Remember that editing is improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing. Style refers to the way a person writes, including word choice, tone, and sentence structure. As you may remember from an earlier lesson, tone is a writer's attitude toward the subject of a piece of writing.
Considering all of these areas together means that editing is about making the writing itself better, not necessarily focusing on the big ideas that the content covers. You’re looking at words and sentences— the building blocks of the essay.
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 you’re aiming for.
Wordy writing often includes redundancies, which occur when you use two or even more words or phrases to express the same idea or make the same point. In other words, this is when you’re saying the same thing in multiple ways.
EXAMPLEThe two senators should collaborate together on a shared project.
"Collaborate" means "work together," so it’s redundant to say "collaborate together." You can’t collaborate alone. 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.
EXAMPLEThe family is in the process of moving.
The word "moving" implies that there’s a process. Saying that you’re in the process of being in the process of moving is redundant. You could just say: The family is moving.
EXAMPLEIn spite of the fact that I don't like orange juice...
This is a dependent clause that seems to be operating as the opening phrase for a sentence. This is a prime example of wordiness, and could be put more concisely: Although I don't like orange juice...
1b. Vague Language
Another common pitfall for writers is vague language, which is overly-general and nonspecific language. Again, this is the opposite of the precise and specific language that you’re hoping to use.
EXAMPLEIt is much more interesting for a reader to see the sentence "Watching fireworks engages every sense as you hear the pops of the explosions, are dazzled by the colors, and smell the acrid tang of the explosive powder" than the sentence "Watching fireworks is interesting."
The first sentence is specific and expressive, while the second sentence is vague and kind of dull.
When editing, it is important for writers to review their work to find and correct incomplete and run-on sentences. Although this task may seem like proofreading for grammar and mechanics, which you'll learn more about later, it's important to perform while editing.
Read the following passage from a sample essay:
I didn't like Beloved much I didn't get what was going with the girl Beloved. She was a ghost, but Sethe didn't know that, it seems. Odd to think about. Still, I thought the book would have been better if Toni Morrison kept it more realistic.
Now read the following version, in which a couple of sentences have been edited to improve clarity, style, and mechanics:
I didn't like Beloved much, because I didn't understand what was going on with the girl, Beloved. She was a ghost, but it seems Sethe didn't know that. This is odd to think about, but I still thought the book would have been better if Toni Morrison had kept it more realistic.
Only a few changes have been made, but the passage flows better. Readers of the edited version don't need to struggle with the run-on sentence at the beginning of the original paragraph, or the sentence fragment towards the end of it. The impact of the argument is improved, even without substantial changes.
Repetitive sentences are a problem for some writers. Sentence variation - alternating long, short, simple, and complex sentences, and changing the beginnings of sentences - can help to maintain readers' interest.
Sentence variation also enables writers to express their ideas in a number of dynamic ways. When all or most sentences in a work are the same, the ideas they convey may be difficult to tell apart. When editing, review your sentences for variation, and re-position sentences that seem repetitive due to their structure or placement.
Read the following paragraph from a report on a survey of the opinions of women who live near the construction site of a new power plant:
The first thing we did was gather data from women in our class. The second thing we did was gather data from women walking around campus. The third thing we did was expand to the neighborhoods nearby. We did this by putting flyers on the doors of each house, with the questions from our survey and the email to send responses to. We did this because we wanted to get some information from women beyond the school. We didn't want to just have data from college students, but every woman who has to live within the range of the proposed power plant.
The structure of these sentences makes the reading a bit boring. Many of them are of similar length and complexity, and most begin in the same way. Now read this edited version:
We gathered information from three groups: first, the women in our class, followed by a sample of women surveyed on campus, and finally, women living in the surrounding neighborhood. In order to reach the surrounding areas, we put flyers on the doors, along with an invitation to complete the survey online. We did this because we wanted to get data not only from college students, but from all women who live within range of the proposed power plant.
The first, second, and third sentences were combined and modified, resulting in one longer and more complex sentence that conveys the information more effectively. The beginnings of a couple of the other sentences were also edited to reduce repetition (e.g., the over-use of "we" in the original paragraph). One sentence was removed because, when information was added to the last sentence, it was no longer needed.
Syntax is the formation and ordering of words into sentences, as well as the study of how words form sentences. It is necessary to understand syntax in order to understand the relationship between structure and style. When editing, writers should evaluate syntax and its impact on the style and tone of their work.
Though you may not have realized it, you've already edited for syntax because it's impossible to change the structure of a sentence - to make it more complete, or to vary its relationship to other sentences - without thinking about (and changing) word order. Editing for syntax also involves assessment of how a sentence's syntax contributes to the style of the entire work.