How to Self Edit (to Improve Writing)

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'NOW WRITE THE STORY,' you tell your students after spending much time motivating them and discussing ideas. Then, as your students strain their brains to come up with a half-way decent plot and a beginning sentence that will hook their reader's attention, you wonder what the result will be. You know that writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. Your students perspire--lots. Some take a long time to get words on paper. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, they finish the first draft of their stories. The relief of being able to produce an abundance of words often produces a lush of accomplishment, a desire to immediately hand in their work, and a conviction that you, their teacher, will surely be impressed.

Student writers are often so excited to finish assignments that they never get past the first draft.

   Student writers are often so excited
   to finish assignments that they never
   get past the first draft. They think their
   piece of work is wonderful, not because
   of what it is, but because they wrote it.

They think their piece of work is wonderful, not because of what it is, but because they wrote it. They do not want to part with a single word. Professional writers, however, have a totally different attitude to their first draft: they are pleased to find how many words they can cut in successive revisions. Proficiency in editing is the key to excellence in writing. Thus, if you want your students to get top marks in writing assignments, you must teach them how to edit ruthlessly and efficiently.

It is difficult to be critical of your writing when you have just completed your first draft. The creative part of the brain is still switched on. Time allows the writer to more objectively see laws in their writing, so it is best to have them put their work aside for as long as possible before editing it.

   ... if you want your students to get
   top marks in writing assignments,
   you must teach them how to edit
   ruthlessly and efficiently.

Teaching editing

One way of 'teaching' editing is by sharing a first draft with your class on the interactive white board. Point out how the draft might be improved using techniques in this essay. Later, when they have confidence in editing, students might form small critiquing circles to workshop one another's drafts. Working as a team is a sure-ire way of enabling students to transfer editing skills from class exercises onto their own drafts. So what do students need to know about how to self-edit?

Put simply, there are four main processes at work in editing: adding words, deleting words, changing words and moving words.

The processes of editing:

* adding words

* deleting words

* changing words

* moving words

Professional writers would agree that the greater part of revising drafts is removing words already written and then improving the words that remain. Putting the best word in the right place is at the heart of all good writing, as is getting rid of all unnecessary words. Sometimes, in order to achieve this, the writer might have to change ten words for every five originally written.

Each and every word in a sentence should play a vital role. Words must it the exact shade of meaning. One of the most valuable means by which students can strengthen their word power is by regularly consulting--and using--a thesaurus. When teaching them to self-edit, have them get into the habit of underlining over-worked or cliched words. Challenge them to add zest to their writing by searching for synonyms to replace all sub-standard words. Aim, too, for them to use the most specific words. Student writers often use words that are vague and open to interpretation. The word 'tree', for example, is vague, whereas 'palm', 'sapodilla' and 'acacia' are specific. 'Dog' is vague whereas 'greyhound', 'terrier' and 'spaniel' are specific. …