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We ♥ Self-Editing

Everybody makes mistakes. A recent New York Times article on the war in Afghanistan states, “As it is the Americans are now pouring more resowurces into the Afghan security forces than ever before.(1.) Resources, of course, is misspelled, but their proofreaders didn’t catch it. You probably make plenty of mistakes too, and you should. In fact, if you aren’t making any mistakes, it could be because you aren’t trying anything new. But, like the proofreaders at The New York Times, you also need to learn to edit your mistakes.

Self-editing is a matter of professionalism. It’s like remembering to tuck in your shirt. You won’t always have understanding teachers who kindly overlook grammar and spelling mistakes. Many of your high stakes communications with potential employers, colleagues, and clients will be written—for example, résumés, emails, memos, and articles. A person’s physical presentation can open or close career doors, and so can grammar and spelling.

Many successful writers are self-acknowledged awful spellers, and some have disabilities like dyslexia. But these professional writers are aware of their weaknesses and take measures to strengthen their work. They send it out to copy editors to clean it up, or they have their secretaries do it for them. Proofreading is a professional practice. Even tenured professors of English proofread, and then have someone else proofread their work again before they submit it.

It’s fine to make mistakes, but it’s your responsibility to take care of them. The ball is in your court; be a professional.

1. Deputy Editor Philip B. Corbett “Favorite Grammar Gaffes: Notes from the Newsroom on grammar, usage and style


Self-Editing Toolbox

A grammatically perfect paper is not automatically an effective paper (you still have to focus on content and organization); nevertheless, poor grammar is a distraction from an otherwise stellar paper. Use these tools to help catch your grammar mistakes before your professor does.

Keep a checklist of your common mistakes, based on what you know you struggle with. Jot down solutions or reminders for yourself next to each grammar or spelling issue. Add to this list as you get more feedback on your writing.

Let your computer help you.

  • Customize your auto-correct settings if you have your own computer (Tools/AutoCorrect/. Have it flag words you commonly misspell so that you can pay special attention to these snags when you proofread.
  • Use the “find” button in Word (Edit/Find) to check words that you commonly misspell.
  • Pay attention to Spell Check (the red squiggly line beneath your words) and Grammar Check (the green squiggly line) in your Word documents, but use your own judgment about following their suggestions (they can be wrong). Spellchecker doesn’t recognize legitimate words that are spelled correctly, but used incorrectly (for example, to vs. too).

Proofread your paper closely.

  • Make sure you give yourself time to proofread. Ideally, write your paper, then set it down overnight or even a few hours, so that you can reread the paper with fresh eyes.
  • Read all the way to the end. Many typos and mistakes are in the last one or two paragraphs.

Collaborate with your classmates and/or friends.

  • Read your paper aloud to someone else; you may notice mistakes you didn’t see before while you’re trying to communicate to a real audience.
  • Or have a friend read your paper to you; if he or she stumbles in reading it, you can flag those sections for rewriting or clarifying.
  • Offer to trade papers regularly