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8.3: Editing Efficiently: A Three-Step Approach

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    One way to make sure you edit efficiently is to read your document at least three times to allow yourself to really look hard at the problem areas that could botch your product. In the first pass, look at the big picture; in the second pass, look at paragraph construction; and in the third pass look at sentences, phrases and words.

    First Pass: The Big Picture

    In this first "go around" you should pay attention to the arrangement and flow of ideas. Here are some areas to think about:

    Review: Elements of an Introduction

    In chapter 7 we described how an introduction often begins with optional stage-setting remarks that grab the reader’s attention. The introduction should include your purpose statement, which informs the reader where you are going and why you are going there. The introduction often contains an overview of the main point(s) covered in the body. These are just guidelines: the composition of an introduction should be tailored to the assignment.

    Check Your Tasking and Purpose.

    • What was my original task? Check the wording one more time.
    • What is my purpose statement? For short drafts, underline it in your draft. For longer projects, write it on a separate sheet of paper and refer to it frequently while editing.
    • Does the purpose statement "answer the task," or does it miss the point?

    Check Your Introduction.

    • Does it exist and does it contain my purpose statement?
    • Is it an appropriate length? (typically one paragraph long for assignments)
    • Does my purpose statement and introduction give the readers a good idea of what they are about to read?

    Compare Your Introduction and Conclusion.

    • First read your introduction and then read your conclusion.
    • Do they sound like they go together without being identical? Does the introduction declare your purpose and does your conclusion show your readers you’ve accomplished your purpose?
    • Do you let your readers down gradually? Or do you stop with a jerk?
    • Does the conclusion sum up your point? Don’t introduce any new ideas here-you’ll leave your readers hanging in limbo!

    Check Overall Page Count and Length.

    • What are my audience’s expectations regarding page count? Am I on target? Will I have to make this draft significantly longer or shorter?
    • Check the scope and flow of paragraphs in your body.

    Check for Relevance and Completeness.

    • Do the paragraphs clearly relate to the thesis statement?
    • Are some paragraphs irrelevant or unnecessary?
    • Am I missing any main points in this written communication?
    • Are paragraphs arranged in a consistent order?

    Second Pass: Paragraph Structure and Clarity

    After your first pass, you know the paper contains what it needs to do the job. In the second pass, check that the main points and supporting ideas are appropriately organized in paragraphs.

    Let’s take a close look at individual paragraphs in the body of your writing. For each paragraph, ask the following questions:

    Unity of Focus

    • Is there one, and only one, main point of the paragraph?
    • Is all the information in the paragraph related enough to be in the same paragraph?
    • Can you identify the central idea of each paragraph?

    Topic Sentence

    • Does the paragraph have a topic sentence-one sentence that captures the central idea of the paragraph?
    • Is the topic sentence the first sentence of the paragraph? (Or, if you’re starting with a transitional sentence, the second sentence?)

    Supporting Ideas

    • Do sentences expand, clarify, illustrate and explain points mentioned or suggested in each main idea? Your goal is to smoothly lead the reader, step-by-step, to each main idea.
    • Are there enough details in the paragraph to support the central idea?
    • Are there any "extra sentences" that seem to be irrelevant to the main point?
    • Do all transitional words, phrases, and clauses improve the flow and show proper relationships?
    • Do most paragraphs contain three to seven sentences?

    If you did a lot of rearranging of paragraphs in this step, try the organizational editing check on the previous page-just to make sure you’re on track.

    • How does your draft compare with your original outline?

    Organizational Editing Check

    Some writers can write powerful and clear sentences but have trouble keeping "on target" throughout the document. Their editing challenge isn’t grammar; it’s the big picture. If this sounds like you, try this simple editing check. This editing check assumes you followed the paragraph construction guidelines previously covered and placed the topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

    Read out loud. Read these sections out loud:

    1. Your complete introduction;
    2. The first sentence of each paragraph in the body, in order of appearance; and
    3. Your complete conclusion.

    Does it answer the question?
    Does it stay on message?
    Does it flow well?

    Third Pass: Sentences, Phrases, and Words

    Now you’re ready to look at the details. Though you’ve probably corrected some minor errors in the first two passes, now is the time to really concentrate on the "small stuff" that can sabotage your communication: passive voice, unclear language, excessive wordiness, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Some of these concepts were covered in the chapter on drafting, while others will be introduced in this section.

    Let’s start with some general advice. Read the paper out loud. Reading the paper out loud will increase your chances of catching errors because it requires you to slow down and use two senses-seeing and hearing. What one sense misses, the other may pick up.

    Listen to the sound of words, phrases and sentences. Remember, the quicker your audience can read and understand it, the better. If you have to read a sentence two or three times, chances are they will too. Not good! Re-write the sentence to enhance its clarity.

    Another helpful piece of advice is to read one line at a time using a "cover" to hide the rest of the page. This procedure helps provide the focus you need to check your sentence structure and individual word usage: subject-verb agreements and identifying homonyms (for example, "their" and "there.") Moving backwards through a sentence can also identify other misspelled words.

    This page titled 8.3: Editing Efficiently: A Three-Step Approach is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by US Air Force (US Department of Defense) .

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