Editing

Editing is the process of making your writing technically correct so your message is not lost. You have already revised your work to make sure that your ideas are logical, well-supported and well-structured. Now, you must consider grammar, punctuation, spelling and mechanics when you edit. This is a very important step in the writing process!

The spelling and grammar checking tools on your word-processor will catch some of your errors but not all. When editing you should do the following:

  • Do not leave the editing to the last minute. Put your paper away for a day before tackling the task. Reading with fresh eyes will help you see your errors more easily.
  • Print your paper off, grab a pen and read it out loud.
  • Plan to edit your paper multiple times, looking for one or two types of errors at a time. For example, the first time you read through your paper, only look for run-on sentences and fragments.
  • Have a reliable peer or family member read through your paper to help you with the editing step. Four eyes are better than two; they might catch some errors that you missed! However, be careful to choose an editor who has reasonable skills as a writer – you don’t want your editor to make your paper worse!
  • Use the self-editing checklist.

Self-editing Checklist

  1. Check your sentences!
    • Is each sentence a complete sentence? It must have a noun and a verb and express a complete idea.
    • Should long sentences be cut into smaller, more concise sentences?
    • Can you combine short, choppy sentences into more complex sentences?
  2. Check your punctuation!
    • If you are unsure about punctuation rules, be sure to look them up!
      • Does each sentence begin with a capital letter?
      • Does each sentence have appropriate end punctuation (period, question mark, or exclamation mark)?
      • Do you use commas correctly?
      • Are your quotation marks correct?
      • Have you inserted apostrophes appropriately?
  3. Check your word usage!
    • Can you use fewer words to say the same thing?
    • Look at each word in your essay. Have you over-used any word(s) in your writing? If necessary, use a thesaurus to look up a synonym for the word(s). However, be careful -- some words may not be appropriate substitutes for your sentence. Avoid using words that you do not know.
    • Check for verb tense errors. Write in the present tense whenever possible. For example:
      • George was an effective student who participated actively in the discussions. (Past tense)
      • George is an effective student who participates actively in the discussions. (Present tense)
    • Check for subject-verb agreement.
      • If your subject is singular, use the singular form of the verb.
        • e.g. "George writes well in the middle of the night."
      • If your subject is plural, use the plural form of the verb.
        • e.g. "Students write poorly when distracted."
    • Check for pronoun agreement.
      • If you have a singular noun, you need to use a singular pronoun.
        • e.g. "George works hard to complete his work on time."
        • The pronoun, his, clearly refers to the singular George (one person).
      • If you have a plural noun, you need to use a plural pronoun.
        • e.g. "Students work hard to complete their work on time."
        • The pronoun, their, refers to more than one person, students.
    • Check for other pronoun errors.
  4. Check your spelling!
    • Before you submit your work, run the spell-checker tool. Ensure the Language setting on your computer is set at English (Canada) in order to avoid US spelling. However, be careful! The spell-checker only provides suggested spellings and is not foolproof. If you are unsure of the options it provides, look the word up in the dictionary.
    • Be cautious of homonyms, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. An example of a homonym is they’re, their and there.
    • Also, watch for your personal spelling demons, words that you commonly have difficulty spelling. Keep a list, and when you are proofreading, refer to this list, paying special attention to these words in your writing.
    • To explore an extensive list of commonly confused words, visit the Santa Monica College Resource, Words Commonly Confused.
    • Go to SpellingCity.com for additional spelling resources and practice. This site will allow you to create spelling games and tests using your own list of personal spelling demons!

Sample Student Paper

View examples below:

First Read Through: Check Your Sentences

Check your sentences!  Read the paper aloud.  Correct one or two sentence errors at a time. When reading the paragraph for the first time, check for sentence fragments, run-on sentences and pronoun errors.

From the beginning of the French occupation of Guinea in 1893. [D1] Government policy makers presumed that the dense forest patches surrounding the villages in Kissidougou were the last remaining traces of an original forest that had once fully covered the landscape, and that the use of fire by the Kissi people was gradually destroying these forests however, research has revealed that forest regions is actually increasing, and it is the villagers themselves who is creating these new forests (Second Nature, 1996).[D2] Policy makers, attributed to their [D3] ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they [D4] live, have largely blamed villagers for environmental mismanagement, (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). Government policies have criminalized any aspects of land management employed by the local communities, for example setting bush fires carried the death penalty in the 1970s (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 4).  However, this contradicts sharply with the perspective of villagers, who consider themselves [D5] "people of the forest" (Paulme 1960, 86).


[D1]This is a sentence fragment that needs a subject.

[D2]This is a run-on sentence that needs to be revised into two separate sentences.

[D3]Which noun does this pronoun refer to?  Policy makers?  Villagers?  What is the purpose of this sentence?  The sentence needs to be revised to make the idea clear: “Policy makers have largely blamed villagers for environmental mismanagement, attributed to their ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they live.”  Based on the revised sentence, “Villagers” is the noun, so the plural pronoun, “their” is correct here.

[D4]Which noun does this pronoun refer to? Villagers is the noun, so the plural pronoun, “they” is correct here.

[D5]Which noun does this pronoun refer to? “Villagers is the noun, so the plural pronoun, “themselves” is correct here.

Second Read Through: Check Your Sentences

Consider the newly edited paragraph. When reading it for the second time, check for subject-verb agreement errors and verb tense errors:

From the beginning of the French occupation of Guinea in 1893, government policy makers presumed [D1] that the dense forest patches surrounding the villages in Kissidougou were the last remaining traces of an original forest that had once fully covered the landscape, and that the use of fire by the Kissi people was gradually destroying these forests (Second Nature, 1996).  However, research has revealed [D2] that forest regions is [D3] actually increasing, and it is the villagers themselves who is [D4] creating these new forests (Second Nature, 1996). Policy makers have largely blamed[D5] villagers for environmental mismanagement, attributed to their ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they live (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). Government policies have criminalized[D6] any aspects of land management employed by the local communities, for example setting bush fires carried the death penalty in the 1970s (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 4).  However, this contradicts sharply with the perspective of villagers, who consider themselves "people of the forest" (Paulme 1960, 86).


[D1]In essays, writers should attempt to write in the present tense.  However, there are exceptions.  In this instance, this is a historical fact and as such it is acceptable to report this fact in the past tense.

[D2]Consider editing this past tense verb form to simply say, “reveals.”

[D3]Subject-verb agreement error. The subject of this sentence, forest regions, is a plural noun.  As such, the verb must be plural.  Revise it to read “are” instead of “is.”

[D4]Subject-verb agreement error.  The subject of this sentence, villagers, is a plural noun, as such, the verb must be plural.  Revise it to read “are” instead of “is.”

[D5]Again, this is historical fact, as such, this verb tense is acceptable.

[D6]Again, this is historical fact, as such, this verb tense is acceptable.

Third Read Through: Check Your Sentences

Consider the newly edited paragraph. When reading it for the third time, check for misplaced modifiers, dangling participles and faulty parallelism:

From the beginning of the French occupation of Guinea in 1893, government policy makers presumed [D1] that the dense forest patches surrounding the villages in Kissidougou were the last remaining traces of an original forest that had once fully covered the landscape, and that the use of fire by the Kissi people was gradually destroying these forests (Second Nature, 1996).  However, research reveals that forest regions are actually increasing,[D2] and it is the villagers themselves who are creating these new forests (Second Nature, 1996). Policy makers have largely blamed villagers for environmental mismanagement, attributed to their ignorance and to [D3] the evolution of the rural society in which they live (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29).[D4] Government policies have criminalized any aspects of land management employed by the local communities, for example setting bush fires carried the death penalty in the 1970s (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 4).  However, this contradicts sharply with the perspective of villagers, who consider themselves "people of the forest" (Paulme 1960, 86).


[D1]Who has “presumed” something here?  It is evident that “policy makers” have made the presumption, and this is easily identifiable.  As such, the use of this past participle “presumed” is correct.

[D2]Is there a clear antecedent to the present participle, increasing?  Yes, the antecedent is forest regions.

[D3]Check for parallel structure here.  The writer must use “and to” after ignorance to show the equal weight of the two attributes of ignorance and evolving rural society.

[D4]Is the ignorance attributed to the policy makers themselves, or, do the policy makers attribute ignorance to the villagers because of the rural society in which they live?  This is a misplaced modifier.  Consider the revision:

Policy makers have largely blamed [D4] villagers for environmental mismanagement, attributed to their ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they live (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29).


Now, consider the final draft of the paragraph:

From the beginning of the French occupation of Guinea in 1893, government policy makers presumed that the dense forest patches surrounding the villages in Kissidougou were the last remaining traces of an original forest that had once fully covered the landscape, and that the use of fire by the Kissi people was gradually destroying these forests (Second Nature, 1996).  However, research reveals that forest regions are actually increasing, and it is the villagers themselves who are creating these new forests (Second Nature, 1996). Policy makers have largely blamed villagers for environmental mismanagement, attributed to their ignorance and to the evolution of the rural society in which they live (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). Government policies have criminalized any aspects of land management employed by the local communities.  For example, setting bush fires carried the death penalty in the 1970s (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 4).  However, this contradicts sharply with the perspective of villagers, who consider themselves "people of the forest" (Paulme 1960, 86).

Punctuation

Check your punctuation!  Read the paper out loud, pausing where there are commas and stopping where there are end marks.  Make note of any areas that sound wrong.

With extensive research into how the villager’s[D1] activities actually create the forest islands. [D2] Fairhead and Leach discovered that the techniques and practices to manage fire vary considerably among communities of Kissidougou, depending on the prevailing climate and vegetation of the specific region, local farming pattern’s[D3] and population density (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 230).  Fairhead and Leach suggest that future research could investigate the knowledge of communities in other forest-savannah transition zones to determine if there are other areas with a mismatch between local experience and official interpretations (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 287).


[D1]Improper use of a possessive comma.  It should be “villagers’ activities.”

[D2]This should be a comma, not a period, to avoid creating a sentence fragment.

[D3]No apostrophe is needed here.  But, a comma is needed after patterns, to separate the three listed items.



Consider the newly edited paragraph.

With extensive research into  how the villagers' activities actually create the forest islands, Fairhead and Leach discovered that the techniques and practices to manage fire vary considerably among communities of Kissidougou, depending on the prevailing climate and vegetation of the specific region, local farming patterns, and population density (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 230).  Fairhead and Leach suggest that future research could investigate the knowledge of communities in other forest-savannah transition zones, to determine if there are other areas with a mismatch between local experience and official interpretations (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 287).

Word Usage

Check your word usage!  Read each sentence out loud, listening for words that sound awkward, unclear or may be misused.

The Dene and the Kissi base their land management strategies on familiarity[D1] and knowledge of their local landscapes gained over many generations.  Their strategies and information[D2] allow them to use fire sustainably to maintain local ecosystems and protect their communities.  Europeans have misunderstood and misinterpreted the activities of native inhabitants, in both Canada and Guinea.

In the past, researchers have tended to minimize or dismiss the affects [D3] that communities exerted on the land they inhabited, particularly in hunting and gathering societies. Research has often ignored or dismissed the importance of traditional burning practices and traditional knowledge of fire-ecology. Lewis acknowledged the shortcomings of researchers, writing that, "No aspect is quite so dismal as anthropologists' lack of knowledge of indigenous uses of fire for transforming and maintaining natural environments." (Lewis 1982, 3). In the last few decades, this has begun to change, although debate continues with some researchers continuing to emphasize[D4] that lightening strikes are responsible for the majority of historical fire evidence (Wuerthner 2006, 9).


[D1]Consider if this word is the best word here.  Yes, they are familiar with their local landscapes, but, isn’t it more their experience that influences their strategies?

[D2]In order to create a clear connection between the topic sentence and this sentence, consider using the word knowledge, instead of information.

[D3]This is a commonly misused word.  Instead of “affects”, the writer should be using “effects.”

[D4]This word does not make sense here.  To give emphasis to something means to draw attention to it above something else.  Perhaps the writer should use: assert, claim or avow, instead of emphasize to make the message clearer.


Consider the newly edited draft.

The Dene and the Kissi base their land management strategies on experience and knowledge of their local landscapes gained over many generations.  Their strategies and knowledge allow them to use fire sustainably to maintain local ecosystems and protect their communities.  Europeans have misunderstood and misinterpreted the activities of native inhabitants, in both Canada and Guinea.

In the past, researchers have tended to minimize or dismiss the effects that communities exerted on the land they inhabited, particularly in hunting and gathering societies. Research has often ignored or dismissed the importance of traditional burning practices and traditional knowledge of fire-ecology. Lewis acknowledged the shortcomings of researchers, writing that, "No aspect is quite so dismal as anthropologists' lack of knowledge of indigenous uses of fire for transforming and maintaining natural environments." (Lewis 1982, 3). In the last few decades, this has begun to change, although debate continues with some researchers continuing to assert that lightening strikes are responsible for the majority of historical fire evidence (Wuerthner 2006, 9).

Spelling

Check your spelling!  With a list of personal spelling demons, the spellchecker tool on the computer and a basic knowledge of spelling, check to make sure each word is spelled correctly.

Although ecologically distinct, expereinces [D1] in both Guinea and Northern Alberta indicate that there are still many lessons to learn about fire and land management from other cultures.  It is vital to realise [D2] that each ecosystem responds to fire in it’s [D3] own way (Wuerthner 2006, 89), and people who have lived in a region for many generations have intimate knowledge of their local ecosystems. As Lewis wrote "we may gain and share important knew [D4] insights into  the ecology and technology of fire" (Lewis 1982, 50).  Fire is part of nature.  Humans can not eliminate it, nor should we wish to.  In the recent past, European colonists in both North America and Africa have sought to prevent fires, overlooking a key distinction between prevention and control. Recently research has revealed the value ov[D5] traditional fire-ecology practices, and offerred [D6] suggestions for improving current fire practises[D7] .


[D1]“I” before “e” except after “c”!

[D2]This is a commonly misspelled word: realize

[D3]It’s is the contracted form of “it is.”  This is not the correct word the writer needs here.  The writer needs “its.”

[D4]Watch out for homonyms that sound the same but are spelled differently.  The writer needs to use “new” here, instead of “knew.”|

[D5]The word “of” has no “v” in it!

[D6]When adding “ed” to a verb ending in a consonant, the consonant does not need to be doubled.

[D7]This is a commonly misspelled word.  The correct word here is practices.  Note that the spellchecker did not pick up this error.  It is a word that may make its way on to a personal spelling demons list to be checked for during editing.


Consider the newly edited paragraph:

Although ecologically distinct, experiences in both Guinea and Northern Alberta indicate that there are still many lessons to learn about fire and land management from other cultures.  It is vital to realize that each ecosystem responds to fire in its own way (Wuerthner 2006, 89), and people who have lived in a region for many generations have intimate knowledge of their local ecosystems. As Lewis wrote "we may gain and share important new insights into the ecology and technology  of fire" (Lewis 1982, 50).  Fire is part of nature.  Humans can not eliminate it, nor should we wish to.  In the recent past, European colonists in both North America and Africa have sought to prevent fires, overlooking a key distinction between prevention and control. Recently research has revealed the value of traditional fire-ecology practices, and offered suggestions for improving current fire practices.