Self-editing

Bill Reader | Ohio University

To give my students practice with editing their own work, I have them keep an editing journal and update it weekly. The journals include four simple tasks that are common to copy editing, and give me weekly writing samples to evaluate (and, as such, chart students’ progress). Each weekly journal entry must be typed and double spaced, and consist of the following (a sample is at left):

1. A "word of the week": Each student chooses a word that he or she either read or heard in a news report and that caught his or her attention. The student must give a specific citation for when and where the word was used, as well as a brief account (in his or her own words) of how the word was used. Then the student provides a dictionary definition for the word, two etymologies for the word (ideally from two different dictionaries), and a short explanation of why the student found the word interesting.

2. A "catch of the week": The “catch” can be any example of sloppy (or non-) editing, and can come from any printed source (news media, posters, ads, CD cases, etc.). Students must provide copies of the errors in their journals (photographs, photocopies, clippings, etc.). Students must state when and where they found the errors, explain the nature of the errors (including how they should be corrected), and mention whether they think the errors were intentional or unintentional (and why they think that to be the case).

3. Headline challenge: Each week, students must find a “duh” headline and write a better headline that would fit in the same space (the new headline can be up to two characters/spaces shorter or longer than the original). The headline must improve upon the original and be accurate. Students include copies of the original headlines and the articles so I can assess accuracy.

4. A favorite passage of the week: Students pick a line or two of prose from a newspaper or magazine article that they find to be especially well written. Each must include a copy of the passage, provide a full citation, and briefly explain why he or she chose it as his or her passage of the week.

I spend a lot of time editing/correcting the first few journals, and grade harshly for serious spelling, factual, and grammatical errors. By mid-term, most students write very clean and engaging journal entries, and I enjoy the hour or two I spend with them each week.

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