Effective writers revise for global concerns, making sure their writing is effective for their audiences and to achieve their purposes. They rearrange or combine paragraphs, rewrite introductions and conclusions, and test the effectiveness of their evidence. These are higher order concerns. Once you’ve attended to those higher order concerns, you’ll want to then edit for lower order concerns such as sentence-level clarity, cohesion, word choice, punctuation, and mechanics. You’e likely spent a lot of time revising, and now you’ll need to make sure you polishing your compositions. To do so, you’ll need to give every sentence, every phrase, every word, and every punctuation mark your full attention.
Editing for Clarity and Concision
Think about your audience. What words or phrases are they likely to be unfamiliar with or to misunderstand? Where can you save the audience time by making sure your writing is concise? Try this strategy to help with clarity and concision.
You and your writing group should find an empty alcove where you can gather. One person from your group should take a computer or paper draft to read from, and every group member should take something to write on and with. Have each person in the group take turns slowly reading each section. As the group member reads, you should note any words or phrases that are:
- short and choppy
- long and convoluted
After reading each section, discuss as a group.
- Do the sentences build on each other to advance an idea?
- Can you hear rhythm through varied sentence structures?
- Are any sentences or phrases “filler” material unnecessary to the discussion?
- Have you achieved the emphasis you want using a combination of short and long sentences?
Repeat this process for each section and make a revision plan for stylistic effectiveness.
Editing for Punctuation, Grammar, and Mechanics
Focus on repeated errors in your own writing. What are your top three issues? Subject/verb disagreement? Run-on sentences? Capitalization errors? Sentence Fragments? Homophone confusion? Missing commas after introductory clauses? Keep a running list to make your own checklist for future writing.
The first step is identifying the problem. The second step is to keep a running list of all the times you or others encounter that problem in your own writing. Next, look up solutions to that particular issue. Search the internet for phrases such as “How do I correct a run-on sentence?”or ask your teacher or writing center tutor. Correct the issue in your writing and copy the corrected sentence to your running list. In essence, you are creating your own handbook for your common issues with punctuation, grammar, and mechanics.
If your class is keeping a list, take time to review others’ lists and add to your own. Start with a small number of these lower order concerns and as you master some, add others.
For additional reading on the connections between language, grammar, and power, read Patricia Dunn and Ken Linblom’s Grammar Rants.
For more tips and techniques on proofreading and editing, review the UNC Writing Center’s Guide.