Revision and Peer Editing
How much rewriting you do on the computer screen before you print out the paper for the next step in revision is going to depend on how comfortable you are reading text on the computer screen. Most writers find it too easy to skip over problems on the monitor and they need to have copy in hand, literally, to catch all their errors. Other writers, however, have become so comfortable in their use of the computer that the keyboard and screen have become an extension of their mind — even more so than a pencil or a pen can be — and on-the-screen manipulation of text becomes second nature. It is probably a matter of practice, but some writers will always want to move quickly to the next step of working with paper copy.
Once the written assignment on the computer screen looks the way you want it, it’s time to print it out and put it through some additional steps of the rewriting process. Make sure the paper is double-spaced (or even triple-spaced at this point) and you’ve given yourself some marginal space for scribbling notes. Again, look for the problems that have given you grief before, and try looking at your paper as if you were your own instructor, looking for the same errors you made in the past. Word-processing makes fixing things later on easy, even fun, so don’t hesitate to do some serious scribbling, re-ordering of paragraphs, etc. If, when you go back to the computer, you’re unfamiliar with the techniques of highlighting and moving blocks of text, book an appointment with the computer coach at the Student Learning Centre or ask for help at the ITS service desk.
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Share your paper with a friendly editor, someone who has your interests at heart, who has the time to review your paper carefully and who is willing to ask questions and to challenge what you said and how you said it. This person is not to rewrite your paper for you, but you can hope he or she will catch an occasional glitch in punctuation or lapse in reasoning. The main purpose of this “outside editor,” though, is to challenge your argument. Does the paper really make sense; is the argument sound? After all, you know what a sentence or paragraph meant, so you are less apt to catch a confusing phrase or momentary lapse in the argument than someone else would be. If possible, watch your editor’s face for confused looks or glazed eyes as he or she goes through your paper. It might mean that clarification is called for, that you skipped over something in your development, or that you’ve gone too far. Before he or she goes over your paper, it might be helpful to this outside editor to have a list of the kinds of things that have given you trouble in the past — or the things that your instructor is apt to look for.
If you don’t have a friend who can go through this editing process with you, try to record yourself reading your paper out loud and then play it back to yourself, slowly. It’s important to hear your paper as well as to see it on the page. Your ears will catch clumsy phrasing and botched sentences before your eyes will.
There is a fine line between letting someone else rewrite your paper and asking someone to collaborate with you in the editing process. Most tutors become expert at this after a while. The trick is to let you, the writer, keep the pen in hand — or your fingers on the keyboard. Probably every professional writer in the world — whether he or she is penning a novel or a letter to the editor — will share a draft with a colleague before sending his or her text to the publisher. And probably more than one colleague, more than one time, will be involved. Nothing is more important in this process, however, than your personal involvement and improvement as a writer. For extra help at the College, you can book an appointment with an English coach at the Student Learning Centre.
Some instructors will provide an opportunity for peer editing, a process by which students make suggestions about their classmates’ work. Sometimes, in fact, a student’s effort in peer editing is an important part of the grade.
Most writers try to prepare a draft of their paper in plenty of time to let the paper sit a day or so before they go through the rewriting process. You will do a better job of rewriting your work if you come to it a bit “cold.” You can be a bit more objective about the paper’s grammar and argument. Your mind will be less apt to provide missing links and gloss over errors in style if you can pretend that this is something you just happened to pick up, something written by someone else.
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Before you return to the computer to fix up your text, it might be helpful to run through a checklist of things to look out for in the rewriting process. Based on your own experience, you probably know best where your essay is likely to be weak. Concentrate on those points, but don’t leave anything out. The table below is hyperlinked to explanations of the various issues.
When you’ve finished with the checklist, go through the essay a couple of more times on the computer screen and run the spellchecker again — just in case you changed something and created a new misspelling where one didn’t exist before. With word-processing, it is almost never too late to make changes. A word of caution, however: don’t be one of those students who show up late for class, tearfully protesting that the printers in the computer lab broke down or ate the paper five minutes before class. Leave time for such emergencies. They don’t happen often, really, but they always happen at the worst time imaginable.
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Revising & Editing a Research Paper
Revising isn’t the first step in the process of writing a research paper, but it is perhaps the most important. Many students skip the revision process, mistaking editing for revision. While editing is also very important, revision is an integral part of any good writing process. During revision, you should try to see your work from different perspectives and different angles. When you revise, it’s particularly important to keep your target audience in mind. You may need to make changes to content and organization. You may have to go back to the research stage of your process to find more information. You may need to cut out information that doesn’t relate to your thesis or focus. Revision is about making big changes to your writing to improve flow, development, and focus.
It’s best to allow some time between drafting and revision. If you can take a break from your writing and come back to it a few days or even a week later, you’re more likely to be able to see where you need to revise.
You shouldn’t begin editing until you feel confident in your revisions. Once you feel your content is where you need it to be, it’s time to begin a thorough editing process. Editing is about making changes to your sentences and surface features in your research paper. When you edit, you should check for things like grammatical errors, punctuation errors, spelling, and issues related to documentation.
Too often, students think that they can edit well with one pass or count on a grammar checker to “fix” everything, but to be a good editor, you should read over your essay many times yourself, each time focusing on a different issue. Grammar checkers are helpful tools, but they miss a lot, as you’ll see in the See It in Practice video.
A good editing practice also involves spending extra time on the issues you may have had trouble with in the past. For example, if you know you have trouble with commas, you might review the guidelines on the comma in the Grammar Essentials area of the Excelsior OWL. Then, with those guidelines fresh in your mind, edit your essay, just paying attention to your use of commas. You might then make another pass, just looking to make sure your in-text citations are correct.
Another helpful strategy is to read your essay in reverse, starting with your last sentence and going from there. This takes away the flow as you read your essay, will slow you down, and can give you an opportunity to see each sentence on its own.