Advice: Editing (part 2 of 2)
Written by: Jen Fannoun
This is a two-part series based on questions DC readers asked about editing. If you have additional questions, please send them to Jen@dearchereen.com
3. I am a high school senior. I hope you can answer my question. What are the best tips you have for editing papers? It seems to be the reason I lose so many points on mine!
Thank you for reaching out. Props for making an effort to improve your writing skills!
Without having seen examples of your writing, I can’t tell you what exactly you need to improve, but I can tell you about two of the most common writing mistakes I’ve seen among students:
1. Comma problems
For whatever reason, people tend to use commas as their primary form of punctuation, inserting them in places they don’t belong. Comma splices are the most frequent example of this error. Splices occur when a writer inserts commas between two independent clauses. For example, you might come across a comma splice like this:
“I washed the dishes, now they’re clean.”
The comma doesn’t belong in there. It’s true that the clauses on each side of the comma are related to each other–the dishes are clean because you washed them–but they are also independent, meaning they can form complete sentences on their own. To fix this kind of error, you have a few options.
You could add a connecting word:
“I washed the dishes, and now they’re clean.”
You could use a semi-colon:
“I washed the dishes; now they’re clean.”
Or you could separate the clauses into their own sentences:
“I washed the dishes. Now they’re clean.”
Whenever you use a comma in the middle of a sentence, be sure that it actually belongs there and that there is not a better punctuation option you can use.
A second major comma problem is the insertion of commas where there might be a pause if a sentence was spoken. Here is one I’ve come across online:
“The most important this we learn, is how to let go.”
Commas have no business being in this sentence! Spoken and written speech are not the same thing; even if you might pause while saying the sentence above aloud, that doesn’t automatically mean you should insert a comma in a written form of the same sentence. Each comma should have a justifiable reason behind it, and spoken pauses are not always one of them.
If you’d like more details about comma rules, here is a good article on the topic: link.
2. Unclear arguments
Editing the structure of your writing can be as important as editing the grammar and spelling. Most writing assignments in high school and college will require you to make an argument. The typical structure of an argument in academic writing is:
- Introductory paragraph
- Thesis (main argument)
- Supporting paragraphs (examples, information, and sub-arguments)
- Conclusion with a re-statement of the thesis
For this structure to work, you need a clear thesis statement and supporting paragraphs that are strictly relevant to that thesis. Many students start writing essays without a clear idea of what point they’re trying to make. This can cause an entire paper to feel unfocused and confusing. Alternatively, even if a paper has a strong argument, a writer might wander off-topic in the supporting paragraphs. This could range from using inapplicable examples, making statements without evidence, adding information that isn’t relevant, or just adding filler sentences to meet a required number of words.
Both of these problems–not having a clear argument to and not staying on topic while making an argument–can be a sign of poor editing. You can avoid them by planning what main point you want to make before beginning to write and by referring back to that argument as you write to ensure that each sentence you add to your paper is relevant and necessary.
Try paying attention to these two editing issues, in addition to the more obvious ones like spelling and capitalization, and hopefully you will see an improvement in your writing grades!
4. I was hoping you could give me some tips for blog editing. I have my own blog that I use daily, but I know it could use some fixing up. What do you recommend as the best way to capture an audience? Big posts? Small posts?
I have three tips for ensuring a successful blog:
- Know your goal
- Stay focused
- Engage your audience
A blog serves as a personal outlet for the subject you are passionate about, and most people begin their own blogs with that specific passion in mind. So do you have a defined and sustainable subject for your blog? Can you summarize in one or two sentences what goal you hope to achieve by blogging? If so, you’re on the right track. If not, take some time to think through why you are blogging, and how you can use your blog to best accomplish your goal.
Once you have a goal, staying focused requires a commitment to writing only about your defined topic and its offshoots. Sticking to topics you are interested in writing about keeps you motivated and makes you more likely to continue blogging consistently. It also eliminates the urge to post filler material; if you are a nature photography blogger, no one needs to see a photo of your lunch.
The first two steps can help you capture an audience. Readers seek out blogs related to their own interests, so a well-designed and well-written blog in any given niche is sure to draw a dedicated sub-set of readers. And once you have those readers, be sure to keep them engaged by offering opportunities for discussion and feedback. You blogs comment section is a great place to begin. Ask readers questions in your posts that they can respond to in comments, or have them share their experiences with you so that you can both learn from the interaction. You can also engage readers via social media; letting people know when you have new blogs posts up is helpful to them. Be sure to share independent content on your social media so that readers have more reason to follow you across multiple platforms.
As for the small versus large post issue: Offer both! Short blog posts are great for quick observations, answering reader questions, or just sharing links related to your blog topic. These information bites keep readers engaged by offering a quick way to check in with your blog without needing to sit down and focus. On the other hand, many readers will be interested in posts with more substance. Long posts might be ruminations, informative articles, or stories about experiences you’ve had. These offer readers a chance to spend time learning about your subject or about you, and help them understand that you are willing to dedicate the time required to create quality content. A mix of short, medium, and long posts is usually optimal.
Finally, be sure your writing is always clear and grammatically correct! Readers should never be distracted by misspellings, odd grammatical structures, or confusing sentences. Always review your posts for these kinds of mistakes before publishing.
Good luck with your blogging endeavors.