Content then meaning
The Trick is to Focus on Content First
How do you correct errors without provoking tears?
The trick is to focus on content first. As we say in the biz, “Content is King!” Someone asked me what was “Queen” and I said, “Meaning.” So do it like this:
1. Start with content. Focus on the topic, the insight, the great ideas or explanations or details that deliver the idea to the reader. You want to say words like:
“You know so much about roller coasters! It was surprising to read that the Raptor was so tall! I had no idea that the speeds got up to ___ mph. I could feel like I was on the coaster when you talked about the ‘wind whipping’ your hair. Great use of the ‘w’ sound.”
Notice that every comment is on the content – finding what is good in it, noticing it, remarking on it.
2. Now focus on meaning. Notice if the writing makes sense, if it is conveying what it hopes to convey. So, make comments more like these in the “meaning” portion:
“I’m reading along here, and I notice that I got a little lost when I moved from this idea to the next one. Did you want it to read like this (read the run-on sentence all together with no stopping or pausing) or more like this (pause where a period should go to make it make sense)?”
When your writer chooses the second, you comment like this:
“To help the reader really get what you’re saying, a period here will make all the difference. Let’s put one in.”
This is how you work through the whole text. Punctuation is not just marks on a page, but a way to ensure that the reader gets the right, accurate understanding of ideas that the writer wants conveyed.
For weak language, you can say,
“I can tell that you think the ride was ‘awesome.’ The reader might want to feel what that is like. Can you think of more to say to unpack that word?”
And so on.
If a step in a process is missing, you want to note it conversationally:
“Oops! I got a little lost. Is there a step missing here? I don’t want to miss what you really want me to know.”
So start with content – be prolific in praise.
Then move to meaning – be conversational, friendly, and helpful.
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