful argument, rich description, and thorough research, they are also likely to value careful editing.
Editing involves making "local" changes--that is, changes at the sentence and word level as opposed to "global" or large-scale changes, such as deleting the first three pages of a four-page document. Editors typically reread their texts word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence, while considering stylistic principles as well as grammatical, punctuation, and mechanical errors. When editing, writers trim down overblown phrases and replace inexact words, among other things.
When we proofread a document, we are looking for small errors such as misspellings or accidental omissions.
Have you ever sent off an email message or submitted a school paper only to later discover that it was full of typographical errors? How could you have missed all of these errors?
The answer seems to have something to do with how our brains work. Our brains recognize patterns. This is part of the reason why people who read frequently tend to read faster than infrequent readers: their brains more speedily recognize and process patterns of words on the page.
Texts that we write ourselves are the texts that we can read fastest of all, because our brains are already deeply familiar with the patterns of our words.
But what helps us as readers can hurt us as writers. When we read our own work, our brains tend to quickly see the patterns that we put on the page rather than the individual words. We see what we meant to write, and not necessarily what we actually wrote.
To our readers, however, who are not as familiar with our words, the errors are more apparent—and they detract from our credibility as authors.
To proofread effectively, we need to distance ourselves from the text and see it as our readers will see it.
Towards this end, consider the following proofreading strategies:
In our daily speech and in rough drafts, we tend to rely heavily on the various forms of the verb to be.
The verb to be is unlike any other verb because it is inert--that is, it doesn't show any action. For example, in the sentence "The researcher is a professor at Duke" the verb is merely connects the subject with what grammarians call the subject complement. We could just as easily say "The professor at Duke is a researcher" without changing the meaning of the sentence.
It would be nearly impossible to draft documents without some linking verbs. Because you diminish the vigor of a document by using an excessive number of is and are constructions, you should try to limit their frequency. Finally, note that the progressive form of a linking verb—which involves using to be as an auxiliary verb with a participle--is much more acceptable. The advantage of the progressive form is that it illustrates action progressing over time, enabling us to shape concise sentences that indicate something is currently happening: "The coauthors are disagreeing about the order in which their names should be listed when the book is published."
It is and there are constructions often lead to sluggish, passive sentences, so you should limit their frequency, as illustrated below.
Sample: While it is crucial for us to speak out on behalf of education, it is important that we do so in a manner consistent withstatute and administrative rules.
Revision: We need to speak out on behalf of education while observing statute and administrative rules.
Sample: According to the certification theory, there is no intrinsic relation between creativity and IQ.
Revision: Certification theory posits no intrinsic relation between creativity and IQ.
However, some it is and there are constructions allow you to be more succinct and avoid repetition of a subject rather than placing the true subject at the beginning of the sentence, so you should not attempt to eliminate all such constructions.
When used in moderation, prepositions are invaluable: they work as connecting words, linking the object of the preposition to a word that appears earlier in the sentence. Like linking verbs, however, prepositions do not convey action, nor do they subordinate one thought to another. Instead, they merely link chunks of meaning that readers must gather together in order to understand the sentence.
When used excessively, as demonstrated by the following example, prepositional phrases create a choppy, list-like style:
Sample: The major objective of this study was to determine the perceived effects of the union on monetary and on non-monetary aspects of compensation over the period in which respondents to the survey had been union members.
Because this sentence occurs in the conclusion of a five-page published essay, a careful editor should probably have eliminated this sentence altogether. Let's face it: If the readers still don't have the point after five pages, there is little hope for them. Nevertheless, the editor and author could have improved the sentence by reducing the number of prepositions:
Sample: This study examines how the union affects monetary and non-monetary aspects of compensation.
To help identify and eliminate prepositions, isolate them by putting slashes between prepositional phrases and other basic sentence parts as illustrated here:
/Furthermore,/ /in response/ /to the increased pressure/ /to publish/ /in academia/ /the past decade/ /and the growing complexity/ /of the academic areas and research tools/, /one should expect/ /to find/ /increased emphasis/ /on cost-cutting techniques/ //by academic writers/. /An increase/ /in cost/ /can probably be observed/ /by investigating/ /the changing trends/ /in the multiple authorship/ /of articles/ /over time./
Be concise. Once you have written a solid draft, a document that has been well researched, take a step back and question whether or not you can delete half of the words. In a world where billions of instant messages and emails are sent daily, brevity is a virtue. People love conciseness. They respect writers and leaders who can explain difficult matters simply.
The following paragraph hurts the eyes and ears of a successful writer:
"Writing that is redundant and states the obvious and says the same thing over and over again is irritating for readers who want writers to get to the point right away. On the other hand, as I am sure you can understand, it is equally important for writers to avoid confusion when they write and to put down as much information--that is, as many words--as the reader needs in order to understand what the writer means when he or she says what he or she says. Also, of course, when you are writing, it is important for you to remember that readers are reading your words and that you need to be somewhat entertaining--even when the subject is technical when conveying information, so that your readers will keep reading and not go off and do something else like play ice hockey."
Writers abhor wordiness. All of the empty phrases in the above can be translated into one sentence:
"Balance conciseness with the reader's need for information and voice"
The semicolon offers a "higher" form of punctuation than the comma or dash. Unlike commas or dashes, the semicolon can correctly be used to separate sentences. If readers tend to pause for a half-second when they come to a comma, they pause for three-quarters of a second when they reach a semicolon. Writers use semicolons two major ways.
You can show that ideas are closely related by using a semicolon rather than a period between them.
When elements in a series require internal commas to ensure clarity, then semicolons must be used to separate those elements:
Some stylists view the dash with great suspicion--the sort of suspicion that a man in the 1990s who wears a plaid leisure suit to work would arouse. Some people erroneously believe that the dash is acceptable only in informal discourse. However, the dash can provide you with subtle ways to repeat modifiers and dramatic ways to emphasize your point.
When you introduce a long series or list of appositives before the subject and verb, you are placing high demands on the reader's short-term memory. Therefore, use this pattern rarely and only for emphasis. This pattern is particularly appropriate in conclusions, when you are bringing together the major threads of your discussion or argument. Finally, you should place a summary word after the dash and preferably before the subject of the sentence, as indicated by the following examples. The most common summary words that writers use are all, those, this, each, what, none, such, these.
Commas are usually sufficient punctuation to set off parenthetical elements. In some instances, however, you can use a dash instead, especially if you want to make the insertion more noticeable:
When you want to whisper rather than shout, you can place the modifiers inside parentheses:
A single appositive or modifier can easily be set off from the rest of the sentence in commas, but you must use dashes when you insert a series of appositives or modifiers. After all, how else will the reader know when the series is over?
You can emphasize an important point by placing a dash or comma at the end of the sentence and then repeating a key word or phrase:
The colon provides a dramatic and somewhat underutilized way to bring a little spark to your writing. Beyond normal business correspondence (Dear Sir or Madam:), you can use the colon before quotations, formal statements and explanations. The colon enables you to highlight a semantic relationship--that is, a movement from a general statement to a specific clarification. The colon also provides a dramatic way to tease the reader's curiosity:
You can also use the colon before an instruction or example:
Although usage does differ, most stylists agree that you should not capitalize the first letter after the colon unless the colon is introducing a quotation or formal statement:
Because the colon works as the equivalent to for example or such as, it would be redundant and incorrect to write
Of all forms of punctuation, the apostrophe appears to be in greatest peril of extinction. For proof that the apostrophe should be placed on an endangered species list in some grammarian's office, one needs only to consult the popular press or a sample of student themes. However, because of its ability to denote ownership in a concise way (by avoiding the use of a preposition), the apostrophe plays an important role in the English language. Despite the frequency of its misuse, the apostrophe is a fairly simple form of punctuation to master. You can denote ownership to a singular or plural noun and indefinite pronoun by adding an -'s if the word doesn't end in -s:
When a singular noun ends in -s, traditional grammarians recommend adding an -'s:
However, this usage can be cumbersome. Consequently, the following usage is also correct:
When a plural noun ends in -s, you only need to add an apostrophe:
With compound subjects, when you wish to denote individual ownership, you should add an -'s to each noun:
Or, you can demonstrate joint ownership by placing the -'s after the second subject:
Finally, always use an apostrophe when you form a contraction. The apostrophe is positioned where letters are dropped: