Drafting: Editing, Revising, and Proofreading
In my Writing Workshop class, there are two major essays. Each essay requires at least five submitted versions:
- a basic thesis & topic sentence outline
- a full outline
- a first draft (thesis & body paragraphs minimum)
- a second draft
- a final draft
As I have written before, the three drafts must be revised, edited, and proofread before you give them to me. Most students simply dash off some writing and think, "the teacher will correct it for me." This is not a good idea; if each draft does not show an effort to revise, it will be graded down, and this will bring down the whole grade for the assignment.
Therefore, even the first draft must be revised and edited, and proofread at least somewhat.
Responding to Markup
After you submit a draft and receive back the marked essay from your teacher, it is necessary that you pay attention to and repair all problems that are marked. Surprisingly, I will receive second and third drafts by students which do still have errors which I marked on the first draft! Ignoring a teacher's mark will send the message, "I didn't try very hard." If the teacher feels that they worked harder to correct the essay than the student did, the grade will be very low for that assignment.
In my classes, I no longer mark essays by hand. Handwritten markup is limited in space, and is often difficult for students to read. Instead, I use word processing tools to mark student essays. Here are the four most common marks I make:
Strikethrough text: If you see text with lines through it, that means I am urging you to delete those words. If I want to only suggest it, I will make a different mark.
Bold red text: This is text I have added, again as a strong recommendation. You may use different words if you think they are better, but at the very least you should note why I suggested the change. For example, in the above example, I added "according to him" because otherwise it would seem like you believe he did not do anything bad. However, you could use different wording—for example, "Therefore, he believed that he...."
Comment text: There is an error I wish to point out in some detail. I might just point to a certain type of error in a general area of text, or I might single out a very specific error and explain in detail. I often use this when I believe you will not find the error on your own, but not always. In the example above, you can see that I note there is a verb tense error. In this case, it should be "hadn't done."
Yellow highlighted text: This means that there is some kind of error, but I am not telling you what it is. You have to figure it out and correct it. In the example above, the second yellow highlight was another verb tense error; it should be "there was no reason." I did not make a specific comment because I feel that, after pointing out the previous verb tense error, you should be able to find the next one pretty easily.
AND Then Do More Revising!
Many students will fix the errors teachers point out, and then stop. This is a very bad idea. It assumes that your teacher is writing the essay, not you!
Each draft requires a certain amount of work.
The first draft should focus on organization and structure. Before you hand in the essay, make sure that you have full and complete body paragraphs, each one with good structure and sufficient detailed examples. Make sure that the paragraphs are in the best order and that there is good flow between ideas. You should focus on sentence and grammar issues also, but not as much as organization and structure.
The second draft should focus on sentence structure and detail. Of course, you should still repair more general organization & structure problems if any remain, but this draft should pay more attention to making the sentences clear and correct, and making sure that you have sufficient specifics to support your ideas. Check sentence length, look for clauses & phrases, make sure the sentences are concise and not confusing.
The final draft should focus on grammar and proofreading. Hopefully, all of the larger errors have been fixed by this time, and the basic essay is well-structured and detailed. This draft is about getting rid of the many errors that remain; most students still have several dozen grammar errors in the essay at this point. An "A" paper will reduce that to fewer than half a dozen errors, none of them major.
Here is the mistake most students make: they only fix errors that a teacher marks from the last draft, and do not revise and edit according to the requirements of the next draft.
For example, when you hand in the first draft, the teacher mostly makes marks regarding your essay's general organization and structure. Of course, you are supposed to repair these issues. However, these are only issues that should have been fixed in the first draft. For the second draft, you are supposed to make additional repairs to sentence structure and detail, repairs your teacher did not mark in the first draft!
When the teacher hands back the marked first draft, you are supposed to repair the first-draft errors the teacher marked, AND THEN make YOUR OWN second-draft corrections, which the teacher did not show you.
You might ask, "Why didn't the teacher show me those mistakes?" The answer is simple: because you are learning how to find them yourself. If the teacher marks all the errors in advance, then you will never learn how to find them! This class is to teach you how to revise and edit essays by yourself; in the future, in courses like Psychology or History, you will have to write essay with no revising feedback from the instructor. Non-writing course professors expect to receive a perfect final draft, and do not want to spend time correcting your writing for you!
Many students ONLY correct errors the teacher marked specifically; if you do this, you will receive a poor grade. If you want to receive a better grade, you have to make corrections and fix problems before the teacher finds them!
Editing & Proofreading
These steps are about details at the sentence level. Each draft of your essay should have a different emphasis. In the first draft, do the most editing, and just a little proofreading. In the second draft, try about the same amount of both. In the final draft, your editing should be mostly done, and proofreading should be intense.
First, before any repairs are done, ask if there are there any sentences that should be cut. Do any sentences take a wrong turn and delay the point? Are there any sentences which are off-topic and don't belong? If so, cut them out.
Next, focus on sentence quality as a whole. Are the sentences too long? Are they confusing? Are they clear? Is the sentence structure correct? Do the sentences flow well? Are they connected in the right ways?
A good way to start is by looking at sentence length. If you are using Google Docs, just select the text and go to Tools > Word Count to find out how many words there are.
If the sentence is more than 25 words, you should immediately consider shortening it, or probably dividing it into two or more sentences. Start by counting the clauses; most sentences should have one or two. If there are three or more, try dividing the sentence into sentences with one or two clauses each.
One exception is the sentence seen above: it is a list, and lists can be long. If your sentence is more than 30 words, is not a list, and has only one or two clauses, then it is probably too long and should be cut down, made more concise.
At this time, you should also ask if sentences are too confusing. Long sentences usually are. However, short sentences could be confusing as well. Read each sentence; does it make good sense? Can a person who knows nothing about the subject understand it? Can the sentence be made more clear or concise? Is any information repeated? Correct sentences as needed.
Next, look at sentence structure. Identify the clauses in the sentence. Are they structured correctly? Next, can you identify all the phrases? Are they in the correct positions? Are they also structured properly? Repair any errors you see.
Now look at the flow (coherence) between sentences. Does one flow into another smoothly? Are they ordered well? Do they connect logically? Are the conjunctions correct? Did you use too many conjunctions? Fix the errors you find.
After you finish, answer this: how many changes did you make? If you only made one or two, then you probably didn't find all of your mistakes! After all, when was the last time you wrote a first draft, and the teacher wrote "perfect paragraph!" next to it? Check again.
As mentioned above, proofreading should be most intense in the later drafts. If you find that whole paragraphs or sentences must be cut, you don't want to waste too much time fixing small details before you cut them!
However, this does not mean you should do no proofreading on your first draft! After all, if there are too many mistakes, especially obvious mistakes, or mistakes really easy to see and correct, then you should fix them.
Obvious errors usually involve verb tenses and agreement. A surprising number of students make mistakes like this. A few examples from actual essays:
I am one of her friends who have great respect to her.
He pushed and kicked anyone who were in his way.
My dog Kurumi easily elated.
Kurumi go to others to steal their meals.
She is a diligent student, and be willing to do extra work.
She wanted devoting her life to volunteering.
The more obvious errors are like the examples above—missing verbs, incorrect helping verbs, simple subject-verb agreement, that kind of thing.
Less simple are more complex verb tenses, or sudden shifts between verb tenses in a narrative.
The most common mistake LCJ students make is with articles. Here's a suggested system to help you deal with that error. Start by printing out the essay. Next, go through and highlight all the nouns. Then check each noun to see if the article is correct; it might help to use the chart below:
This method can be tedious, and may take a lot of time. However, it is necessary: you cannot learn how to use articles correctly just by memorizing rules! Learning articles requires a large amount of repetition. The process I suggest above is such a process. It may take time at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. After time, you will remember the rules so well that you can correct as you write.
Another common error type is prepositions. Unfortunately, there is no one simple way to check for these. Try going through the essay and marking prepositions you find, and check if they are correct. This will not, however, help you correct missing prepositions. In the end, you will simply have to read the sentences and find preposition errors as they appear.
Students also make a fair number of errors in using (or not using) plurals. Be sure to check for these as well.
Look for errors in punctuation. Are commas used where they should be? Are periods and commas inside quotation marks?
How about spaces? Do you have two spaces in a row anywhere? You shouldn't. Are you missing spaces? Often spacing is missing around punctuation, and for some reason students often leave out spaces before or after numbers. Check for that also.
Also, don't forget to check spelling. Many people don't do this, thinking that spelling errors have been handled by the word processor. That's a mistake. Consider this sentence: "The clam parson dose what any one wood do." That sentence will not show any spelling errors, although there are five of them ("The calm person does what anyone would do").
Review of Steps
After writing and revising a draft, go over these editing & proofreading points:
- See if any sentences are off-topic or unnecessary
- Check sentence length; shorten or divide long sentences
- Find and repair confusing or unclear sentences
- Check sentence structure (clauses & phrases)
- Check the flow (coherence) of sentences
- Look for verb tense and agreement errors
- Look for article errors
- Look for preposition errors
- Look for plural errors
- Look for punctuation errors
- Check for any and all other types of errors