I will touch on a number of editing topics as time goes on, but I wanted to start with discussing editing blindness and the advantages of having someone else read your writing.
Editing blindness refers to the inability to see certain typos or grammar issues within your own writing. I often find this is true of even the most seasoned editors. This happens for a number of reasons. These are just a few:
- Word processor editing. We all know the ‘helpful’ little red and green squiggly lines and autocorrect. However, we also know that the people who put together the dictionary did not have an eye towards science or many technical words.
- Mental Autocorrect/Autocompletion. Often times this occurs because you are so familiar with the material, and you know what you MEANT to write, that your brain corrects for errors.
The first is an issue, because often times when you scan the technical words it will look correct. It is a pain because you often have to “add” words every time you use them – capital and lowercase – in a new document. I have yet to find a complete solution, but one is to customize your dictionary! You can do this by making your own, or importing one someone else has already made. The instructions on how to do this can be found here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/322198 . To find a custom dictionary, Google custom dictionary and your field, for example this medical based one, http://bit.ly/bv059x . If you are writing an empirical or review paper you need to make sure you have your dictionary set to the proper language. In other words, most journals published in Britain prefer you use the British spellings for words. So make sure you color or colour in the lines.
The second issue occurs to everyone at some point in time. I especially have an issue with this because I have dyslexia, and my brain has an especially hard time catching errors in my own writing. I have learned to work around my dyslexia, but I still see errors in other people’s writing better than my own. The most editing errors occur in the first writing draft. This is expected, especially if you are free writing (I’ll talk about this later), so make sure you don’t try to pass off a first draft as a final.
I have two suggestions for editing:
1) Have someone else read your writing. Everyone should have someone else read his or her writing to check for typos and clarity. One of the best ways is to have a friend that you trade the favor with. Don’t be shy about asking! I promise both of you will learn from the experience. In addition, if you are writing a grant have at least one person outside your field read the grant. This might seem odd, but remember that most people on the review panel aren’t experts in your field. Therefore, you want to make sure it is straightforward enough for any educated person could follow what you present.
2) Read your paper backwards, one line at a time. This might seem obnoxiously tedious, but I promise it will help you find grammar and typo problems quickly. This was a suggestion I picked up when I was an undergraduate, but forgot about for a long time. I find when I take the time to employ this technique, I catch a lot of typos I was blind to before.
Overall, I learned the most about writing and editing from reading student papers, and from trading editing help with my peers. I learned the least about writing from my graduate advisors. Some were helpful, but most would just say, “Fix typos” or hand back something with vague comments. You might think that is better than getting back something dripping in red, but honestly working through the red ink is one of the best ways to learn and lessen the amount of red you see next time. (I also found students respond better to comments if you make them in green or purple, so consider giving your advisor a gift of pens).
P.S. Don’t edit when tired like I just did on this post!!!