Basic Editing Strategies

Concrete Strategies to Find Hidden Errors

For a writer, editing is a primary focus. Since I taught for 28 years, a lesson on editing developed and refined each year until it resembled a vaudeville show that captivated and engaged students. But more importantly, it provided strategies to identify editing errors.

Picture by Brenda Mahler

The lesson began by inviting a student volunteer stand in front of the classroom looking at a black screen with the instructions to read the sentence loudly to the class when revealed. I uncovered the visual. The teen, taking the task seriously read the sentence, “The cat is in the apple tree.”

I responded with kindness, “Thank you for trying but no. Would somebody else like to try?” With a look of confusion, he sat down, and a few observant students waved their hands in the air for a chance to impress.

By this time, many had discovered the error but some continued to look confused until the next student walked to the front of the room and read, “The cat is is in the apple tree.”

With the students’ attentions hooked, I relayed the message to read each and every word. As a class we discussed the tricks our subconscious minds play. Obviously, nobody intentionally would repeat a word in a sentence on purpose, but yet, it happens.


Read the paper out loud and touch each word as it is stated. This requires only the words on the page be read and all the words on the page are read.

The lesson continued by sharing actual examples of a students’ editing errors shared by Richard Ledere in The World According to Student Bloopers. The numbered comments on the right are my attempts at comedy or the students’ animated responses.

1. Yes, Lincoln was a model citizen, but the correct spelling is president.”

2. His mom died when she was an infant?”

3. He hopped out of his mother’s womb built a house and then jumped back in to be born in the house.”

4. “ONLY a tall silk hat” (The students get the humor.)

5. At this point the entire class shouted out the correct quote.


Read the paper backwards. Meaning, read the paper from the bottom sentence up so that each sentence is read in isolation with the focus on the meaning of the sentence.


Examine the placement of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs). When using words like only, favorite, most, best, be careful to place them directly before the word they describe. Otherwise the meaning of the text is confused.


Check and Recheck quotes to make sure they are correctly transcribed. Cite the source to increase accuracy.

6. “An envelop was folded into a paper airplane. Lincoln shrunk really, really small and went for a ride.”

7. More shouts from the class.

8. “Because they stopped being Negroes?”

9. “Everyone has heard of the C.C.C. No?”


Find an editor to read the paper. If you do not know a word is misspelled or is not a word, you will not find the error.

10. “Yes, this was a time of extreme racism and often times people were set on fire, but that is not what the writer meant to say.”

11. I use a visual here and simply pat my bottom. Other interpretations are also discussed.

12. “Nope.” Students discuss how it should be stated.

13. “Go figure.” (Teach sarcasm)


Place a piece of paper under each line. Read the words on the page stopping at the end of the line. This forces you to read the words on the page in the order they are written.


Darken and enlarge every capital letter at the beginning of sentences and every end mark (. ! ?). Then read from capital letter to period and stop. Ask yourself if the sentence conveys the message you wish.

By the end of this reading, we reviewed numerous common editing errors.

  • Spelling
  • Word usage
  • Misplaced modifiers
  • Dangling participles
  • Sentence organization
  • Accuracy in quotes
  • Stating the obvious

The lecture ended by posting and reading FISHERMAN’S LANGUAGE as a class.

Found on the wall at a local restaurant in Savannah, renowned for its seafood & barbecue.

This emphasized the importance of not using slang in writing unless it is appropriate to the plot, setting, and audience, thereby, leading into a mini-lesson on style, voice, and word choice.


Determine is slang is used in the writing. If yes, is it appropriate to the audience and subject? Usually, slang is only appropriate in dialogue.

And finally I must share a confession. After submitting an article to a Medium publication, I received a rejection coupled with a comment reminding me to edit. (I teach editing! What is he talking about??!!)

I swallowed my attitude and frustrations and wrote a polite email asking for suggestions. The response forced me to hide under my desk in shame. In the title, “My Daughter’s Stroke: A Lesson On Accepting Help” I had misspelled a word; it read “Stoke”.

The teacher became the student. It happens to all of us.

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