Chapter 14 of Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper (Xlibris, 2004).
Question: How can other people help a writer revise?
Answer: We finally agreed that she would read my articles, that she would make no judgments, negative or positive, but would ask questions any time something was not clear. It worked perfectly. Her questions were non-judgmental, simply asking what I meant when I said such and such. I clarified ideas that she asked about, included background information on teachers’ professional reading, and resubmitted the article, which was accepted and appeared as the lead article in The Reading Teacher for January of 1982. [I also received letters of thanks for the advice on reading articles efficiently from quite a few people, including staff members at the International Reading Association, the publisher of the journal.]
This experience in writing for professional journals was a valuable lesson, which I share with my students when I am working with them on revising their work. I encourage them to have others read their drafts, but I insist that the rules be very clear: No judgments. No “This is great,” or, worse, “This is awful.” And no comments on misspellings, mistakes in grammar or punctuation. Only questions when ideas are not clear.
Many professional writers say that they refuse to let others read and comment on their work while it is in progress. My experience was different. If I had not tried to write an article for professional publication, I don’t think I would ever have learned how important it is to have others respond to my work while I am still in the process of revising it. But that response had to be controlled in order to be helpful.
I have found that judgments do not help. Questions do.
Next Blog: A second experience in publishing: The vagaries of the writing process.