Author Topic: Self-editing  (Read 1095 times)

Offline Mark T

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4076
« on: June 05, 2013, 01:01:58 AM »

Proofreading and editing
For the purpose of this discussion, proofreading is narrowly defined as the review of written material in order to identify grammatical errors.
There’s not much point in finding such errors unless action is taken to correct them. Such action then constitutes copyediting so proofreading is thus the first element in the editing process. Generally a proofreader will also be on the lookout for syntactical errors that may be distinguished from stylistic considerations.
It is apparent that proofreading and editing are intertwined to an extent sufficiently elastic that multiple definitions of the process are possible. In this instance, I refer to proofreading as the review of the completed material before release and not to the writing process itself where the author works with the content during its composition.
To return to the restriction of simply finding the errors, there are several established methodologies available.

Like the lawyer who is a fool for being his own client, all writers are ― or should be ― aware that self-editing can be a perilous undertaking.
Running spelling and grammar checks during proofreading is of some utility and should be done. However, MS Word spell-check can cause errors to be accepted and incorporated into the text. I call these instances “spellcheckos”.
Unlike regular misspelling typos which are easy to spot and fix, spellcheckos are more insidious, especially given that wonderful phrase at the end – The spelling and grammar check is complete.
An example of spellcheckos is when a word is correctly spelled but improperly used and approved by the spelling and grammar check. This is the most common mistake I have noticed while reading well-written blogs. Sometimes there’s only one spellchecko but that’s enough to mar the overall presentation of the writer’s effort.

Author blindness
I recently read a post wherein the writer referred to “… a learning curse …”. While a case could be made for learning as a curse, it was clear from the context that the writer intended to communicate “… a learning curve …”, although s and v are separated on the keyboard. Presumably, the author scanned the text after running the final spell-check but failed to notice the anomaly.
This is the well-known phenomenon of “author blindness” at work. Medical knowledge confirms that the image the human ocular system sends to the brain contains a blank spot. The brain simultaneously fills in the empty space from the contextual information and vision is complete.                
Something similar tends to happen when self-editing. The author’s brain knows what was intended to be written and takes care of the word anomaly by misinforming the self-reviewing writer that “curve” and not “curse” is sitting there under the radar.  

Create distance
A common and effective technique to overcome author blindness is to read your writing aloud. This isn’t infallible though. Having someone else read it aloud is preferable. However, reading aloud may not always be a practical option or desire and the writer then has to fall back on internal processing of the text for error recognition.
An efficient strategy is to create distance between the writing and reviewing of the material. The first component of creating distance is allowing a time period to lapse. Overnight is good, checking the previous day’s output the following morning. Generally, the more time that can be spared to create repeated distancing from the writing, the better. If time is critical, even an hour or two will make a difference.
The second component of distancing oneself from proprietary work is to adjust one’s mindset. Instead of being smugly satisfied with the sparkling output spread across the screen, review your writing with a grimly critical mien. Consider the author as someone in need of a good dose of criticism and read the writing with “fresh eyes”, seeking out false notes. The following is an extract from some feedback I recently supplied to a friend and which seems apposite:

Pretend you are reading something someone else has written and the grammatical errors stand out and the flaws in flow and style also become apparent. Fix it and repeat the process until you are sick of it or run out of time. Fix the fixes as well. The initial draft is the easy, fun part. Thereafter it takes a lot of effort to make it seem effortless.

Proofreading a hard-copy of the work is also beneficial. Use a large clear font and double spacing. Read slowly, perhaps aloud, with pencil in hand, possibly even line-by-line with a ruler. The results will be superior to on-screen checking.
A technique for overcoming the disadvantages of on-screen proofreading is to zoom in and work through one large section at a time. This is especially helpful with spotting punctuation and formatting errors.

The enemy of good
All of the above is predicated on the assumption that one wishes to produce written material of the best personal standard reasonably feasible.
Remember that attempted perfection is the enemy of good. Apply proofreading combinations that work in different situations. Even if you make use of an editing service, it’s a good idea to get your article or book into the best shape you can before sending it off with your money. This will allow the editor to focus the time available on finer refinements instead of attending to the gremlins of grammar.

Already there
Being an effective proofreader is a function of having an affinity for written language.
As a writer, you are already there and just as your writing skills improve with constant practice, so too with self-editing.


Using the above article as an example, I wrote the first draft in coffee snatches over the course of a working Friday. I found the self-imposed topic a little difficult. I cleaned up the spell-check flags as I bumbled along, saying what I had to say.
I returned after work and attended to the content, cutting about 200 words and adjusting for the disruption this caused in the text. I read it through again and made some further changes, deleting some words and adding new ones. I rewrote a few sentences that were inconsistent in tone. I played around with other sentences, turning two into one and vice versa, to improve the flow. Then I went and read a book. In the morning I read the piece again, applied a minor trim and polish here and there, paid some attention to paragraphs and spacing and… done, hopefully.

« Last Edit: June 05, 2013, 01:04:44 AM by Mark T »

Offline 2par

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4740
Re: Self-editing
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2013, 01:09:35 AM »
This is excellent, Mark. Thank you. I know we can all use it.