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make sense

It shouldn’t need saying, but it must make sense!

Ahh the irony of people giving advice without the skills!

Collage of a man's face looking confused

Good writing won’t leave your audience confused

Helping my daughter, I came across an article giving tips on how to write an ‘extraordinary’ speech for school, but much of it does not make sense. I’m really not sure how a student is meant to improve their speech writing via this article.

Examples like this show the value in having someone else reading your work to ensure it makes sense and meets basic grammar rules. The more skilled the person checking it, the better feedback you will obviously get, but even a less skilled person could point out any confusions.

So lets look at parts of that article and see how it could have been less confusing…

Understudies?

Article text: …appreciated by your teachers, individual understudies…

Comment: do student usually have understudies listening to a speech? I assume they mean ‘fellow students’ or simply ‘classmates’.

meaning of relief

Article text: …write the same data in each of the paragraphs that are the relief of this subheading.

Comment: Apart from being boring to read if they actually use the same data in every paragraph, I think the article writer needs to learn that relief means to ease or alleviate stress, pain, discomfort and so on. It is unlikely that a subheading feels anything that needs relieving – although I felt relief to stop reading this article!

farewell?

Article text: If your subheadings and speech are moving farewell then they can make the Audience bored, otherwise, your speech will be very good.

Comment: I don’t know what this sentence is meant to say! “If your content is moving forward” is what I first thought it should be but that doesn’t work with making the audience bored. Maybe farewell should be replaced with slowly?

A much smaller issue is the capital A for audience as it is totally unnecessary and visually stood out to me as wrong.

becoming insensitive

Article text: The first lines … are to speak at certain points so that … everyone becomes insensitive and attracts all the speech. Your first lines are the first impression on your audience.

Comment: This implies that the aim of a school speech is to make people insensitive which is a pretty strange aim – again, a use of vocabulary that is not understood causes big problems in writing. If you aren’t sure of a word, use one you do know – big words are not impressive if used poorly.

As for “attracts all the speech”, I think this means “engages the audience quickly so they listen to all the speech”.

avoid disturbance!

Article text: Between the teachers day speech looking at the Audience is not to be disturbed and you have to control your emotions and to point with your hands so that Audiences are attracted and keep their voice down and down.

Comment: oh my goodness, where do I start with this paragraph?

  • using ‘between’ requires two end points (between 5 and 6, between the start and finish, between the speaker and audience) – clearly this sentence does not have that
  • ‘looking is not to be disturbed’ would be simpler and more relatable as ‘maintain eye contact’ or ‘look at your audience’. Disturbed also implies external distraction and that is pretty hard to prevent whilst writing a speech!
  • ‘control your emotions’ makes sense but I disagree with it – no emotion in a speech makes it bland and less likely to be listened to
  • ‘point with your hands’ is out of context and would not help a student learn – what do they point out? how much pointing should they do? does lots of hand pointing really work with controlled emotions? what has pointing hands got to do with writing a speech (the purpose of the article)?
  • ‘audiences are attracted’ – again, vocabulary has let the writer down again. Attentive would be a much better word here
  • ‘keep their voices down and down’ – personally, I’d prefer my audience to be silent and attentive rather than just talking in low voices

what can you do?

Well, the above hopefully gave you a giggle at some poorly worded tips and reminded you of the importance to checking your work makes sense and reads as you intend.

The key lessons from this article are

  • get someone else to review your work before publishing it
  • use words you know instead of trying to impress with fancier words
  • keep on topic
  • remember your audience – use language they understand and don’t make it hard for them to read your work

 

Back to basics on editing

smiling girl writing in a book“It’s not fun to reread everything but you have to edit your work. I’ve written long essays at Uni, thinking they were good, but when I edited them, I found some bits just didn’t make sense. Sometimes your brain takes a little rest and you don’t write as well.”

That’s what my son’s grade two teacher said this morning as she led a class on editing.

learning to edit

The ability to edit what we write is an important communication skill. For instance, if I wrote an invitation for Thursday 10pm, I may be a bit lonely at 10am when no one turn up because I hadn’t checked what I wrote in the invitation.

While it can be much easier to edit someone else’s work as it is fresh to us and we don’t have an expectation or memory of what was to be written, there are many times when doing your own editing is necessary.

Technically, learning to read and write gives us the skills to edit our work (for example, you could recognise ‘siad’ was incorrectly spelt).

However, as I saw in the classroom today, being given direct tasks for editing is an effective way to understand and undertake editing.

basic steps of editing

Each student was given a checklist of tasks to edit a piece of work they wrote last week.

The group I worked with, went through the list item by item to improve their writing. When I edit, I probably do multiple steps at once but doing one at a time is simpler for children. I also think that doing it step by step actually makes errors easier to spot.

So the checklist today was:

  1. title
  2. sizzling start
  3. backfill
  4. events in order
  5. does it make sense?
  6. check capital letters and full stops
  7. check spelling

Why not follow this list next time you have to edit something?

understanding the checklist

Just because this list uses very specific terms taught at our school (and others!), here are a few tips…

  • not everything needs a title, but most writing that you would edit does (including an email subject as a title)
  • make the beginning interesting! Primary students are taught to make a sizzling start on a simple level, but your writing should also start with something interesting
  • backfill just means an introduction or explanation of the writing. Consider this the all important sentence that answers who, what, where, why and when.
  • different styles of writing require differences in content, so you may not always need events to be listed in chronological order – but the order of what you do include needs to make sense in the relevant context.
  • at school today, I had the students check each sentence made sense. Some had written ‘first tunnel ball. then octopus.’ which obviously needed to be more like ‘first we played tunnel ball, then played octopus.’
    As more literate adults, we can read through the work faster to check for meaning. However, a slow read of each paragraph can really help spot errors.

getting help

I liked that the teacher today actually told the students to get help with editing.

First, she suggested that if they suspected (or knew!) a word was misspelt they could check the spelling by using their dictionary or asking a classmate.

Then, she also suggested that for any sentence they were unsure of, it was ok to say “Hey, Tom, does this make sense to you?” and get someone else’s opinion.

So even if you don’t get someone to edit your writing for you, you can look up or ask for help on specific sections of your work. If the writing is of importance, the editing help is really worth the effort.