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Editing and Editing Strategies

Editing and Editing Strategies

Author: Martina Shabram

Identify or correct wordiness and vague language in sentences.

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram and I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts, so let's get started.

What are we working on today? We get to think more about editing. We'll review what editing is and why it's important. And then we'll practice some editing strategies for making our writing as clear and effective as possible. So let's start with some review. Editing is improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing.

This means that editing is about making the writing itself better, not necessarily focusing the big ideas that the content covers. We're looking at words and sentences here. The building blocks stuff. So we want to edit for how clear our ideas are, how precise our language is, how effectively chosen our words are, how much variety we see in our sentences, and whether all of our sentences are complete.

So why do this? Well, because it helps make our writing work. The words we choose and how we put them together creates the overall tone of the piece, which influences the way our readers understand who we are and what the purpose of our essays are. Vague, repetitive, wordy, or unclear writing won't do its job for us. And readers will have an easy time dismissing our ideas if we don't put them together thoughtfully. So let's look for some of the common issues we might seek out as we edit.

One common issue is wordiness, which is using too many words to make a point. This is the opposite of the precise, concise language that we're aiming for. Wordy writing often includes redundancies which is when we use two or even more words or phrases to express the same idea or make the same point. So this is when we're saying the same thing in multiple ways.

Such as if we were to say the two senators should collaborate together on a shared project. Collaborate-- it means work together, so it's redundant to say collaborate together. You can't collaborate not together. And this sentence goes one step further adding more redundancy with a shared project. Can you collaborate on a project you're not sharing? This kind of phrasing dilutes your writing unnecessarily. So why not just say the two senators should collaborate.

Here's another. The family is in the process of moving. The word moving implies that there's a process. So, saying that you're in the process of being in the process of moving, is redundant. We could just say the family is moving. One more. In spite of the fact that I don't like orange juice, my father offered me a glass this morning. In spite of the fact that. That could be put more concisely as although. So why not say although I don't like orange juice.

Another common pitfall for writers is vague language, which is overly general and nonspecific language. So, again, this is the opposite of the precise and specific language that we're hoping to use. Think about just how much more interesting it is for a reader to see this sentence. Versus this one The former is specific and evocative, while the latter is vague and kind of dull.

So let's practice together. Study skills are helpful for students. What makes this vague? Well, the word helpful, for one, could be much more specific. How helpful. In what way helpful. Will these skills help the students' grades, or his fashion sense, or his ability to fly? The sentence doesn't say which, so it's too vague.

How could you change the sentence to make it more specific and clear? Well, one option is to make the adjective itself stronger, and also to make the whole context clearer. Study skills are beneficial for student grades. What do you think? Is this more concise and specific?

So now you know some common issues in our language to look for, but what about the bigger issues with the way sentences are put together. Just as you can now check for wordy and vague sentences, you'll want to check each sentence to make sure that they are each a complete sentence, not a run on or an incomplete sentence. For this, look for the subject, verb, and full thought to be expressed in each sentence. And are they punctuated correctly. If it's made up of more than one clause.

You might look also for variety to see if there's a mixture of longer and shorter sentences, different sentence beginnings, and different sentence structures. Overall, your goal is to look at your sentences to make sure that they're saying the things that you have intended them to say and doing so interestingly.

So let's end by thinking of some strategies for editing. Have you ever heard the saying you can't see the forest for the trees? It means that if you get too close to each individual tree you won't be able to see that you're in a forest. You need a different point of view for that. This is the same process with editing. You need to look at the style and clarity of your sentences to improve overall quality of your essays. But to do that, you need to get some distance from your own writing so that you can assess your sentences clearly.

Well, how do we manage that? Here are some tricks. Ask a friend to read through your writing and point out issues in the sentences and overall writing style. Because your friend doesn't already know what you mean to say, they might be better able to see what your sentences are actually saying. Making use of the fresh sets of eyes on your friends and family is a great place to start. And discussing your ideas with them can also help you gain greater clarity.

You might also go through the essay backwards, reading the last sentence first, then the second to last, and so on. Because this takes each sentence out of its context, it may help you gain better perspective and spot issues. You can also do this by separating each paragraph and reading it separately to again remove context and thereby reveal new elements of your writing.

Read your sentences, or even your whole paper, aloud to yourself or a friend in a slow and conversational voice. If you read each sentence individually from the start to the finish you'll have a better idea if each is effectively building support as it's meant to within the paragraphs and as a whole essay. Hearing, and even speaking, are really different than reading and writing. So when you hear your own words, you might again have the distance you need to notice errors.

This is also a good way to check for confusing sentences. If a sentence is too hard to read out loud, if you have to stop and start again, or if you get puzzled halfway through reading it, then it's going to be just as hard to understand when your reader gets to it.

And use your grammar checking software. While you don't want to rely on these totally, as they are flawed, and not wholly full proof, they can again help us get some distance from our writing. It's like having someone inside your computer arguing with you. If the word processing application you use is telling you that there's a problem with the grammar, word choice, sentence structure, or anything else in a sentence, take a moment to check that sentence out. Have that argument with the robot in your computer. You might disagree with what it's saying, but the very process of thinking through that sentence and having that conversation with yourself will help you create clearer, better writing overall.

And as you deploy these strategies, look always for wordiness, vagueness, sentence errors, passive construction, and anything else that just doesn't sound good. There's no wrong way to do this, but there are many great tools that you'll develop as a writer to improve your authorial voice.

So what did we learn today? We thought more about editing, we reviewed the reasons to edit, explored some common writing errors to look for in our own writing, and then discussed editing strategies to help us gain new perspective on our writing.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

Improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing.

Vague Language

Overly-general and nonspecific language.


Using too many words to make a point.