I want to help my child edit her papers but I never know how. How can I help her with writing when I'm a horrible writer myself?


Scott Braithwaite, Homework with StudyDaddy its simple

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Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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I agree with Caitlin -- considering what you have said, I think having your daughter read her work aloud to you is key. I guarantee she will notice at least one edit she needs to make by hearing how her words "sound" on the page. Then, I suggest you read her work aloud to her. As you do, stop and ask her questions -- any kind of applicable question -- about what she is saying. For example, "Are you saying that..." or "What do you mean when you say..." She will no doubt become irritated. :) But this is an invaluable exercise.

Also, have her articulate what the "point" of the assignment is.... many students start writing without taking the time to do this. And when they do, things flow more consistently.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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You already have some excellent advice to guide you as you help your daughter edit her work, but I add that you can still be a great editor even if you aren't the best writer. Editing is about much more than whether or not a sentence sounds good or grammatical errors.

Regardless of your daughter's age, the editing process is always basically the same, becoming more advanced and detailed as the writing does. Everyone has a different approach to editing and things like reading aloud and other suggestions here are all common practices.

When working with students on the editing process, I always give the same basic guidelines, which you can build out as you get better at it. First, I would suggest that you and your daughter come up with a set of questions to ask as you read her papers. Focusing your reading will make the process much smoother. Read for one or two questions at a time, then move on to the next one. Secondly, remember to look for ways to improve each part of the essay (each section or paragraph) and the essay as a whole.

When reading an essay, the three elements I encourage all of my students to look for are:

1) Coherence. Read for understanding. Questions you might ask as you read are: -Does each paragraph make sense on its own? -Do I understand the thesis? -Do I know what I'm supposed to take away from this essay? -Am I ever confused as I read?

2) Flow. As you read, pay attention to the order of things. Possible questions: -Does my thesis lay out the order of my paragraphs? -Is there a better order my paragraphs could be in? -Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence?

3) Grammar and spelling. This should be the LAST thing you read for. It's like the name written on a birthday cake. Get everything else finalized first, then pull the whole presentation with perfect spelling. If you're ever unsure of something, the Purdue OWL Grammar Guide is an excellent resource for most common questions and Noodle has plenty of helpful articles on the subject.

Christine VanDonge, Senior Research Analyst

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I think you have some great opinions so far, but wanted to add a few ideas.

I will first start by saying that (as mentioned by others) editing is a very, very difficult task. Often when we edit our own work we read it as we think we wrote it. I would suggest planning ahead for writing assignments so that you and your child can take a few days away from the document. It is always best to edit with a fresh set of eyes.

I will also agree with the fellow experts that is it best to read the document aloud. Some of my previous professors have even suggested reading the document aloud backwards (start at the end and work your way to start of the document). By using this method of working backwards, you are less focused on the content of what you are reading and more focused on the actual grammar.

My last piece of advice is if you and your daughter both struggle with editing, make it is a fun game for the two of you. There are some really wonderful grammar activities websites on the internet. Look here or here or here. Try to devote 10 to 15 minutes each day on improving your grammar. You can do the activities together or independently. Additionally, if questions come up in the process of editing, make a list of the items you want to look up and do so prior to turning in the assignment.

Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions!

Brianne Keith, Senior Editor and Writer, WGBH Education

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A good strategy might be to ask your child's teacher to share with you a few essays that show high achievement and have him or her point out a few key features of the essay that demonstrate this achievement. By doing this, you 1) begin to clarify for yourself where your child's essay should be heading; and 2) you have a sort of "rubric" against which to read your child's essay. You can both learn and analyze together what works and what doesn't.

Elizabeth Mack, Writing tutor, English Instructor

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You don’t mention the age of the child, but I’m going to assume she is elementary age. Reading aloud is a great suggestion. If you are editing for grammar and punctuation errors, try reading the essay backwards. When we have spent so much energy writing a paper, we almost have it memorized, so when we read for errors, we don’t actually see them. Forcing ourselves to read an essay from the end to the beginning slows us down, forcing us to concentrate on each word and sentence.

Some of the greatest writers in the world might have a few sentence-level errors in their writing, but reading with an ear and an eye will help catch most mistakes.

Caitlin Holmes, College Professor, Writing Teacher, Digital Rhetoric

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This is an excellent question. Many people feel insecure about their writing, which has the effect of making us less likely to practice the skill of writing itself!

I would encourage both you and your daughter to keep in mind that there are different stages of writing: from working through ideas in a draft, revision, and final copy edit. Each of those stages has different demands in terms of the quality of writing that takes place.

Approaching the essay from a "disoriented" position helps. Working far enough in advance of the deadline will allow you and your child to get some distance from it, largely so that you're not filling in words or punctuation in your mind. Take a few days away from the writing to give her time to forget exactly what she wrote.

Depending on the age of your child, she may be in a place where reading an essay out loud can help her to catch typos and errors, and you will certainly be able to hear them as well. I would suggest that you have her begin at the end of the essay and read a sentence out loud. That process will help her to hear the sentence for itself - not its relationship to the other sentences around it.

Editing is a difficult skill for anyone - not just developing writers. Even professional writers utilize editors to catch typos and adjust phrasing!

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