Monday, October 20, 2008

Topic: Proofreading Is a Different Kind of Reading

10-second review: We need to define “revising” and “proofreading” more clearly for students.

Title: “Proofreading: A Reading/Writing Skill.” Jeannette Harris. College Composition and Communication (December 1987), 464-466. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A thoughtful analysis of the nature of proofreading.

Quote: “Many of our students fail to detect surface errors in their compositions because…they see what they mean rather than what they write. The reason they do not perceive errors is that they read rather than proofread. Since reading is a process of anticipation and prediction, readers look only at what is necessary to predict meaning. Rather than looking at just a few words on each line, as an efficient reader does, good proofreaders force themselves to attend to the text closely and deliberately—looking specifically at each word and mark of punctuation, carefully noting not only what is there but also what is not there.”

Quote: “Finally, in addition to their reading-related problems, our students cannot proofread effectively because we—teachers, researchers, textbook writers—fail to use the term ‘proofread’ in any consistent, clearly defined manner. As a result, students often make no distinction between revising and proofreading. They equate revising with copying a paper over neatly in kink…. In effect, they collapse the entire, complicated, highly recursive process of re-writing into what is essentially manuscript preparation.”

Quote: “Consciously or unconsciously, they modify their normal reading process so that they see what is actually on the page rather than what they expect to see. One of the simplest means of modifying our normal reading process is to use a pointer—a finger, pencil, whatever—in order to force ourselves to look at each word and mark of punctuation.”

Comment: I think these quotes on proofreading are cogent. We need to distinguish between reading and proofreading and between revision and proofreading.

I define revising as adding, deleting, substituting and moving text. Students perform these operations in three ways:

1. Unity. Student writer folds a sheet of paper widthwise. The writer summarizes the main idea on one side of the folded paper. The partner reads the writer’s composition and writes a summary of the main idea on the other side. They open the paper and compare their two versions of the main idea. If the two versions of the main idea are similar, the paper is probably unified. If the expressions of the main idea do not agree, check especially the thesis sentence, the topic sentences and the final paragraph and revise as necessary.

2. Clarity. The partner re-reads the writer’s composition and places question marks in the margin of any idea that is confusing or incomplete. The writer notes the question marks, explains the meaning to the partner orally and revises the expression if necessary.

3. Awkward expression. Both writer and partner read the composition aloud. If either stumbles in reading, the place is marked and the writer decides if the expression needs to be revised.

Proofreading. The writer reads backwards, from last word to the first word, noting spelling and punctuation. Look out, especially for commas around interrupters. One might be missing. Partner then does the same, reading from last to first word noting spelling and punctuation. Not easy to do but the reader is forced to see each word and mark of punctuation individually.

Finally, the writer checks of for sentence structure by reading each sentence individually.

Worth the effort? It is if you’re writing a resume and letter of application or an office assignment or a college essay.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.

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