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Writing Help

Provides techniques to proofread your own paper, presentation, or other project

Editing

Editing Techniques

Once the paper is has a solid structure, is organized, and closely follows the assignment prompt, the next round of changes are at the editing level. This largely includes making changes within paragraphs and rearranging sentences; this is also the time to make sure all of your sources are used appropriately and cited.

These techniques can each be done by themselves, in sequence, or all at once, but before you start, it is a good idea to ask yourself these questions so that you can edit your paper appropriately: 

  • Who is my audience?
  • What do they already know?
  • What DON'T they know?
  • What kind of tone is appropriate? 

Depending on the answers to those questions, you might need to explain concepts further (or remove explanations completely!), or adjust your language to be appropriate for the context.

One last word before we get to the editing strategies. All of these strategies require identifying a problem and then fixing it. I strongly recommend marking the problems and then going back and fixing them later. Trying to fix them in the moment can leave you feeling confused (or frustrated or overwhelmed or bored). Waiting to fix them gives you the chance to see what kinds of choices, mistakes, or themes appear throughout the paper, which will give you a better sense of how to fix them once you're done. However, if marking all the things you want to change all at once and then fixing them all at once doesn't work for you, you don't have to do it that way - the most important part of editing is that it actually happens. It doesn't really matter how you do it, as long as it gets done.

Quick & Easy

Editing happens in two stages. The first stage is pretty quick and easy. Check to make sure your paper for all of the following:

  • Use spell check and grammar check. While these are not right 100% of the time, they will at least highlight potential problems so you can check them. It literally does not get any easier than this.
  • Paragraphs are generally (but not always!) 5-8 sentences long. If a paragraph is much shorter or longer, make sure it isn't missing important information that your readers might need or make sure it isn't covering too many ideas all at once. Paragraph length shouldn't be much of an issue if you worked through the Revising techniques.
  • If you are not supposed to use first or second person pronouns, check to make sure your paper does not include the words I / Me / We or You / Your. Despite being used in this guide, second person pronouns (you/your) can seem very accusatory and which be very alienating for your readers. Use the CRTL (or CMD) + F function to find all of these instances. Mark all instances and go back and rewrite the sentences to have appropriate pronouns later.

Longer & More Important

The second stage of editing is not nearly as quick as the first, but will make huge improvements to your paper. These exercises are not necessarily hard, they just take a little bit of time and careful thinking:

  • Read the paper aloud to find mistakes and confusing sentences. Just mark them and keep reading; go back and fix them later - fixing them later helps you keep up with the flow of the paper. If you can, have someone else read the paper to you - mark every time they stumble in the reading or you hear something that doesn't make sense.
  • Depending on your field of study, passive voice is either an absolutely necessity or the greatest writing crime ever. Passive voice is like pineapple on pizza - professors either love it or hate it. The Purdue OWL has several helpful pages on the subject. If the first one doesn't have what you need, try the second or the third.
  • Read the entire paper aloud (yes, again), sentence-by-sentence, backwards to make sure every sentence makes sense - and to catch typos!