Oh, Right, I Edit

I’ve blogged a lot this semester about reporting, but I haven’t spent much time talking about editing (which I have done, though not as much as I would’ve liked).

This semester, I was in Journalism 4400, a beginning news editing course. I picked up some additional Associated Press style tips, sharpened my headline-writing skills and looked for holes in stories. This plus copy editing a few Journalism 2100 papers helped in the grand scheme of things, of course, but I think another experience has helped me become a better editor: my time as a tutor at the Writing Center.

For four hours a week, I sit in the Student Success Center and read work others have written. I might read work sitting next to the student or on my computer screen through the Online Writery. I’ve read everything from graduate theses to English 1000 term papers to appeals for the School of Journalism. (Personal statements are my favorite.) And I’ve read these works not through the lens of a copy editor, but through the lens of a tutor.

I took an honors class in the fall that prepared me to be a writing tutor, and the biggest struggle I had (and was consistently told I had) was not to nitpick the small stuff and to instead focus on the big picture. For example, in class exercises, I readily examined small arguments and sentence structure, but I would sometimes miss the bigger picture of, oh, the thesis not making sense. In fact, as tutors, we’re not allowed to copy edit. Instead, we can point out “error patterns,” or a set of recurring errors in a work. (Trust me, every subject/verb disagreement and misspelled word drove my inner copy editor absolutely insane.)

So, I really tried to focus on this big picture idea this semester, and I think working as a tutor has helped me start to overcome that struggle. I spend a lot of time looking at thesis statements and conclusions and helping students figure out how to connect content to those two parts of the paper. We look a lot at structure, organization and flow. We talk about ideas and arguments and the rationality of them. We sometimes talk about my favorite “error patterns.” But really, we mainly talk about whatever the student wants to look at. (Except, of course, when they come in with a paper and expect you to circle every comma splice in red.)

Through this work, I’ve learned to temporarily let things go, and by things, I mean small errors. I can now read through a paper without mentally halting at each incorrectly used semicolon; I can get to the end, process the idea and then go back and look at the small stuff.

This is great, but like many things, it comes with a tradeoff. I haven’t spent this semester tied to my AP Stylebook like I did in the fall, so copy rules I used to know by heart don’t come quite as quickly. However, I think with some reading and a few hours on Newsroom101.com, I’ll be fairly good to go for this summer, and I’ll improve even more through a few months of practice.

Orange County, here I come.

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