Teen writers often have trouble self-editing their work—especially when they’re first learning about the writing process. Proofreading for content is a challenge! Because they feel so attached to each word they’ve written, it’s hard to admit there’s any room for improvement.
Does this describe you?
Secrets of Successful Writers
Successful writers will tell you that proofreading and revising are among the most important parts of the writing process. Even when your first draft seems finished, I can almost guarantee there is room for improvement—because writing is a process.
pro⋅ cess (n.) a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end
In your case, the “end” may be a story you hope will win a writing contest. It may be an essay you will write for a college application essay. Or maybe it’s an important report you’re working on right now. In order to reach your goal, you need to be willing to make some changes to your paper.
Did you know that no writer ever publishes his or her first draft? Writing the first draft is only the beginning! Even if your ideas are amazing, there is always room to improve the way those ideas are expressed.
Most of the work happens after you’ve written that first draft. This is when you must be willing to look closely and objectively at your writing, review it one sentence at a time, and make small adjustments until your finished product shines.
Concentrate on Content
Don’t be tempted to worry about the little details just yet. There’s time to look more closely at style and mechanics. First, before you start looking for synonyms or fixing spelling errors, let’s make sure your content is in good shape.
Writers often feel too close to their stories. When you have chosen each word or sentence with care, it’s hard to find things to change. That’s when it’s important to put on an editor’s hat. It could be a real hat, or it could be an imaginary one. Either way, be prepared to look for ways to make your writing even better.
Proofreading for Story Content
A good story includes four basic elements: Context, Conflict, Climax, and Closure. Let’s look at each one:
Your story should open with a bit of background. Have you established the setting, introduced a likable main character, and laid out some key details to provide a framework for your story?
Conflict is crucial in a good story, which begins to take shape when you introduce a conflict or obstacle. Does your story have a problem? Is the character wrestling with a decision? Are two characters at odds with each other? Are your characters facing danger?
This is your story’s point of crisis. It’s where the action is the most nerve-wracking or intense, and the characters begin solving the conflict. Does your story’s problem have a solution?
Once the story reaches its climax and the problem is finally resolved, you need to bring closure to your story by making sure your characters take care of anything that’s still left hanging. Does the end of your story do this?
Proofreading for Essay or Report Content
A solid essay or report includes three main elements: Thesis, Structure, and Support.
Your thesis statement tells the reader where you’re going by conveying your paper’s main message in a sentence or two. Does your essay or report have a solid thesis?
Essays and research papers need structure—an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. When there’s no structure, your paper will fall apart. Does your essay flow from point to point in a logical manner, or is it disjointed and hard to follow?
A strong essay lists key points and includes the major supporting details. Have you supported your thesis statement with facts, logic, and solid examples?
Get Ready to Edit!
Now it’s time to get serious! First, gather editing supplies, including sticky notes, fun colored pens, and a sharpened pencil. Plan to read through your story several times as you edit, because each time, you’ll spot something new each time. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Read your paper out loud.
Yes, out loud!
If you wrote a story
Look and listen for places where you need to address context, conflict, climax, and closure. Where needed, add more details or descriptions. Write ideas on sticky notes and place them where they would best fit.
If you wrote an essay or report
Watch for disorganized structure and weak support and add more explanation or other content that directly supports your thesis. Again, sticky notes are a great tool for this. Likewise, be bravely willing to cross out irrelevant or unnecessary details.
2. Think about the flow.
- How does it sound as you read from start to finish? Do your ideas transition smoothly from paragraph to paragraph, or does the writing feel choppy?
- Move stuff around. Be brave! Look for content that would work better elsewhere in the story, essay, or report. Before you rearrange or reorder your ideas, circle the sentence or passage you want to move and draw an arrow to its new place.
3. Let’s talk dialogue.
- If you wrote a story, did you include dialogue?
- If not, remember that it’s is an excellent way to move a story along without needing to write tedious explanations.
- Find places where you could replace chunks of text with dialogue.
Are any parts of your paper still fuzzy? If so, make sure you’re being clear. And great job scouring your paper for content!
Are you looking for ways to teach your teens to become effective self-editors? WriteShop I and II teach them exactly what to look for when editing and refining their own work—no guessing involved! Each lesson has its own customized Writing Skills Checklist to help them edit with confidence, proofreading for content, style, and mechanics.