Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics. The content, of course, is the heart of the composition—the story, main message, or thesis. Style is the way the writer communicates the content through word choice, sentence variation, etc. Mechanics includes all those tricky little rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that govern how the words actually appear on paper.
Mechanical Errors Make the Most Noise
When it comes to giving our children feedback on their papers, many of us are in a muddle. Sometimes the “noise” of a zillion grammatical errors drowns out the content as we zoom in on each misspelled word and sentence fragment. But is that the place to start? What should be our focus? You’ve probably asked yourself these very questions:
- Isn’t mechanics an important part of writing?
- Should I allow inventive spelling, or insist that every word is spelled properly?
- Should I focus on the main content, or should I address grammar and punctuation errors too?
- How do I help my kids fine-tune their writing if I don’t point out all the mistakes?
It’s Like Walking a Tightrope
Just as we can correctly—or incorrectly—judge a person’s character based on outward appearance, it’s easy to judge a piece of writing by the mechanical errors we see. We don’t mean for them to interfere with our enjoyment of the content, but typically, they do.
The whole editing thing is like walking a tightrope, isn’t it? We don’t want to discourage our children from spilling their ideas onto paper, for the freedom of doing so sparks in them a love for writing. But for fear of dousing that fire, some of us sway too far to the left and never utter a word about grammar or spelling.
And tipping too far to the right are the parents who are so caught up in the glare of dangling participles and grave misspellings that we run amok with our red pens—and completely miss the heart of the child’s writing.
We really can address content, style, and mechanics without throwing our tenderhearted kiddos to the lions. The trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise.
For the rough draft, focus mainly on content. Do ideas make sense? Do they flow well? Is there enough information and/or detail? Then, once the story or essay or paragraph is organized and more rounded out, we can deal with any grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues that remain.