Once you have decided what all goes into your essay and what goes where, you should edit the paper.  Editing is more of a craft than an art.  There's nothing magical about it.  Nor does it take any amount of talent.  Of course you need to understand what's correct and what's not in standard written English, but I suspect many students allow mistakes (ones that they know are mistakes) to get by them, just because they are trying to catch everything at once.  The solution is to take it one issue at a time.  Break it down into its parts, beginning with and looking for one thing at a time.

Spell check will automatically flag the words it doesn't recognize as being in the English dictionary, even as you are typing.  Don't let those red squiggly lines distract you from writing what you want to say.  But once you're ready to edit, you can correct your spelling first, just to get rid of those annoying red squiggles.

You know, of course, to ignore it when it's trying to correct your spelling of your name (which may not be in the dictionary -- spell check tries to tell me my name -- Gulick -- should be garlic.)  To know what the dictionary suggests, hover the mouse over the word and right click.  You'll get a menu with suggestions.  Don't always go with the first suggestion, especially if you're not sure if that's the word you want.  Check it out at dictionary.com and make sure the meaning of that suggestion is what you wanted to say.  I have read about "attention defecate disorder" and how many students are "defiantly" sure about their course (yes, they can be defiant, but I think they mean "definitely sure") and you are "not aloud" (which is "without noise") to enter the classroom.

 
Your biggest problem: If you know what your biggest problem with grammar is, start with looking for that.  Take it sentence by sentence and look at the structure.  In fact, you want to NOT read your essay.  Reading your essay puts the meaning into your mind, and the brain tends to be forgiving of structure problems when it can figure out the meaning.  The mind will supply all the missing words without your even noticing that they were missing!

So there are two ways to edit your paper without reading it. 

Turn it upside down and look at it that way.  It keeps you from reading, so you have to focus on the structure, which is what you're working on. 

"Read" it backwards.  Start at the last word.  Then the next-to-the-last.  Go backwards, looking for flaws in the structure.

This will also help you with misspellings that spell check won't have caught.  (Spell check doesn't notice, for example, when you write "the" as "he" because "he" is in the dictionary.  And if you're reading the essay right way up, you'll see "he car" as "the car," because you are developing meaning from the words.  However, when you look at it upside down, "he car" suddenly looks wrong.)
 

 
Sentence List: If you don't know your biggest problem, start with the problems that cause the most confusion:  comma splices/run-ons, fragments, modifiers, and pronouns.  With the exception of pronouns, all of these issues require that you look at each sentence separately from the other sentences.  Temporarily separate every sentence onto its own line.  Open your document and with the cursor after each period at the end of a sentence, push "Enter."  That gives you a list of your sentences.  Now look at each sentence in isolation.  Run through the whole list looking for ONE thing, ONE problem.  When you are done, go through the whole list again, looking for a different problem. 

One problem at a time is the way to catch them.  This may seem to take more time (after all, it requires you go through the list of sentences several times) but it's effective, and as you practice this, you'll get better and faster.  And eventually, you'll be able to edit in one or two passes.  Until then, use the table below to record your editing.

 
Comma splices, run-ons: For comma splices/run-ons, check to see if your sentence has more than one set of SV unions (remember the kiss?)  If so, is there a connecting word -- either a coordinating conjunction between the unions, or a subordinating conjunction that could be between or before the first union one fewer than the number of SV unions?

Here are some examples of what I mean (Subject Verb):

They are at the right place and at the right time.  1 SV unit -- not a run-on issue.  The "and" is combining two prepositional phrases (crud), so it doesn't count.

Santa Fe is a nice place to visit, but living there can be very expensive.  2 SV units, needs 1 combining word, the coordinating conjunction "but."

It immediately gets your attention, and it doesn't let go2 SV units, needs 1 combining word, the coordinating conjunction "and."

If you saved someone's life and no one saw it, would you be a hero?  3 SV units, 2 combining words.  "And" combines "you saved" with "no one saw;" "if" combines "you saved, no one saw" with "would you be."

If you have 4 SV units, you need 3 combining words.  If you have 5 SV units, you need 4 combining words.  And remember, the combining words might be BETWEEN the units or they might go in front, like the last example sentence.

When there's a comma where a period should go, it's a comma splice.  When there's nothing where a period should go, it's a run-on.  NEVER, EVER add a comma where a period should go.

As you go through the list, correct the comma splices and/or run-ons.  You can divide the two subject/verb unions by putting a period or a semi-colon between them.  Or you can add a comma and a coordinating conjunction or add a subordinating conjunction with the appropriate punctuation.

 
Fragments: You need to look at the sentences separated onto their own lines also if you have problems with fragments.  Check to see if each "sentence" is complete -- if it has a subject and a working verb.  Then be sure that the subject/verb union doesn't have a subordinating conjunction in front of it.  (Remember, the subordinating conjunction is the leech that sucks all the blood out of the SV union after it.)  If you do start with a subordinating conjunction, look farther down and see if there's another SV union that still has its blood in it within that same sentence.  If so, you're good. 

Usually the solution to a fragment is connecting it with the "sentence" either in front of or after the fragment.

 
Modifiers: For modifier problems, you need to look at each sentence separately, as well.  Modifiers are always going to be within the same sentence as the word(s) they modify.  See Modifiers to learn the ropes.

 
Pronouns: To catch your pronoun problems, you need to look at paragraphs as a whole.  For this reason, I suggest you do this one last, after you have put the sentences back together into their paragraphs. 

Highlight all the pronouns.  Then check to see what they refer to.  Is there a noun that they refer to in the paragraph (preferably before the pronoun)?  Do the noun and its pronoun match in number?  If not, reword the paragraph to make them fit each other.

 
Other: Finally, you want to check the not-so-crucial errors -- such as commas.  Do you have crud before the subject of the sentence?  Then you need a comma after the crud. 

Do you have lists of more than two items?  Put commas between them.  Years in traditional dates (such as November 7, 1993) are separated from the date by a comma, and if the sentence continues after the year, another comma separates the year from the rest of the sentence.  States or countries written right after cities are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

Is your sentence a compound sentence with a coordinating conjunction combining two subject/verb unions?  Then put a comma before the conjunction.

Is your sentence a complex sentence that begins with the subordinating conjunction?  You need a comma between the two SV unions.
 

 
  This is the beginning of editing.  I'll be adding more particulars as we work through the grammar.  
Title of Essay:

GRAMMAR ISSUE

# OF INCIDENTS

My biggest problem:  
Comma splices/run-ons  
Fragments  
Modifiers  
Pronouns  
   
   
   
 
  This page last updated by Connie Gulick, Tuesday, May 18, 2010.