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How to Edit a Sentence

by Michael Ive suggested that its best to write first and edit later. But for many people, editing can be as intimidating as writing. So lets edit a sentence together, shall we, and see if the process is as hazardous as we fear. I got on my bicycle, taking my lunch to school, built in the 1970s. Lots of room for improvement here. What is the main thing thats happening anyway? Am I getting or taking or building or all three? Taking my lunch to school, I got on my bicycle, built in the 1970s. Okay, so Im going. The sentence emphasizes the main verb now, but it makes the bicycle seem very old. Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle, heading to school, built in the 1970s. That makes it more likely that the school is old, not the bicycle, but lets sharpen our point. Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle, heading to school, which was built in the 1970s. Taking, heading which verb is more important? Whats the main action in the sentence? I need to make my actions as clear as we can. Three verbs reside in one sentence, but I resolve that only one action shall rule. Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s. Much better. Now got and headed are parallel, and the focus is on me. I like that focus. But the verb taking seems a little weak here. Meaning, the verb taking doesnt accurately describe what I did with my lunch that morning. Grabbing my lunch, I got on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s. Neither does the verb got. I mean, it seems a little weak too. It doesnt accurately describe what I did with my bicycle that morning. Grabbing my lunch, I climbed on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s. That is it. As you can see the editing process is done in cycles. It can take considerable time (sometimes just as much as the writing), but it is definitely worth it.

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8 Responses to How to Edit a Sentence


1. Roshawn on July 23, 2007 11:42 pm

Writing is hard, but editing seems to be a bit easier (at least for me). Yet I didnt realize that so much went into editing. I like the way you broke down the process of editing. Much simpler than the way I do it. Thanks for the tip.
2. Patricia Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker on July 24, 2007 4:46 pm

I usually go through at least 3 steps before I get to my final copy. I hand write the original ideas. Then I go to my computer and rearrange some of the sentences as I transfer my original copy to the computer. I print this out and look for needed changes and make them on the draft. I print it out again to see how the edited words flow. I like seeing it in print better than reading it off the computer screen.

3. Chris on July 25, 2007 12:34 am

Hmm. Id get rid of that last clause altogether. Whats the date of the school got to do with it? If its absolutely necessary, Id go: I picked up my lunch, got on my bike and headed to my appallingly-designed school. ie Id leave the first two verbs plain, emphasising the simple actions and making the grammatical (and rhythmical) parallel of the first two actions stronger. Next, Id take whatever it is about the 70s school that is interesting (appalling design, light and airy, comforting pale brick) and make it into one expression so that the point of the series of actions becomes the most interesting thing in the sentence (getting to school). Others would have different solutions of course depending on the context.
4. Robert on July 29, 2007 4:59 am

I agree with Chris that I dont understand why its important when the school was built in the context of that sentence. I can see that fact starting a second sentence. For instance: The school, like my bicycle, was built in the 1970s. Perhaps Im being difficult and its easy to come up with a reasonable example where the complete, edited sentence makes sense. Ill think some more.
5. Michael on July 29, 2007 11:36 am

Yes. probably I should have left out the age of the school. It might be important in the context of the whole paragraph, but I dont need to complicate things.
6. Donna on October 2, 2007 7:45 pm

Is Michael the author? If so, thank you, Michael. This is helpful information. Its a terrific defense for why good editors change words over and over. They know that readers are always analyzing the message for its interest and veracity. Well written material can help to sustain a readers interest. But even valid messages can leak credibility if poorly written. Its important to spare readers any struggle in getting the meaning.
7. tish on January 20, 2010 5:22 pm

Help. need a setance changed not switched around, my sentabce is; as tough as a house. I need a new sentance but better cuz it duzent make sense. But house has got to be at the end of the sentance and it has to say its like something just like the sentance shows. Thanx HELP SOON!!!!!!!!!!! Tish.xx
8. Selaelo on April 8, 2010 12:40 pm

I totally love your compiled notes on daily writing,i am a big fan of creative writing especially poetry and fictional writing.The comment i have is which methods can i utilise to enhance my writing abilities?.

PROOFREADING
Proofreading is not an innate ability; it is an acquired skill. The following exercises will help you master it, or at any rate will impress you with how difficult it is. Hints for successful proofreading:

Cultivate a healthy sense of doubt. If there are types of errors you know you tend to make, double check for those. Read very slowly. If possible, read out loud. Read one word at a time. Read what is actually on the page, not what you think is there. (This is the most difficult sub-skill to acquire, particularly if you wrote what you are reading). Proofread more than once. If possible, work with someone else.

Most errors in written work are made unconsciously. There are two sources of unconscious error: 1. Faulty information from the kinesthetic memory. If you have always misspelled a word like "accommodate", you will unthinkingly misspell it again. 2. A split second of inattention. The mind works far faster than the pen or typewriter.

It is the unconscious nature of the worst that makes proofreading so difficult. The student who turned in a paper saying, "I like girdle cakes for breakfast" did not have a perverted digestion. He thought he had written "griddle cakes" and because that's what he was sure he had written, that's what he "saw" when he proofread. If he had slowed down and read word by word, out loud, he might have caught the error. You have to doubt every word in order to catch every mistake. Another reason for deliberately slowing down is that when you read normally, you often see only the shells of words -- the first and last few letters, perhaps. You "fix your eyes" on the print only three or four times per line, or less. You take in the words between your fixation points with your peripheral vision, which gets less accurate the farther it is from the point. The average reader can only take in six letters accurately with one fixation. This means you have to fix your eyes on almost every word you have written

and do it twice in longer words, in order to proofread accurately. You have to look at the word, not slide over it. In proofreading, you can take nothing for granted, because unconscious mistakes are so easy to make. It helps to read out loud, because 1) you are forced to slow down and 2) you hear what you are reading as well as seeing it, so you are using two senses. It is often possible to hear a mistake, such as an omitted or repeated word that you have not seen. Professional editors proofread as many as ten times. Publishing houses hire teams of readers to work in pairs, out loud. And still errors occur.
Remember that it is twice as hard to detect mistakes in your own work as in someone else's!

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