Archives for February 2015

Peer Editing–Be Brave

Earlier this week, I sent an email to my daughter’s academic advisor explaining I was supportive of her plans to finish the semester at home if her professors would allow it. In the email, I wrote that Bethany is a conscientious student. I copied her and my husband, Mark as a courtesy.

The next morning, Mark very gently pointed out to me that I had written Bethany is a very contentious student.

No, she’s very agreeable. I’m the one who’s contentious. Sigh. Mark would have caught the mistake had he read my email before I sent it.

While it’s not practical for someone else to read every email we send, we can improve the quality of our work if we allow each other to read what we have written before we turn it in. We call this process peer editing.

If you are the writer, consider finding someone to read your piece. Then ask these questions:

1. Does it make sense?

2. Is it interesting?

3. At what point did you want to stop reading?

Pay close attention to the spot where your reader wanted to stop reading. Check your verbs. Are they active enough? Can you find a more compelling way to move the action along in your prose?

If you read someone else’s work, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does the writer pull one main point all the way through the piece?

2. Is the piece organized so that you can easily understand it without the writer’s help?

3. Is it interesting?

Use the answers to these questions to give helpful feedback.

From time to time, my son, the engineering student, sends me research papers to read for him. I’m the perfect audience. While I don’t understand much of the technical material, I can figure out whether or not his information follows a logical progression. After I provided feedback on one of his pieces, he added illustrations so that his readers could see what he described.

Your work isn’t published until someone else reads it. Maybe the bravest part of the process is turning your work over to someone else so you can listen to their feedback.

 

 

Focus: The Secret Behind Strong Writing

 

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In an age of constant distraction, you can capture and keep your reader’s attention by organizing your text around one central idea.Think of it as your focus statement. Next time, you write, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is this piece really about? Decide the one piece of information you want your readers to remember when they finish your piece. Try stating it as an opinion so that you can tell stories, use statistics and present facts to illustrate your point.

2. What’s the most interesting part? If it’s interesting to you, it will interest your reader. After you decide, ask yourself what makes that part so interesting to you. If you are writing a topic or an experience you can relate to, allow your perspective to influence your text. None of us are truly objective. Maybe God picked you to write the piece because your experiences allow you to better understand the events and principles you are writing about.

3. What’s fresh about this topic? While there is nothing new under the sun, you can add fresh perspective to stories and topics that have already been covered. Most faith-based stories tell the same series of events over and over again. An unbeliever refuses to believe, has an experience and crosses the bridge to belief. What’s new and different about that? Personality. Family background. The events leading up to crossing the bridge to belief.

4. Can you be more specific? As you answer these questions, pick one main idea to center your piece around. State it as a sentence. Be as specific as possible.

Your focus statement is like the string that holds a strand of pearls together. Each pearl fits on the string because it is the same size, shape and color as the other pearls. In the same way, when you write, pick one main point and then choose details that reinforce that idea.

Warning: This is harder than you think it is.  Choosing one main idea means saying no to a dozen other ideas. It also means saying no to good information so that you can pick the best information. Great writing begins by making hard choices. You can’t tell the whole story. So, which part will you tell?

In the movie City Slickers, Curly, the cowboy, tells Mitch, the 9-5er, the secret to life is one thing. When Mitch asks what that one thing is, Curly tells him he has to figure it out for himself. In the same way, only you can figure out for yourself what your main point ought to be for each piece you write.

At a time when your readers are constantly distracted, you can make your work easier to read by organizing your ideas around one central thought. Pick one point, prove that point to your readers, and you will give them the gift of being able to remember what you have written.

 

Stories on a Plane

 

southwestPlease don’t sit here, I silently willed to the people passing by. It’s an almost full flight. I continued hoping that the travelers would keep moving toward the back of the plane, passing up the empty middle seat next to me.

“Mind if I sit here?” one shy traveler asked.

I looked up to see a man 10 in his mid-60s asking the question. He sat down, yielding the armrest to me, and smiled a playful grin. How could I not like him?

“So, what do you do?” I asked, thinking I might be able to start and finish the obligatory conversation, and move on to the book I was holding. He had no carry on luggage.

“I farm,” he said. “In Central Nebraska.”

And then he told me his story. He runs a family farm in Central Nebraska, approximately 30 fields that span 30 miles. From Kearney to Gibbon, much of it on rented land.

At first, he and his father farmed. Then he and his brother farmed. Now it’s him and his two sons. His grandsons have said they want to farm, too. Sure it’s hard, but they find ways to keep going.

His wife suffers from MS, a debilitating disease that shuts down muscle groups one by one. She’s had it almost 20 years. Five of her high school classmates were diagnosed with it and have passed away. She considers herself fortunate.

I’m leaning in. “How do you cope?” I asked.

Every morning he gets out of bed, fixes her breakfast and helps her get dressed before he heads off to farm. She reads a lot of books, he tells me. Including the Bible. Friends call her and grandchildren stop by after school to visit with her. She gets around in a wheelchair. She keeps a phone close by so that if she falls, she can call him and he can help her.

One day, after a faithful friend who calls every morning didn’t get an answer, the friend called her husband, the farmer who immediately went home and found his wife on the bathroom floor.

“Why didn’t you call me?” he asked.

“I knew you would be home soon,” she said.

Another day he came home and found her on the floor surrounded by grandchildren. She had fallen, and they couldn’t help her up. They made the best of it by playing cards together until he returned. They looked up and smiled at him as he entered the house.

I want to meet this woman, I thought to myself. She sounds wonderful.

Yes, it’s hard, he continued. She’s frustrated that she can’t do more for herself, but she refuses to give in to self-pity. “You can leave me,” she once said. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

“No,” he said. “This is the life God has given us. We’ll find a way to make it work as best as we can.”

Children, grandchildren and a network of friends, including those from church, help him keep that promise to her. The plane descended toward the airport and the captain turned on the fasten seatbelt sign.

After thinking for a moment, he said, “I get up every morning and I know God is with me. That’s how I cope.”

The presence of God, that’s his secret. Friends and family help, but his faith is the glue that holds it all together. God never promised a pain free life, but he did promise his presence. “I will be with you always,” Christ said. “Even to the end of the age.”