Learning to write and edit

2008-11-03

in Writing

Writing and editing are both useful and important skills. Better students at every level from high school up quickly learn the value of having someone else turn an attentive and critical eye to their work, before a final version is produced.

Schools should consider assigning essays, then requiring students to submit their original drafts, editorial remarks from an assigned classmate, and the final version. Each student would then get graded on both their final essays and the quality of their editorial comments. A sensible balance might be 2/3 for their essay and 1/3 for their comments.

It would definitely be more work to grade, but I think it would be a worthwhile thing to do from time to time. In a great many professions, the ability to give and receive constructive criticism is an essential skill. People should start learning it while they are still in an academic environment.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Berry November 3, 2008 at 9:05 am

Milan,
I went to a very small high school where we routinely critiqued writing assignments by other students. It did create extra work for the teachers, but the benefit to the students was tremendous. Far too many young people today lack even the most rudimentary writing skills, and those students who demonstrate a real mastery will have a tremendous advantage throughout their lives.

Tristan November 3, 2008 at 10:08 am

Editing was part of my education beginning with grade six short story writing. However, we did not do peer editing until university. I think you are right, that peer editing is a valuable skill (perhaps more personally valuable – being able to be peer-edited), which could appropriately be taught in academia.

Emily November 3, 2008 at 11:34 am

I agree, and Tristan has a good point. There’s a lot of value in learning to be peer-edited. My creative writing class in high-school was excellent because it required the students to critique and edit others’ work, and incorporate others’ critiques into their own work.

Litty November 3, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Having students write drafts to be edited by their peers sounds like a good idea.

In particular, it may reinforce how writing well (using good grammar, spelling, sentence construction, etc) shows respect for your reader, whereas writing carelessly insults them.

Sarah November 3, 2008 at 5:29 pm

I can only see peer editing working if the students already have a grasp of grammar and the structure of an essay. My 5 years of experience as a TA at UBC suggests that at least 1/3 of students lack both these things.

Sasha November 5, 2008 at 12:34 pm

I definitely agree with Sarah, students need to acquire at least basic level essay writing and proof reading skills before they can be useful to each other as peer editors, but once they have the background knowledge, I find peer editing to be an excellent way to hone those skills. My grade 12 English classes do a process something like this for at least two of their major essay assignments, and I give them credit both for their essay, as writers, but also for their work as editors. The students always seem to find the exercise rewarding, and while grading two things at once presents some increased difficulty to the teacher, I can say from experience that the peer-edited essays are SO much better than what I would get in if we didn’t do the peer editing that it makes marking the essays themselves substantially less onerous.

Editing for grammar, spelling, etc. is always good, but I find that the benefit of peer editing is beyond that – as any editor, even the student them self, could read carefully and revise those elements. When someone else reads your writing, they catch what you can’t/won’t as the author: where you have been too vague, not explained your point sufficiently, not evaluated the evidence you present, etc. These kinds of things are very tough for writers to revise on their own, since they constructed the argument and by default, know what it is supposed to look like – which can quite easily eclipse what it actually looks like.

Oh dear. I probably shouldn’t have tried to explain that before coffee. Hopefully it makes some sense.

Milan November 5, 2008 at 1:28 pm

One editing technique that I have always found very helpful is to literally read out your own sentences, especially the complex ones. The more commas and semicolons a sentence has, the higher the probability that it has been worded in a confusing or ambiguous way. Reading the sentence often makes it quite clear how it should be restructured.

The process is a bit like smoothing out a crumpled sheet of fabric.

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