Tips & Techniques: Self-Editing

I’ve been back to work in the writing center for a couple weeks now, tutoring, so I thought I’d put together a few posts of tips and techniques that seem to crop up a lot with the students I see.

 I figured I’d lead off with self-editing.

For editing my own work, I’ve used a few different techniques and I’ve had students tell me about others that work well for them. So, without further ado . . .

 1. Print versus Screen

I find the difference between print and screen reading is often helpful in identifying errors and putting a different spin on what I’m reading. This is especially the case since I can take the print copy into different environments, if I don’t want to tussle with iOS to get it transferred to my tablet.

2. Magnify on the Screen

Many students have told me that a trick they use to good effect is magnifying the text on the screen. In these cases, they’ll type in Word at 100% magnification, then do their editing at 125 or 150% magnification. The size change of the document helps them spot proofreading errors and missing words.

3. Read Out Loud

This is one of my favorite recommendations for students who come into the center. Reading the document out loud is helpful on a couple levels. First, reading out loud is slower than reading silently, so the mechanism forces us to read slower and more carefully. This, of course, helps us pick out missing words and typos. Second, reading out loud causes us to process the text more than reading silently. When we read silently, we process the words once. When we read out loud, we process the words visually, then convert them to vocalization, then hear them . . . so we process the words three times instead of one. And our ears often tell us when something sounds wrong, which usually indicates a missing word, problematic phrasing, or an incorrect word choice. Reading aloud to someone else can be especially helpful in this regard, as an extra set of ears.

4. Cover Passages (good for checking commas and pronouns [I vs. Me])

Physically covering up phrases can be very effective in determining a few issues. This is primarily useful, in my experience, for comma usage and first person pronoun usage. The short version: if the sentence makes sense without the covered phrase, then the phrase should have commas around it (because it is an interjection or bonus detail). If the sentence doesn’t make sense, then the commas are in the wrong place. Likewise, the use of I and me tends to confuse people. We are often told that the proper construction is “my sibling and I”, but this isn’t always true. What we have to do is read the sentence with “my sibling and” covered up, so reading it as I or me and determine which makes grammatical sense. For instance, “My brother and I ate sandwiches” is correct (“I ate sandwiches”), but “Our mom gave my brother and I sandwiches” is incorrect (“Mom gave I sandwiches”) and should be “Our mom gave sandwiches to me and my brother” (“Mom gave sandwiches to me”).

5. Read Backwards

A lot of things I’ve seen have also suggested reading the document backwards, e.g. starting at the last sentence of the last page and working toward the first. I’m not entirely sure of the effectiveness or usefulness, but apparently some swear by it. Could be worth a try.

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