Step 10: Language
to Truman Capote, "The greatest pleasure of writing is not
what it's about, but the music the words make." As you edit
the language of your essay, you are trying to make music out of
In this step the content of your
essay should be solid. If the idea itself needs discarding, you
shouldn't be tweaking the language; it would be a waste of time
working on transitions if the organization and structure of your
essay were in need of repair. Hence editing the language of your
essay comes last. Here you are putting polish on a shoe
that has already been sewn.
Editing the language can be tedious,
but it is essential. You've got to proofread your essays dozens
of times to catch all the rough spots and language errors. As
you proofread you will be checking for misspellings, poor mechanics,
bad grammar, awkward word flow and numerous other linguistic details
that you can improve. Proofreading the language may take hours
as you attempt to polish your language to the point that it is
pleasing to read and has literary style.
Your Eyes Rest
more you read your essay, the more blind you become to it. Soon
you stop reading the words on the page and only begin reading
what's in your mind, which you falsely transpose onto the page.
The actual letters could be Hebrew, or Greek, for all it matters
at that point.
Don't keep reading hour after hour until your mind
registers the entire text at a glance, without seeing the details.
What you must do is rest your eyes; take a break. Give yourself
a day or two between revisions. (This is why you should not procrastinate
your assignments.) When you come back to your essay with fresh
eyes and a renewed perspective, you will see with added clarity
all the rough phrasings and strange ideas that your eyes once
Know What to Look For
You can read your essay a thousand times over, but
if you don't know what you're looking for, you will probably miss
all the errors you're attempting to find. If you're going to work
hard, make sure you're putting all your energy to a productive
use. Know what to look for when you proofread. See the criteria
in the Grades section of this site. There
are twelve areas to look for: logic, evidence, development, focus,
structure, unity, integration, in-text citation, works cited,
grammar, clarity, style. Check off each category as you examine
your essay. Another help for proofreading is to ask yourself the
same questions in the Peer Review,
conducting instead a "self-review." Finally, be sure
to use the spell-checker
and grammar-checker in Word.
You might want to ask a friend to read over your
essay and give suggestions for change. This is usually advantageous.
Some students, however, perhaps feeling pressure to bring their
language level up to a more fluent, "A" level, might
ask their friends to go beyond a few simple suggestions and instead
to heavily edit or rewrite the language of their paper. While
it is generally okay for another to get some feedback from
others on ideas and language, your friend or family member cannot
take upon the role of an editor, changing your sentences and thoughts
to reflect a linguistic and analytical level that is not yours
and which is beyond your ability. Passing off another's language
as your own -- even if the ideas remain original to your own mind
-- is considered plagiarism.
Your work must be your own, and that includes the language and
style, not just content.
Knowing that the work is your own, and that it represents
your highest level of performance, you will feel a sense of achievement
and personal growth that perhaps you have not experienced before.
Each essay should seem to you that it is your best work to date.
Only when you feel this way is the paper done.
Continue on to editing your language for clarity,
style, and grammar.