The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writers Workshop

Revising? Editing? Proofreading? How can the Writers Workshop help me?

Many students ask why writing consultants will not proofread at the Writers Workshop. The quick and simple answer to this question is that the Writers Workshop is a teaching unit, not a proofreading service. Our goal is to help you become a better writer, not to do your writing for you. For this reason, we focus on teaching you self-revising and self-editing/proofreading skills.

The goals of this handout are twofold: (1) to clarify what we mean by “revising” and “editing/proofreading” and (2) to give you a better sense of how our consultants can help you improve your writing.

What is revising?

Revising involves “re-visioning” or “re-seeing” your paper. After writing a complete rough draft, you need to revise your paper by reading it over with a critical eye—asking yourself whether each sentence and paragraph makes sense and accomplishes your intended goals. Revising causes you to reassess the paper’s thesis (or main argument), supporting points, development, organization, paragraph structure, sense of audience, word choice, and overall persuasiveness. This stage in the writing process is an excellent time to ask friends, roommates, professors, and Workshop consultants to respond to your paper! Feedback from others shows you how different readers react to your argument, thus helping you to “re-vision” the paper through your readers’ eyes. After revising, you are ready to edit/ proofread your rough draft

What is editing/proofreading?

Editing/ proofreading involves carefully rereading your draft to ensure that your writing will look and sound “correct” to a reader—in other words, editing/ proofreading ensures that your draft meets the standard writing conventions regarding punctuation, mechanics, spelling, and sentence structure. This process is an important last step in writing a good paper, and you can effectively edit/proofread your papers by reading them out loud and paying attention to every little detail—checking to see that all words are spelled correctly, that every sentence is complete, that punctuation is correct, and that no words are inadvertently omitted.

Why do our consultants teach you to self-revise/ edit/ proofread, instead of just doing the work for you?

If we did revise and edit/proofread your writing, you might end up with a more polished paper but you wouldn’t understand what we had done to make it better. You would have to come back to the Workshop every time you wanted to improve future papers because you wouldn’t know how to do so yourself. On the other hand, when we teach you to self-revise and self-edit/proofread, you learn how to make not only one particular paper better, but every single paper you write! Thus, you improve not only the one paper you bring to the consultation, but your overall writing skills.

Let’s look at some examples:

If a student had written the following introduction (including the underlined thesis statement), what would an editor/ proofreader do differently from a writing consultant who’s teaching the student to self-revise and self-edit/ proofread?

“In this composition, I define the young people as persons whose age is up to about my age and the old people as persons whose age is about my parents’ age or who are members of the society I will tell the difference between young people and old people, which based on my experience and people around me. and which is focused by me as a young people.”

An editor/ proofreader would make the following changes for the student:

A consultant would help the student to revise her own work by asking some of these questions:

What did your assignment ask you to do? The student replies that her sociology assignment asked her to discuss modern young adults’ projections about getting a high-paying job and owning a house versus similar projections made by middle-aged Americans thirty years ago. The consultant would then ask the student to clarify her thesis, and the two would eventually discuss how describing “the difference between young people and old people” is very different from analyzing the differences between American college students’ current projections and their parents’ past dreams of attaining a middle-class lifestyle.

After the student wrote a new thesis statement which met the assignment’s expectations, the consultant might ask the following questions about the student’s opening sentence:

  1. How clear is your definition of “young”? How will readers know your age?
  2. How clear is your definition of “old”? How will readers know your parents’ ages?
  3. Explain your definition of “society.” Aren’t you as a young person a “member of society”?
  4. Would you read through this passage and circle any articles you are unsure about? The tutor and student would then discuss the three unnecessary “the’s” (“the young people,” “the old people,” and “the society”).
  5. Does this passage contain just one sentence, or are there two complete thoughts here?

The tutor and student would then discuss how and where to end the first sentence.

We hope these examples clarify why consultants at the Writers Workshop will NOT edit/proofread, but WILL help you learn self-revising and self-editing/ proofreading skills. You as a student WON’T LEARN from a consultant editing/proofreading your work, but you WILL LEARN from questioning your own thesis, analyzing the exact requirements of your assignment, testing the clarity of your own definitions, and finding/correcting your own grammatical errors. If you decide after reading this handout that you don’t need to learn self-revising techniques, but you do need a professional proofreader, you may hire one of the people on our editing/proofreading list (ask our Office Manager for a copy of this list).

University of Illinois Writers Workshop rev. 2009