How to Edit Academic Writing

Summary

Editing the academic essay is a laborious task if you don’t first develop a plan for revision.  Students struggle with this part of the process because they learn that editing and proofreading the essay means checking for grammar.

However, editing the academic essay is a three-part process, which includes the following:  1) evaluating the thesis to make sure that it is well represented within the essay; 2) evaluating the use of quotations; and 3) evaluating whether or not you have fully met the assignment.

Here are five quick steps to consider when editing your papers.

Step 1:  Evaluate the thesis to determine if it parallels the conclusion.

The thesis is a very important part of your essay.  It serves as a guide to the rest of your paper.  When we initially begin to write, we just write the first thing that comes to mind.  This process is okay in the beginning, because if you don’t write something down, you will get frustrated and not continue with the task.  However, this process doesn’t work well for the end of your task when it is time to edit.

When you get to the end of your writing process, evaluate whether your thesis or the ideas you express within the introduction paragraph parallel the conclusion paragraph.  In other words, you can’t express that all dogs are nice in the beginning and express in the end that all dogs are nice, if they lick your face.  You have just placed a condition on your thesis.

If you do not place any conditions in the beginning, don’t place them at the end.

Step 2: Evaluate topic sentences.

Topic sentences are important parts of the essay.  Your topic sentences must always support the thesis.  It doesn’t make sense to construct a thesis in which you provide three qualities of Jane that she is nice, lovely, and friendly and you don’t address these three parts within the body paragraphs of your essay.  For each quality of Jane, or for each part of a thesis, you must dedicate at least one paragraph to analyzing these qualities.

Step 3: Evaluate quotes.

It is true that your professor wants you to add reference sources to support your ideas.  You can’t get around this, but oftentimes we just add something, some words, to fill up a five-page to ten-page paper.  We don’t always check to make sure that the quote actually supports the topic sentence.

With this in mind, the quote should always support the topic sentence, which should always support the thesis.  In addition, if one of your quotes doesn’t have any relationship to the body paragraph, to the thesis, and to the topic sentence, remove it.

Step 4: Remove plot summaries.

For all academic essays at the undergraduate level, you will always be required to provide an analysis.  The typical essay prompt requires you to provide an analysis of a literary character within the story’s context.  What we do is provide a narrative.  We retell the story.

Therefore, scan your paper for those sections for which you “retell” the story.  Highlight the section with a highlighter.  Now examine it.  Ask yourself questions about the summary.  Answer your own questions about why this part of the story is important.  Be critical.  Be sarcastic.  Be cynical.

Now write what you feel.  This is the beginning stages of developing an analysis.  Just don’t forget to be kind.  After all you wouldn’t be a student without the literary work.

Step 5: Check for grammar and MLA.

Now that you have evaluated your writing and made the necessary revisions, it is time to check for grammar.  Proofreading grammar is not easy because we have forgotten much of what we have learned in elementary school.  When we first learned grammar and all of our subjects, we learned them enough to know them and to pass a test.

Therefore, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t know what a comma splice is.  Just pick up your writing textbook and look it up, read the examples, and revise the essay.  Below are the most common grammar mistakes that you will undoubtedly have to revise:

  • Comma splices
  •  Fragments
  •  Run-ons
  •  Subject-verb disagreement
  •  Spelling

Refer to your writing textbook for further explanations of these concepts.

Tips

  • Allow yourself at least one to two days to edit and revise your paper.  Never wait until the day before the essay is due to write and revise the essay.  Allow some time to think about your ideas.
  • Meet the requirement of the essay.  If the assignment calls for you to 1) provide an analysis of three literary characters from three separate literary texts, 2) provide at least five resources to support your ideas, and 3) provide ten pages of analysis, then if you only write about two characters and you write nine pages, you have not met the assignment.  Therefore, don’t get upset at the grade you have earned.
  • Print out a draft of your essay and mark it up with a red pen.  This will prepare you emotionally for when the professor does the same thing.
  • Don’t be afraid of the academic essay.  Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged.  If you don’t understand something, just ask your professor for help.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Watch some television.  Go to bed!  Sleep.  Then get right back up and confront the task.  You can do it.  Just manage your time well.  Divide the clock and finish the task.
  • Smile.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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