Teaching Editing–A Little Grammar Goes a Long Way

I’ve still got my editing cap on this week. After my tiny proofreading tantrum a couple of weeks ago and completing those two jobs for the client–who now has books way more clean than they were before–I now turn to other editing endeavors.

Namely, revising my syllabus for my editing class over at Taylor U. This year the class will be twice a week instead of once a week, which has meant major revisions to the syllabus. And since this is the fourth time teaching this class, I’m getting a good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Over the course of the semester, I want my students to try the three main forms of editing: content editing, copyediting, and proofreading–spending roughly a month on each. (Most of them come to class not understanding the differences between these roles, the different points in the book-making process when they happen, and the different skills required to do each job well. I describe the different roles in this blog post.)

I also try to give them “real world” experience. When we edit, I obtain a real manuscript from someone who willingly allows students to give feedback. When we proofread, I show them real pages that I’ve had to work on (“This really did almost go to print, guys, until I helped save it!”).

proofreading

The one difficult part is helping them realize the tools they need to sharpen in their editing toolbox–namely, grammar. When I have mentioned that part of the syllabus in previous classes, there is an ever-so-slight collective groan. Then I assure them of two things: (1) we aren’t diagramming sentences, we’re just reviewing what they probably already know instinctively or helping them be sure of things they don’t know, and (2) I will give them candy. (It’s amazing what joy mini-candy bars bring when I toss them out for getting the correct answer. And the big bags are always available in October before Halloween when I usually hit this part of the syllabus. It’s a little Pavlovian, I admit. . . .)

The students are already pretty sharp, but I still need to at least show them the rules behind some general punctuation issues. I key in on:

  • quotations marks (single vs. double–and punctuation in and around)
  • parentheses and brackets (and punctuation in and around)
  • commas, colons, semi-colons
  • hyphens, en-dashes, em-dashes
  • capitalizations

Then, I give them copyediting practice on:

  • discerning active vs. passive voice
  • omitting needless words
  • making items parallel
  • using correct tenses
  • using correct modifiers
  • smoothing awkward sentences

I’m digging through some resources in order to create some good worksheet practice for each of these categories. While I train them to work on screen, I also teach them proofreading symbols and have them do some copyediting on hard copy as well.

So you copy editors and proofreaders out there–what are the most common errors you see? Pet peeves? What do I need to make sure my budding editors have in their toolboxes before they head out into the publishing world?

7 thoughts on “Teaching Editing–A Little Grammar Goes a Long Way

  1. Your students are getting some great experience through your class. The most common eras I see are homophone issues: principal versus principle; affect versus effect; their/they’re/there; two/to/too. Spellcheck won’t catch those.

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