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General Strategies for Revising & Editing on Computers
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Revising "On Screen" vs. Revising "On Paper"
Avoid doing a lot of revising on screen. When you write on a computer, what you see--your "window on the text"--is quite small even if you have a large monitor (17-20"). When you're working with hard copy, your "window" is larger, at minimum 8 1/2 x 11" and possibly larger if you lay out pages next to one another. Because the "window" is smaller when you're writing on a computer, re-envisioning a whole piece of writing or large chunks of writing tends to be difficult and unproductive on screen. In fact, numerous research studies show that text revised on screen tends to be digressive, unfocused, chattier, and less concise.
To compensate for the small computer monitor "window," always print out a double-spaced copy of your draft for major revisions and reorganization. Also print hard copy for editing: letters on a screen are fluid and hard to see with accuracy, and editing from print copy will enable you to catch more easily omitted words, comma and grammar errors, and other sentence-level mistakes.
Using Spell Checkers
Spell checkers can be wonderful resources if used consistently and carefully. Make spell checking a habitual part of your process; for example, spell check right before you print every time to ensure that each document you send out has been scanned for spelling and repeated words. Also, make sure that spell checking does that job you want it to by:
Using the Search & Replace Feature
Any word processing program you might use will have a search and replace function that enables you to scan your text for specific words, phrases, or punctuation marks. Once you have a complete draft, use this search and replace function to look in a systematic way for misused words or phrases, punctuation errors, and wordiness patterns. Saving this search and replace process for the editing phase will allow you to concentrate when drafting on your goals, your readers, the line of your argument--in other words, to focus on communicating your meaning effectively.
You can use the search and replace feature to catch several types of errors:
You can use the search and replace function to check for words and expressions that you often confuse. For example, if you know that you tend to use effect (a noun meaning result) when you should use affect (a verb meaning to influence), you might want to regularly search for the two words and check to see if you've used each instance correctly. (See the Write Place handout entitled "Commonly Misused Words and Expressions" for a fairly extensive list of these "trouble makers.")
You might also check for words that you tend to replace for other words when you're typing quickly or focusing very hard on the process of getting your ideas down on paper. Let's say that one of your favorite typos is writing the for then or to for too. Since spell checking clearly won't catch such typos, when you're done drafting, you might simply search for the thes/thens or tos/toos and check to make sure that each occurrence of the word is correct.
You can also use the search and replace function to check for your typical punctuation errors--either scanning for particular punctuation marks or for language that goes with those marks. For instance, let's assume that you tend to use a semicolon when you should use a colon before a list. You might search for each semicolon in your text and check to see if the semicolon is followed by a list. If you find a spot where the semicolon is used prior to a list, you can in that instance replace the semicolon with a colon.
You can also use the search feature to help you find particular words associated with incorrect punctuation patterns in your writing. If you tend to write run-on sentences--that is, you often omit the comma before a coordinating word that connects two sentences--you probably omit the comma only when certain words act as connectors. Let's assume that you only omit the comma when and or or connects two complete thoughts. Using the search feature to find the ands and ors in your text, you can then ask yourself if the coordinator connects two nouns, two verbs, two phrases, or two sentences. If and or or connects two sentences, you can replace and with , and or can simply insert the comma before the connecting word to correct the punctuation error.
Most writers tend to fall into particular wordiness patterns. One writer might frequently start sentences with It is and There are, while another writer might use a lot of which and that clauses. Once you're aware of your typical wordiness patterns, you can use the search and replace feature to find specific types of wordy constructions. In each instance, then, where the pattern occurs, you can decide how you'll edit the sentence.
If you should need to change the spelling of a proper name or an acronym throughout an entire draft, use the search and replace function. Change the name or acronym "globally"--that is change every instance at once rather than finding and changing each instance one by one.
Once you're done writing your draft, you can use the search function to help you address the needs of secondary readers. You can use search to locate particular technical terms that may need to be defined or data that may need further explanation--in the text itself, in attachments or appendices, or in a glossary of terms.
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The print handout was revised and then redesigned for the Web by Thomas Tate for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers. Last update: 25 May 2000 URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/computerediting.html
The print handout was revised and then redesigned for the Web by Thomas Tate for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.
Last update: 25 May 2000