Speed Editing

By: Abigail Perdue

“I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” – Top Gun

Apparently fictional fighter pilots and forward-thinking Jewish rabbis have that in common. The widespread modern phenomenon of speed dating purportedly began in the late nineties when an innovative Jewish rabbi organized the first speed dating event as an efficacious way for busy Jewish young professionals to meet and mingle (Kennedy 2013).

Speed dating soon became so popular that its model was exported to the business world. Speed mentoring events sprang up across the country, and after attending a particularly impactful one, I brainstormed how to implement “speed editing” in my writing classes. Speed editing simultaneously achieves multiple learning goals from encouraging collaboration to demonstrating how to work effectively under tight time constraints. It teaches students how to thoughtfully give and receive constructive feedback and further hones their editing and oral communication skills. Here’s how it works.

As our time on an assignment module draws to a close, I provide a brief overview of the effective editing techniques we have already discussed and then dedicate the remainder of our 1.5 hour session to speed editing. This generally occurs in one of two ways, each of which I will discuss below.

Sectional Speed Editing: For this approach, I ask students to bring a hard copy of their latest draft of Memo Two to class and a copy of my comments explanation sheet, which explains the comments I most frequently use when giving feedback. I remind students to write their names on their drafts. Then I collect all the drafts and redistribute them. Because students work in pairs on Memo Two, I also ask them to work in the same pairs to provide feedback. Next, I provide each pair with a copy of the model grading rubric I plan to use for Memo Two. I ask them to write the name on the draft they are reviewing on the accompanying model rubric and remind them to pass the rubric when they pass the draft. I also direct each pair to initial the section of the rubric on which they provide comments so that they are taking ownership of the feedback and also so that the recipients of the feedback can seek out the commenters for questions about their suggested edits, as necessary. Then I show a powerpoint slide on the classroom screen, which assigns a time to each section of that memo. [1] For instance, our most recent exercise included the following chart:

Memo Component Time to Review
Header, Caption, and Formatting 5 minutes
Question Presented and Short Answer 10 minutes
Statement of Facts 12 minutes
Discussion and Conclusion 22 minutes

I set my timer, say “Go,” and students begin providing feedback. I generally play classical music softly in the background to drown out any distracting background noise and to help facilitate deep concentration and mindfulness. When I call time, each pair passes the rubric and its accompanying draft to a new group.

Given the value of reflection, I strive to build in time at the conclusion of the exercise for each pair to share one lesson learned from speed editing. Sometimes these lessons are specific to the assignment, such as, “We noticed that another group’s organizational approach was more effective than ours.” Other times, the reflection is more general, such as, “We learned how much time it takes to give thoughtful feedback.”[2]

After this period of reflection, I permit students to review their feedback and to discuss any comments about which they have questions with their peer editors whose initials are included on the rubric. To avoid Honor Code violations, I emphasize that these discussions may only occur within class.

Among other things, this fun exercise provides an opportunity to practice teamwork, time management, as well as giving and receiving constructive feedback. It also gives students a clearer sense of which writing strategies work best while simultaneously honing students’ editing skills.

Station managers intensely focusing on the application of law to fact.

Speed Editing Stations: I use a related approach — focused speed editing — in conjunction with the students’ final memo. I reserve a special classroom that has multiple short tables. Before class, I arrange the tables into a U-shape so that they form multiple “editing stations” around the room with students facing each other. I create a special table card that designates each station’s purpose from Organization and Citation to Use of authority and Effective Application of Law to Fact.

I ask students to bring a hard copy of their most current draft to class. As they enter the room, I collect the drafts and ask students to go to a station that best reflects their strengths. In my current class of nineteen, roughly two or three students will man each station.

After students are seated, I briefly review the logistics and learning objectives of the exercise. Next, I jot down the station purpose and “station managers” on the board and distribute the drafts – one per manager. I advise students that the drafts will be at each station for roughly ten minutes apiece. I start the timer and set the alarm. After ten minutes of focused editing, the station managers initial the drafts at the top and then pass them to the next station.

While accomplishing all of the learning objectives of sectional editing that were mentioned above, this engaging focused editing exercise further emphasizes the importance of editing with purpose, searching solely for citation issues, then grammar issues, then organization, etc. I build in ten to fifteen minutes at the conclusion of exercise for students to review their feedback and confer with station managers regarding any related questions or concerns.

Significantly, I schedule these speed editing sessions before my students meet with me or my teaching assistants on their drafts and encourage students to consider and perhaps incorporate helpful peer feedback. I now spend less time at conferences discussing readily identifiable issues like citation, macro-organization, missing sections, etc., and attribute that change, at least in part, to the efficacy of speed editing. While perhaps a maverick approach, it will prepare your attorneys-in-progress to finish strong.


[1] Adjust the times so that they correlate with the varying length and complexity of the memo components in your assignment.

[2] Although the primary pedagogical goals of the exercise are to cultivate stronger writing and editing skills, an added benefit is some students’ greater appreciation for the challenges inherent in teaching writing-intensive courses, such as the heavy grading load.

Share our content!