4.1 Revising, Editing and Proofreading

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They define editing as work that is done on a sentence level, addressing problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, or word choice. Proofreading is the act of reviewing the almost final document for spelling or grammar errors, spacing, punctuation, and overall appearance. In Microsoft Word, this means that you right click a sentence that is highlighted for a grammar problem and choose the question mark in the pop up box.

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The reason we have three words for the work that you do to modify a document is that there are three distinct forms of modifying that document. Revising, editing, and proofreading are not the same thing. They are, in fact, three different forms of improving the content, the quality, and the presentation of your writing. The University of California, Berkeley has an excellent description of the difference between editing and revising. They define editing as work that is done on a sentence level, addressing problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, or word choice. The website also points out that editing is one sided, meaning that an editor writes comments and corrections on the paper and returns the paper to the writer. In other words, the editor looks for mistakes and fixes them. Revising on the other hand, deals with the document and its content as a whole. When you revise, you’re looking at the main points and the arguments and questioning whether the writing stays on point, if it’s well organized and supports the points effectively. Revising also judges voice and overall tone of the document. Revising is not one sided like editing. In fact, it should inspire dialogue between the writer and the reviewer regarding the goals of the document and the reviewer’s perspective. The purpose of this dialogue is to expand and clarify ideas rather than correct them. Revisions could involve moving or removing entire paragraphs, expanding upon ideas or removing weak arguments. It could be rewriting confusing explanations or adding supporting data or explanations. Proofreading, a third and different form of reviewing a document, is done after extensive revision and editing. Proofreading, according the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the very last step before sending, distributing, or publishing a document. Proofreading is the act of reviewing the almost final document for spelling or grammar errors, spacing, punctuation, and overall appearance. Once you’ve completed your first draft, it’s time to revise. Many writers do very limited revision, expecting that their first draft will be mostly complete. This is rarely the case, especially for reports, business cases, proposals in executive summaries. Plan for time to do extensive revising. In fact, multiple sources will recommend that you allow yourself a writing to revision time ratio of 1:3. As you review your draft, revise wording, sentence structure, word choice, formality, and complexity until your meaning is absolutely clear. Some more specific hints are revise sentences with there are. For example, there are three candidates who must be interviewed next week. It would be better to say, we will interview three candidates next week. Revise sentences that are not in active voice because active voice is a much stronger, and has greater impact, type of sentence. For example, it was told that there was a problem yesterday. Instead say, I understand there was a problem yesterday. Which one of these sounds like you are more interested in fixing the problem? To me, versus she, versus she described to me. Passive voice can easily sound weak, however, it has value though, if you’re trying to sound less accusatory. For example, saying some errors were made in processing the paperwork sounds less accusatory than human resources didn’t process the paperwork properly. Confirm that your words have precise meanings as opposed to less precise words with simplistic modifiers such as like, very, kind of, and awesome. Look for wordy descriptions or statements, and seek the best word or phrase to capture the intent of your statement, keeping in mind that you also must remain easily understood. Just don’t go too far. Remember that while we’re striving for brevity, we don’t want to err on the side of being incomplete or unclear. So while brevity is important, you may need to add words for clarity. One last suggestion which was also made in an earlier lecture is to look for and eliminate elaborate endings such as ion, ing, and ness. Sentences using words with such endings tend to be much longer, more complex, and less relatable than their alternatives. For example, the advantageousness of your proposal is in question could be rephrased as, we don’t see the advantages of your proposal, and let’s take the time for contemplating could be changed to, let’s contemplate. I cannot state it more emphatically or I must stress that you should revise, revise, and revise again. Editing is much more about the entire document and it’s content. When you edit, consider the draft as a whole, taking a fresh look at the content, your arguments, and how they flow. Is the content complete? In other words, have you included all the necessary pieces of information, supporting data, options to address the issue, question or need? Which option you see as preferred? Your reasons why and your justifications? Look at your structure. Is there one topic per paragraph? And do the topics flow from one to the next logically? Is your message clear? Is it obvious to the reader what your goals, intent, or requested actions are based on your document? Are your arguments clearly stated? Is the connection to the proposal or the request obvious, based on your writing? Are all of your arguments directly related to the proposal, request, or report? Are there any that are interesting but perhaps don’t truly impact what you’re proposing or reporting? Also, knowing your audience or any commonly held beliefs or concerns they have, are there any counterarguments that you can anticipate? Have you addressed them? Overall, is your tone positive? Even if the content is difficult or potentially unpleasant? These are the types of big picture questions that should be asked when editing a document. Also, I recommend that you have at least one other person edit your document. This is because it is quite normal, even expected, that it’s very difficult to objectively judge all of these questions when you’re reading your own document. You are probably so deeply immersed in the topic that you overlook missing arguments or statements because they’re so well known to you. Ask a trusted colleague to review your document for you and encourage them to provide you with feedback. Even better, provide some prompts such as those listed here, to help your editor look for these things specifically. When you’re using this sort of peer review, keep a few things in mind. Peer review can be done blindly with the identity of the writers kept from the reviewer or in a more open fashion. You’ll get better and perhaps more honest feedback if the edits are not provided in person. Some companies require at least two changes per page when doing peer review edits for someone else and don’t be defensive, and thank them for their help. You did ask. Take a look at this reading sample taken from Yahoo! Answers. It’s been around the internet a few times and perhaps, you’ve already seen it. You’re probably able to decipher what this says, in spite of many, many misspellings. This is because your brain fixes what it sees. Proofreading is the final step of your document preparation. You should have edited and revised extensively before getting to this stage. When you proofread, you’re doing a systematic check for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and typographical errors. It’s important to plan for this, plan for time and this step. Some of us rely a little too much on the spell and grammar check functions of our word processing software. These are good but they won’t catch everything. They won’t catch spelling when they are homophones of a word, nor many imprecise word choices. Also, in proofreading, as in editing, you can easily overlook things that are in error because our mind fixes them. We really cannot reliably proof our own work. We tend to see what we intended to write, not what’s there. Here is some tips for effective proofreading. First, avoid proofreading immediately after writing. If possible, put the material aside for, at least, a few hours before starting the process. At the very least, shift to a critical mindset before you proofread your own work. Use the grammar and style check functions in your word processing software. Microsoft Word has a wide variety of grammar and style check options, which you can select by going to the home tab, choose Options and Language to see the various language related checks you can use. Go slowly. Consider every word. Read what is actually on the page and watch if you’re filling in the blanks in your mind. Look for one error at a time. For example, review once for spelling. Review again, for capitalization and again, for punctuation and then, again, for verb tense consistency. Try starting at different parts of the paper every time to avoid the negative effects of familiarity with the text. Another option is to read the document backwards. This avoids the tendency to fix errors mentally because you know, what it is supposed to say. If English is not your first language, run your grammar check in explain mode. In Microsoft Word, this means that you right click a sentence that is highlighted for a grammar problem and choose the question mark in the pop up box. An explanation and solution or work around will appear. Finally, read your document aloud. This is perhaps the single best way to catch spelling errors, missing words, poor sentence structure, excessively formal sentence structure, and a host of other problems. In this lesson, we talked about revising, editing, and proofreading and how they differ. To create a quality business document, you will need to do all three of these activities. I highly recommend allowing plenty of time following your draft creation to do these steps and allow some time in between them. Remember, the quality of the document is a direct reflection on you.

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