3 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Their Work is Critiqued

June 28, 2013 Kristance Harlow
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

I am not a perfect writer, but I have an eye for editing (other people’s work…) and have edited countless essays, short stories, and cover letters. As a tutor I have helped students with everything from basic sentence structure to proper citations to how many syllables are in a haiku.  As you can imagine, I come up against the same mistakes again and again but the most common errors have nothing to do with grammar, syntax, or formatting.

Bellow are three of the most common blunders writers make:


1. Waiting to Edit Until the Last Minute

We’ve all been there, it’s the day before a big essay is due and you’re swiggin’ Red Bulls like it’s your job while frantically trying to produce something that resembles a decent paper. (Let’s not kid ourselves, this doesn’t just happen in college). By the time dawn rolls around your paper is finally at the proper length but there is only enough time left before class to give a quick read through before you sprint to the library to print that sucker out. I can guarantee that no matter how talented a writer you are, you just turned in a paper with glaringly obvious mistakes.

No doubt you’ve come across this meme or some variation of it:

No idea what that thing in the middle is supposed to be…

While it’s not true that a researcher at Cambridge University discovered that the human brain can recognize words no matter the order of the letters as long as the first and last are the same, there is some truth to the phenomenon. There are tricks that your brain plays on you when you’re reading that makes typos incredibly easy to miss, in part because when reading we rely on our intuition and not just our reading skills. Our brains intuitively fill in the blanks and look for the overall meaning rather than each word. Ester Inglis-Arkell covers this in her blog on “An Illusion that Explains Why Typos Are So Hard to Catch.”

 Even if you proofread your own work many times over you will doubtlessly end up with a repeated word or some kind of typo. Take the time to not only edit it yourself but to have someone else edit it for you. Edit, edit, edit! I can’t stress it enough.

2. Not Rejecting Edits You Disagree With

Ok, so you’ve finished your work ahead of time, gone over it a couple times, and passed it on to someone else for a second opinion. After giving yourself a congratulatory pat on the back for being so responsible you get your paper back and it’s COVERED in red ink. After you cry into a carton of Ben & Jerry’s you finally sit down to correct everything the red ink tells you to correct.

 Knowing what edits to take and what edits to reject comes with practice, but you do not have to accept every suggestion that someone gives you when they edit your work. Many edits are style choices and if you have a good reason for writing what you did, you can keep it. Take what you accept and reject what you don’t. It is all about finding the balance between using the editing process to strengthen your voice and losing your voice in someone else’s edits.

3. Taking It Personally

I am absolutely guilty of taking it personally. Creating something, whether it’s a piece of writing or a new graphic design, is personal (har har, get it, take it personally because it is personal? anyone? no?) and having someone point out every single flaw that you didn’t notice can be discouraging. Unless you remember to avoid waiting until the last minute and reject suggestions you disagree with. Then you stay in control of the creative process and end with a polished and strong end product. It isn’t personal, think of edits as suggestions and give yourself enough time to really look over your paper.

Follow these three golden rules and the editing process will be much less painful. These tips are relevant whether you are writing or designing graphics or putting together a photography portfolio.
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