The “Four Reads” Approach to Excellent Editing and Revising!

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It was a windy, cold day in February, made even more so for Rocky Pantinio when he saw his midterm essay grade in a first-year English course: D+.  Beyond being disheartened, he was confused, as he had pretty good grades in English throughout high school, and his first two essays in this course were B and B+.  Although this was a much-longer essay – eight pages – and his first college research paper, he did approach the assignment as with those in high school and the courses preceding this essay.  Rocky did a quick checklist: use prior feedback, call on knowledge of English, and use a tutor (from the PG Writing Center).  When the essay was finished, he turned it in.  Meeting Rocky’s professor to go over the essay, after a few questions from the professor, he told Rocky where he went amiss: there were no additional reads to catch errors, to revise, to consider if it was reader-focused.  Indeed, the professor told Rocky, the key to an effective written product was what he called “The Four Reads Approach,” a writing tip that would easily help any writer – student or non-student – produce writing a reader could easily understand and enjoy.

Rocky’s approach to this assignment is a common one amongst many writers: once the writing assignment or task is over, the author quickly gets it off to the intended reader(s) so it was done, so it was “out of sight, out of mind.”  The problem with this approach is the writer will always be judged by others based on the person’s quality of writing.  If the person making this judgment is a professor, it could result in a low grade; if the reader is an employer, it might mean no call-in for an interview, a strong rebuke, or no promotion. Yet rather than do a rush job on any writing, if the author remembers that writing is, in essence, “forever,” that extra time needed to create a solid, error-free, and engaging piece of writing will be an important investment. 

This was the first time Rocky had heard of “The Four Reads Approach,” and his professor went on to explain it involved four readings of the writing upon completion: the first for revising (using prior knowledge and ”gut” feelings to change paragraphs, add or subtract content,  tweak the focus, etc.); the second for editing the writing foundation (grammar, punctuation, spelling, proofreading);  the third [if applicable] for research (citations where needed, correct formatting, a References page, quotes/paraphrases); and the fourth a once-overall read, to be sure all is in place, and the writing is as good as it can be.

Initially, Rocky was not thrilled about this approach, as it meant additional time, additional effort.  Of course, his professor gave no indication of how long the four reads would take, but it had to be much – Rocky knew how long it took him to write the essay and going over it four times had to amount to hours!  But then he thought back to that D+ on his midterm essay grade: he definitely did not want that to reoccur. So Rocky took a seat, thought through what his professor suggested, and felt the only way he could do “The Four Reads Approach” was to create a mini-guide, a template of sorts. He would use this for his next writing assignment, and if it proved helpful, Rocky would make it a part of all future major writings.

It didn’t Rocky long to come up with this, his “Mini-Guide to a Four Reads Approach to Better Writing:”

  • Go from author to reader. After the initial writing is completed, set it aside for at least one hour (this will allow additional reads to be objective, not as the subjective author).
  • Read #1, for Revision: Take a look at content, paragraph flow, thesis development, opening and closing paragraphs, body paragraphs, the writing’s length. Is the writing reader-focused? Are topic sentences and transitional sentences/phrases/words included? Is there any unnecessary or irrelevant information present? Use prior writing input (from professors, tutors, others), notes, writing handbook, and overall “does this read right?” feeling for possible changes. Do not stop for any writing foundation (grammar, punctuation, spelling, proofreading) changes, as this may interrupt ideas for better flow and content of the writing.
  • Read #2, for Editing. Read the writing carefully for any changes needed or errors made in the writing foundation. When corrections are made, be sure these don’t change a sentence’s meaning or overall flow; if yes then adjust the writing accordingly. Are all technical terms your audience might not know identified and are abbreviations parenthetically explained?  Check out the APA format: Are fonts no larger than 12-point? Is all the writing double-spaced? Is there a correctly formatted Title Page? Was only black lettering used? If visuals are included, are they not too large, is there no white space around them, are they contained within the border of the writing, do they have a textbox with a caption and source info?
  • Read #3, for Research (if applicable). Is there research to back up each of the major supporting points?  Were quotes and paraphrases used correctly? Is each quote introduced or acknowledged in the sentence following it so the reader understands its context?  Does each piece of research have an in-text citation and corresponding citation on the References page?  Are the citations correctly formatted? Are the citations on the References page listed alphabetically? Does research follow the 80/20 rule (i.e., no more than 20% of a written product should contain research)?
  • Read #4, for a final look before submitting. As much effort and time has been put into The Four Reads, it is again advisable to put the writing aside for an hour so one can make the transformation from writer to reader. Once done, read the writing silently to see if it came together as good as possible; do a second reading aloud – this gives a different perspective to the writing. Make any necessary tweaks. The finished product is now ready to be submitted.

Rocky felt this outline made The Four Reads Approach easier to accomplish, as it was broken into important components to assure the writing would be a good effort. It was in his next essay assignment, a six-page research essay, that he saw the value of doing a Four Reads approach: an A!  This was a grade he always dreamed of getting in a college writing course, and all it took was a step-by-step approach doing four reads. Yes, it certainly took some more time and effort, but for an A grade he would do it every time – not only in college but also when needed in the workplace.  Ah, The Four Reads Approach: what a useful, important writing tool!

1 Response

  1. Christopher Katongo says:

    This is a very important writing guide to me as studen.This is t because it will help me to write good essays ,resumes , and reports .all in whole The ” Four Reads” approach is the method to use in academic and professional writing

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