Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

How to Edit Essays by Other Writers

Alfred Sheinwold is quoted as having said, ‘Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.’ There may not be a better quote to help us understand why learning to edit the work of others helps our own writing. To allow us an appropriate parable, let’s put ourselves in the position of a tailor being asked to alter a suit our customer loves. We didn’t design the suit. We didn’t make the suit. Our job is simply to make the suit fit correctly on the customer – the way we must assume the original designer envisioned it would fit on people who purchased it.

Understanding the Author’s Intent

The first step in being a tailor is to look at the article of clothing we are altering to understand the original intent of the designer. How did they expect the piece to fit? How are the lines supposed to look across the body? What is the mood of the outfit? The same is true when editing the work of others. Our first step is to read through the piece to determine the original intent of the author. There are some questions we should try to answer when reviewing the piece:

  1. Who was their most likely intended audience?
  2. What is the thesis of the piece? What are the main points?
  3. What is the mood of the piece?

Once we truly have an understanding of the piece, we can move on to editing.

Ensure that writers have organized their essays in a consistent, logical way
Logical Essay Order

Just like when we are editing our own writing, there are two types of editing that we should consider when reviewing the work of others – editing for content and editing for mechanics. Editing for content tends to be the more difficult of the two when we are looking at the work from other writers. The reason this tends to be difficult is that we aren’t writing in our own style or from our own personal views, we are editing in the style intended by the original author.

Editing for Content

When editing for content, you are making sure the essay flows in a way that makes sense and is consistent with the overall theme and thesis of the piece. You want to ensure the main points come in a logical order, they support the thesis and they are beneficial to the overall design of the essay. Again, it is important to remember, you are looking for content that is consistent with the voice of the original author, even if they aren’t the words, points or order you would have chosen yourself.

Editing for Mechanics

The second important step is editing for mechanics. This tends to be a bit easier because no matter what style of writing you embrace, comma splices and misspelled words are always a bad thing. However, be careful with things like homonyms, which can appear wrong on the surface but be the correct usage when taken in context.

Lesson Summary

Remember, editing the work of others can be a bit difficult, as we need to take on the writing persona of the original author. They may write in a style that isn’t our own or even one we like very much. However, like a tailor hemming pants designed by someone else, our job is to make the original author’s ideals work for them.

Our first major step is editing for content. Here we want to ensure we are keeping our edits in line with the original author’s overall thesis, theme and main points.

Our second step is to edit for mechanics. While overall mechanics are important, we have to always keep in mind looking through the eyes of the original author so that we don’t inadvertently fix things that weren’t mistakes in the first place.

As we conclude, let’s go back to our words of wisdom from Alfred Sheinwold and learn all we can from the mistakes of others. This is exactly what editing the work of others allows – for us to learn from their mistakes and improve our own writing in the process.

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