Thursday, February 11, 2010

Peer Editing

I always assign peer editing in my composition and creative writing classes. Contrary to the groans and complaints, these assignments relate directly to the real world experiences of working writers.

When peer editing, the author and the peer editor benefit equally. The author receives honest feedback from someone who is willing to say when something works and when something doesn’t work in the text. The peer editor has a chance to hone his editing skills on someone else’s work, which will make editing his own work easier later.

It isn’t always easy to offer up your work for peer editing. You’ve worked hard on your piece and don’t want to find out something is wrong with it. With a good peer editor, though, you’ll find out both what works and what needs improving. A peer editor should always start with the positives and explain why and how something was done well. If the writer understands what was done well and where, it will be easier for the writer to repeat the success in future pieces.

Most writers peer edit throughout their careers, although they will call it “workshopping.” By having someone else – with those clich├ęd and vital “fresh eyes” – read our work, we will often notice something that we missed. With that information, it is easier to return to the work and continue to edit and revise it.

Peer editing works best when the author presents the reader with questions. These questions can be as broad as, “Does the piece work? Can you follow the plot?” to specific questions like, “Does the tone work in the third paragraph? Is the dialogue on the second page authentic?” These questions help to lead the peer editor to examine problem spots in the text.

I always recommend to writers to have a number of readers. Different readers have different skills at catching potential problems. For example, some are better proofreaders for punctuation errors and others are experts at constructing a story arc. Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement from a reader who you know is likely to enjoy your work (a parent? best friend?)

Recently, a friend shared part of her novel with me to read. I offered a couple of line-by-line edits concerning punctuation typos and some larger comments on issues such as the physical relationship of the character to her peers and the tone of some of the dialogue. I enjoyed reading her work and was inspired by her dedication to the longer work. I look forward to sharing some of my work with her.

Do I expect this author to take all of my advice? No, of course not. She will make the final decisions regarding her work based on her view of the text as a whole. Through my suggestions, she can consider what works and what doesn’t. If I stumbled in a section, perhaps it means that something is unclear, but my suggestions regarding where to take the piece might not correspond with her final idea for the novel.

It is helpful to have a local writing group or friend who is willing to peer edit your work. The deadline of regular meetings and the suggestions for your writing will prove helpful. If you don’t live close to trusted readers, you can always peer edit via email, a phone call or Skype.

If you are a beginning writer taking a composition writing class, there is no reason why you can’t share your work with your peers, even if it isn’t assigned. As long as your peer editor offers you advice and doesn’t rewrite your paper for you, you can learn immeasurably by discussing your work. If your peer editor offers a great idea for your subject matter, there’s no reason why you can’t cite that person’s idea with an in-text citation and Works Cited entry to avoid plagiarism.

Happy writing and sharing your writing! Remember, writing is a process and takes many drafts. Peer editing helps you to move towards a more polished piece.

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