Revising Leah

January 18, 2009

Using “Find” to Proofread

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:07 pm
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Proofreading, though crucial to good writing, can sometimes be a tedious process. Fortunately, word processors have a function that can help a writer perform very precise proofreading searches. The “Find” (or “Find & Replace” in OpenOffice) function allows you to search for a specific word or phrase in a document. I spent a couple hours yesterday doing searches for some common typos that I, and many other writers, tend to make: its/it’s, lose/loose, affect/effect, etc. I would type, for example, “effect” into the Find box and the program would take me to each and every instance of that word in the text. Then, it was up to me to read the sentence and make sure I’m using the word correctly. I’m happy to report that most of these searches turned up very few errors.

I also used Find to check my use of the word “seemed”. I already knew that I use that word quite a lot in my novel. It appears often because although the narrative is third person, it is a third person narration which privileges Leah’s perspective. Since she isn’t very experienced socially, she often has to guess at the motives and reasons behind other people’s behavior. For example, I need to use “seemed” in a sentence like this one:

David stayed on the other side of the class and seemed to have forgotten about his group.

Leah can’t enter David’s mind. She doesn’t know why the boy does a lot of the things that he does. So much remains a mystery to her, so I need to use that word “seemed.”

But I discovered that about 20% of the appearances of the word “seemed” were not necessary. For example, I might have written something like,

She looked out the window, and it seemed dark outside.

Well, it’s either dark or it isn’t. “Seemed” would be completely inappropriate in this instance. Find allowed me to inspect each and every appearance of that word in the novel without having to read the entire novel straight through.

September 24, 2008

Me Use Grammar Checker Too Right Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:27 am
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I do most of my writing on OpenOffice’s word processor. It’s a reliable program, and it can do just about everything that Microsoft’s word processor can do, along with a few things that it can’t (PDF exporting, for example). And, best of all, OpenOffice is free. However, when I began this fifth revision cycle for Leah, I opened up an old version of MS Word that’s on my computer and used it to run Word’s grammar check program. What I like to use the grammar check for is to identify potential problems that don’t usually occur to me, such as overuse of the passive voice. It’s a quick and easy way for me to run through the entire manuscript and find additional problems in my writing that I might have missed.

When I teach word processing, though, I tell my students to never use MS Word’s grammar checker. The reason is that while it does sometimes offer good suggestions, it just as often offers bad suggestions. I use it because, hopefully, I’m experienced enough at writing that I can make a judgment call as to whether the grammar checker’s advice is good advice or not. Most of my students don’t have that same level of experience, and if I don’t discourage them from using the grammar function, then many of them will just blindly make whatever change the program suggests — and that’s always a bad idea. The problem, obviously, is that the word processor doesn’t know what a writer intends to write. The program is simply following an algorithm, and when the right words appear in a particular order, the program flags it and offers the best available suggestion. It makes a lot of bad suggestions, though.

For example, following a line of dialogue by Leah’s father, I wrote, “Mr. Nells said.” The grammar checker flagged this, however, and suggested that I write, “Mr. Nells, said.” What?! Why? Inserting a comma before “said” makes absolutely no sense in that context. So I know when I run the program that I’m going to see weird suggestions like that, but for me, the overall benefit of the grammar check function outweighs the potential risk of accidentally following one or two bad suggestions.

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