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This Unit provides you with practical advise on editing texts for style, offers tips on fair language usage, and attends to abridging texts (including newspaper articles).

Producing a clean, error-free final draft isn’t easy. Even the most carefully edited professional publications contain occasional typos. Most readers understand this and aren’t bothered by such infrequent problems. Yet when errors occur often, they undermine the writer’s authority and disrupt communication. The style requirements are intended to facilitate clear communication. They are explicit, but alternatives to prescribed forms are permissible if they ensure clearer communication. In all cases, the use of rules should be balanced with good judgment.

To edit well, it helps to know the basics of grammar and mechanics, but equally important are good editing practices. You’ll need to be patient and attentive to detail. Use the suggestions below to improve your editing:

1. Know what you’re looking for. What types of errors do you tend to make most often? Do you have problems with Subject/Verb Agreement or with tense shifts? Look for patterns in your errors and focus on eliminating the more serious and higher frequency errors first. Then check for less obvious problems.

2. Edit printed copy. If you’re writing at the computer, check your work quickly on the screen and run a spell-check. Then print out a draft to go over meticulously, looking for anything you may have missed.

3. Edit actively. Go through your draft carefully, pencil in hand. Actually touch each word with your pencil. Look especially at word endings. Have you dropped any s or ed endings? Do subjects and verbs agree? Does each pronoun have a clear antecedent?

4. If possible, edit with a partner. Read your draft slowly aloud while your partner, pencil in hand, reads another copy of the draft. Have your partner stop you whenever there might be a problem. Discuss each questionable punctuation mark or word choice.

There also are general strategies that help to make the proofreading more effective. For instance, experienced people advise to begin by taking a break – allow yourself some time between writing and proofing. Even a five-minute break is productive because it will help get some distance from what you have written. The goal is to return with a fresh eye and mind.

S-l-o-w d-o-w-n as you read through a paper – this will help you catch mistakes that you might otherwise overlook.

Reading a paper aloud encourages you to read every little word.

Read with a “cover”: sliding a blank sheet of paper down the page as you read will give a detailed, line-by-line review of the paper.

You won’t be able to check for everything, so you should find out what the paper’s typical problem areas are and look for each type of error individually.

All this may seem tedious at first, but it pays big dividends. A clean, well-edited final draft makes a good impression. It shows that you care about your writing, and when readers sense your care, they’ll care, too.

Abridging a Text


The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.

Robert Cormier

Mark Twain also once wrote, " Please forgive me for writing such a long letter. I did not have time to write a short one." This statement is true of many written works – books, essays, and articles. Whatever’s been said can usually be said shorter. If the abridger is good, then even an abridged War and Peace is still Tolstoy.

Some books, of course, put up more of a fight than others, either because of skilful writing, or important content, or both. Take any detective story, for instance. The entire point of that kind of book is how one meaningful coincidence leads to the next. The same can be said about a daybook! (A daybook is organized in calendar style, with commentary on each day of the year. Exactly which day should be cut out? Would anyone miss March 10 just for the reason of economy?) Eventually, we need to abandon the daybook format altogether for the abridgment.

So abridging books becomes not a question of if, but what.

It’s a tricky question. Let us take Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Imagine having to decide which parts of Nelson Mandela’s life were less important than others and eligible to be cut out.

Autobiographies are the most nerve-wracking, because you never know whose personal feelings you might trample. Of course, the same can be said of fiction titles. (" You have to leave that character in, it’s based on my brother! ")

Once the book has been trimmed down, you have to make sure that all the details add up. No magic cigarettes that get stubbed out on page nine and are suddenly back in the hero’s mouth on page 10. No mysterious brandy glasses appearing in the hands of characters that had not been drinking a moment ago. The book has a physical world, and the abridgement has to preserve it.

Love story is something really difficult to abridge. Relationships are as hard to manage in an abridgement as they are in real life. Romances in well-crafted literature develop slowly: He calls her. She brings out his gentler nature. He restores her ability to trust. They dine, they dance, they talk, and so on and so forth. And everything is important.

Abridgers have no time for that. Kiss and move on. We’ve got a schedule to keep.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often. Experienced abridgers understand what needs to stay, and what can go. How to produce that sort of abridgement? You have to love the book enough to understand all its subtle nuances. Identify the plot, and find all the small beauties that make the plot worth telling.

In that way, the act of abridgement can be as enlightening as the written pieces themselves. The stories of our lives are almost certainly overwritten. But none of them are meaningless. Every life has a plot, and is sprinkled with small beauties that make the plot worth telling, as long as we can find them. It’s not a question of if, but what.


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