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Teacher Tips and Answers

Editing Personal Essays

After you have made major improvements during the revision stage, you need to return to your text to polish it. Errors in punctuation, capitalization, spelling, usage, and grammar can distract readers from the events you are trying to present. They also, of course, are embarrassing. The activities on this page will help you.

Editing Dialogue

One key component of an effective narrative is dialogue—the words people say. Handling dialogue can be tricky.

When two or more people are having a conversation, start a new paragraph whenever you have a new speaker:

"How about the library?" he asked one day, rightly seeing that I was bored.

"Why not?"

On the drive there, Grandpa said, "You see that woman on the corner with the baby?"

I glanced out the window. "Yep."

"She's actually a spy. That baby is a walkie-talkie. She's sending in my coordinates. Better turn here to throw her off the track."

Note that a comma separates words like said or asked from the quoted material. A period separates a complete sentence from quoted material.

When one person speaks, or the spoken words are details included in a larger idea, you can embed them in the paragraph.

He'd ridden the wave from the early days to the eventual fold-up and collapse. "We're fine, buddy," he told me. Between a high former salary and severance, we had money enough to find something new. . . .

Place quotation marks before and after quoted material. When periods or commas follow quoted material, always put them inside the close quotation marks. When exclamation points or question marks follow quoted material, place them inside if they punctuate the quotation and outside if they punctuate the whole sentence. Note the correct punctuation in the following dialogue.

"Box it or toss it," Dad said, dragging the shrieking tape gun over yet another box. "We're going to have to ship everything to storage while I look for a place. You'll stay with Grandpa till then."

"Grandpa," I echoed. I didn't know much about him. He was on Facebook, but not Snapchat, so we were not in each others' worlds. He lived in Ohio, but not in Columbus—in a little city called Marion. "How long?"

"However long it takes," Dad replied, flashing an apologetic smile.

What did he mean, "However long it takes"?

Check dialogue.

In the dialogue below, place punctuation where needed. Afterward, check the dialogue in your personal essay to make sure punctuation and paragraphing are correct. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

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