Written by Chandra Clarke
Writing a paper is different for everyone. For some, it may seem like a simple task. For others, it may seem impossible. For everyone, though, the trick to creating a consistent, clear piece of writing is good editing. However, your editing abilities may not be enough when it comes to improving your own writing.
Editing is the process of reviewing a piece of writing to correct any errors. These errors could be as simple as spelling or grammar mistakes, or they could be as complex as the flow and clarity of your writing. Many writers find that an editing checklist is useful when correcting their own work. An edit may be done by the writer or by an outside source; either way, every piece of writing should go through an edit of some kind.
A first draft is almost never perfect; instead, a first draft is like a rough sketch or doodle. It provides the outline for the finished piece and helps writers determine what sections to pay closer attention in refining the piece further. Turning in a first draft to be graded is usually a bad idea, as an unrefined piece of writing may contain errors in technique or even in the content itself. Instead, writing a rough draft should be treated as the first step of completing any project. Once you have all the ideas and concepts down in a first draft, they can be refined and better presented in a final draft. All first drafts need one or two revisions, at the very least.
You can perform a self-edit by checking your work for spelling mistakes, unclear sentences, and grammar errors. However, asking a peer to edit your work can be much more valuable, even if you're a good editor yourself. It's easy to overlook errors when editing your own writing because your brain automatically fills in the blanks of what you meant to say. A editor other than yourself can help you determine when your writing doesn't clearly express your ideas.
Peer editing may seem intimidating, especially for those who aren't confident about their work. The good news is that peer editing helps everyone, writers and editors alike. By exchanging papers with a peer, you can get a better sense of what rough drafts generally look like and spot errors that might crop up in your own writing.
Peer editing is a great chance to help fellow writers reach their full potential. A good peer editor will focus on how to make a paper better. Opinions are fine, but they shouldn't be the sole focus of a critique. For example, a paper on cats might include the sentence, "Cats are the cutest and easiest pets too care for." A good edit of that sentence would catch the too where to should be, and a good critique might suggest that the writer expand on the reasons for arguing that cats are cute and easy to care for. A bad critique might argue that dogs are better and that it's stupid to believe otherwise. The difference is that the good critique focuses on how to make the writing better, and the bad critique is focused entirely on the reader, offering no constructive thoughts.
Learning how to edit well may seem tricky, but there are many checklists and guides available to help make the process easier. Editing is surprisingly intuitive for many. As a reader, you know when you read something that makes sense and draws you into a piece of writing; similarly, you know when something doesn't have quite the same effect. A peer edit should make a paper stronger and improve the skills of both the writer and the editor. Whether you're the writer or the editor, be kind and approach every paper with the goal of making it better.
One of the hardest things to get used to is that there will inevitably be reviewers who don't like your argument or think that it isn't presented as strongly as it could be. Criticism, even if it's meant to help, can be hard to hear and even harder to use constructively. Remember that critiques are not of you as a person but of the work. Even the best writers sometimes create awful first drafts. Editing and revisions are what makes those drafts into powerful and memorable pieces of writing. Take the time to look over your paper with a clear mind, and evaluate each suggestion as honestly as possible.
For more information on editing, including how to perform a good peer edit for others, please feel free to explore the links below:
- Encouraging Peer Editing
- Why Peer Review?
- Peering into Peer Editing
- Guidelines for Students When Editing Others' Work
- Writers' Handbook: Editing and Proofreading
- Getting Feedback on Your Writing
- Editing and Proofreading Strategies
- Revising Your Paper (PDF)
- Writer's Web: Peer Editing Guide
- Peer Editing 101 (PDF)
- Peer Editing Toolkit
Chandra is the founder and former president of Scribendi. She holds a BA in English and an MSc in Space Exploration Studies. Her lifelong devotion to the written word started when she joined The Chatham Daily News as a regional stringer. She then worked as a reporter/photographer for a large chain of weeklies before becoming the managing editor of an independent paper, a post she held for two years before striking out on her own. She pens a weekly humor column and has written dozens of short stories, newspaper articles, and magazine articles. She is an enthusiastic supporter of space exploration and scientific research, and is the author of Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science.
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