What is editing?
Editing is sometimes confused with Revising, or with Proofreading. After you feel you've revised the draft as much as is needed, editing comes into play. Editing involves a number of small changes in a draft that can make a big difference in the draft's readability and coherence. Editing can happen at several points in the drafting process--not just at the end to "fix" things that are wrong. When it comes to writing, it isn't so much about making mistakes that you have to correct. No, there is always an assortment of options, many of which are right. Experienced writers learn which choices fit together well for them, and luckily for you, the secret to becoming an experienced writer is to practice. You can do that.
So, what kinds of things happen when editing? Here are a few.
- word changes
- minor sentence rearrangement
- added transitions
- changes for clarity
- minor deletions
What should I edit for?
Three main areas that should be addressed in editing are: Content, Structure, and Mechanics.
When editing the content of your writing, it is important to make sure your work has a clear focus or main idea. By asking yourself a few questions, you can avoid incomplete thoughts and/or irrelevant material. The following is a checklist you can use in editing your content:
- I have discovered what is important about my topic.
- I have expressed the main idea clearly.
- I have removed material that is unnecessary, confusing, or irrelevant.
Editing for structure ensures that your ideas are presented in a logical order. A single idea should be represented in each paragraph. Transitions serve to make the relationships between ideas clear. The following checklist is helpful in editing structure:
- My ideas are logically connected to one another.
- Each paragraph deals with only one major idea.
- I have included appropriate transitional words or phrases.
Refining the mechanics in the editing phase prevents the reader from being distracted from your ideas. Grammar and usage errors may be avoided by keeping a dictionary or grammar handbook nearby. A checklist can also help you catch these errors in your writing.
- I have used punctuation marks and capitalization correctly.
- I have checked the spelling of unfamiliar words.
- All subjects and verbs agree.
- I have corrected run-ons and sentence fragments.
- I have used words with the correct meanings in their proper context.
Let's look at a paragraph that is ready for editing.
An editing example
Scrooge McDuck (pre-editing)
Scrooge McDuck is a rich and famous lucky duck that has it all: the luxurious
mansion, 3 intelligent and athletic nephews (and one niece that gets in the way), a global industry in his name that sells anything and everything, and skyscraper sized vault of gold coins, rubies, and iconic bags of money. Scrooge McDuck would have it all if it weren’t for one minute problem. Every other day someone tries to steal his money. People have moved it into the ocean and tried to claim salvage rights. They’ve moved it away with magic, futuristic helicopters, and old-fashioned diesel trucks. Scrooge has researched every possible idea to keep people out of his money bin. Now he needs to
solve that problem once and for all.
This is a pretty good introduction to an essay that's about finding the best possible solution to a problem for a fictional character. However, taking a closer look and making a few small changes could make it even better.
Scrooge McDuck: the Money and the Mayhem (edited version)
Scrooge McDuck is a rich and famous lucky duck that has it all: the luxurious mansion, three intelligent and athletic nephews, and one niece that gets in the way. Owner of a global industry in his name that sells anything and everything as well as a skyscraper sized vault of gold coins, rubies, and iconic bags of money, Scrooge McDuck would have it all if it weren’t for one tiny problem. Every other day someone tries to steal his money. People have moved it into the ocean and tried to claim salvage rights. They’ve moved it away with magic, futuristic helicopters, and old-fashioned diesel trucks. Viewers of Ducktales know that Scrooge has researched every possible idea to keep people out of his money bin. Now he needs to solve that problem once and for all.
An editing exercise
Sample Sentence: Technology is bad for people.
Edited Sentence: Technology harms our sense of community.
The edited sentence is an improvement because it uses more specific language. We learn that technology is not only harmful, but we also learn what it harms.
Sample Sentence: I hated multiplication. I failed my math class.
Edited Sentence: I hated multiplication; therefore I failed my math class.
The transition "therefore" makes a connection between the two thoughts, making the reader see that failing the math class was a result of hating multiplication.
Sample Sentence: There was two boys in the hall.
Edited Sentence: There were two boys in the hall.
In the sample sentence, the subject and verb do not agree. In the edited sentence, the subject and the verb agree.
Editing and the Writing Process:
A major question that students will probably find themselves asking is this: How do I know when to edit a paper? As a matter of fact, there is no simple answer to that question. Writing is a process that involves several steps, and these steps do not always occur in a straight line. Writing any sort of text is a circular rather than a linear process. Writers are rarely completely finished with one step, even after they move onto the next.
Most people tend to think that editing tends to happen sometime near the completion of the paper. In fact, that is not always the case. While the most important part of writing is simply the ability to express yourself and get ideas across, it can sometimes be helpful to take a quick break from drafting or revising and to spend some time editing. Sometimes, playing with word choice, sentence structure, or transitions can help stimulate your mind, leading to new ideas. Thus, it's important to realize that editing is not necessarily a one-step action, but rather something that can be done throughout the entire writing process.