Editing tips for the faint of heart
Today I’m talking about everyone’s favorite task—editing.
What? It’s not your favorite homeschooling activity EVER?
To most parents, the new and often unfamiliar process of editing and evaluating your student’s writing seems like an overwhelming, subjective effort. Apart from plucking a B+ out of the sky “because it’s not quite an A,” what can a non-English major homeschooling mom do to make editing and grading more objective?
It’s a Process
First, realize that learning to edit a composition is a process. The more you proofread and edit your children’s papers, the easier it gets. You’ll soon become adept at spotting repeated words, awkward sentence structure, or those pesky, passive “to be” verbs such as is, am, are, was, and were.
I began teaching writing classes in 1997. As you can imagine, over the past many years I’ve edited and graded thousands of compositions. But when I look back at some of those earlier papers, even ones we published in our class anthologies, I still find things I missed entirely, or at least would have addressed differently.
Does that mean I was unfit for the job? NO! Does it mean the kids remained weak writers? NO! Does it mean their writing didn’t make progress week by week? NO! It simply means my eye wasn’t as trained back then as it is now—and improve they did, in spite of all the errors I failed to catch.
Get the Big Picture
Are you the type whose critical eye is drawn to every little error? Does your pen begin its attack before you’ve reached the end of the first line? Do you pick apart the composition till it’s riddled with red marks?
Your goal is to encourage your budding writer to take wing, not shoot her out of the sky, right? So strike a balance by reading the paper through several times first to get the big picture before deciding what kinds of suggestions to make. And then . . .
Use an Objective Checklist
Imagine a buoyant, sunny morning, bursting with possibility! The kids are cooperating with you and getting along with each other. The house is tidy, windows thrown open to catch the clean breeze. Lesson plans are in order, a vase of bright daisies graces the table, and you’re caught up on the laundry.
It’s easy to feel positive about a child’s writing attempts, even when the paragraph clearly needs attention. On such a day, you’re likely to give a paper a cursory glance and say, “Looks good to me!” And why not? All’s right with the world!
But suppose your day is not like that at all. Gray and sullen, ominous clouds have gathered during the night, and now the rain drips moodily from the eaves. Imagine that the squabbling begins before you peel open your own tired eyes. You’ve run out of milk and the baby is throwing up. Laundry and dishes press against the ceiling, and someone just let the dog in, muddy paws and all.
In the midst of the chaos, school must go on. Your teenager turns in his overdue paper—the paper that would have received kudos on your “perfect” day—and you react badly, taking out your frustration on your son and his writing efforts.
I can’t stress this one enough! Without a checklist, your poor children are laying their papers—yea, their very souls! bare before your whim, your emotional state, or your bad-hair day.
You can—and will—be more consistent when you use an objective checklist because it helps you look for measurable, specific elements—things your child either did or did not do. Did she include her required sentence variations? Did she find and replace overused, dull, or repeated words? Does the title fit with the content of the paper?
Your mood, ugly or sweet, will no longer dictate your response. And guess what? When your kids know you will be fair, they’re more likely to trust you with their fabulous (or feeble!) writing efforts.
Look for Ways to Suggest Improvement
It doesn’t take much to improve a paper’s style. Believe it or not, just a few simple tweaks in wording can add enough flourish and pizzazz to elevate a paper’s status from mediocre to downright decent! These ideas aren’t a cure-all, but they go a long way toward raising the bar. Offer some of these editing tips to your budding author:
1. Replace overused, dull, boring, or repeated words with synonyms.
I’m not saying that every word needs to sound like it spilled from the pen of Tolkien. But if there’s a proliferation of good, nice, funny, weird, thing, stuff, and went, then a few well-chosen replacements are definitely in order. A strong descriptive word like enchanting will run circles around very pretty. A good thesaurus can become your child’s best friend!
2. Add sentence variations.
Properly used, sentence variations bring greater depth and maturity to the writing. Beginning a sentence with a participle, prepositional phrase, or subordinating conjunction, for example, also improves rhythm and cadence. Add sparkle with a simile, or change things up a bit with paired adjectives.
3. Choose vivid, active verbs.
Strong verbs actively engage the reader and spice up the writing. So instead of saying, “The waves came into shore,” try: “The waves crashed onto the shore”; “The waves tossed and tumbled toward shore”; or “The waves rolled into shore.”
4. Use a short sentence now and then.
It breaks up wordy text. Honest.
Clearly, you’ll need to address more than just elements of style when you edit your students’ papers. But trust me. These easy fixes will produce noticeable and positive changes in their writing. So next time your child hands in a composition, take in the big picture, use an objective checklist, and suggest small, manageable improvements for starters. Like anything else, editing is a skill to nurture and develop, and with patience and practice, you’ll get better with each try.
2008 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.