For many students who struggle with writing, the difficulty has more to do with editing. Learning to self-edit can be a struggle for even the most seasoned writers — and for those just getting started, it may present a significant obstacle. Because writing is something you’ll use throughout your life, it is important that you learn how to effectively edit those essays now.
Though a computer program can offer useful suggestions for spelling and grammar, and a second pair of eyes is always a welcome addition, learning to self-edit is an invaluable skill.
Here are our top 10 essay editing tips to help you master this skill:
1. Recognize the difference between editing and proofreading
Both editing and proofreading are important steps of the writing process, but they’re quite different. While proofreading focuses on surface errors (spelling, grammar, punctuation), full editing includes looking at things like tone, overall flow, paragraph structure, messaging, and content. Develop a process that involves both proofreading and editing as one to turn in the best possible work.
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2. Read for each error type
It can be difficult to catch multiple kinds of errors at once when you’re reading an essay, so make sure you read and revise several times. Each sweep of the paper, look for a different error type. Maybe the first time through you’re looking for typos, followed by punctuation, etc.
3. Read backwards
We’re not talking about entirely backwards — we still want your words to make sense! Just take your paper a sentence at a time. This will force you to look at your words at the sentence level, catching small mistakes that you may otherwise overlook. If you are prone to sentence fragments, this trick will be of great use.
4. Change the format
Sometimes, all your brain needs to catch errors is a change of form. If you’ve written the essay on the computer, print it out. A printed copy is a great way to proofread and edit — you can use different color inks to mark trouble spots and get a good visual representation of the editing map before you. Moreover, your eyes won’t tire out as quickly from all that screen time.
5. Explore your resources
Many students struggle with writing simply because they don’t know what they’re up against. Take some time to familiarize yourself with potential resources you may have access to. For instance, is there a writing center or peer-editing program at your school? Does your school subscribe to an editing program or offer staff assistance? Perhaps you’d benefit from in-depth writing tutoring. Learn what resources are around you and don’t be afraid to use them throughout your academic writing career.
6. Give yourself some distance
When we spend a lot of time writing something, there often isn’t enough distance to give it a proper edit. We tend to skim because we’re so familiar with the text, overlooking potential errors. If you can, give yourself at least a day in between writing and editing. This planning will help you learn to edit more effectively and give you the time and space required to properly draft your work.
7. Reread the directions
One of the most common mistakes students make is failing to comply with all directions given by the instructor. Before you turn in your essay, go back and look at the prompt again. Check for things like style appropriateness, clarity, and correct citations. Give your paper a final read-through to make sure you’ve met all requirements of an assignment.
8. Examine each paragraph alone
Go back through your essay and look at each paragraph as an individual unit. Are your paragraphs fully developed? Each should have a topic sentence followed by supporting evidence, so revise as necessary. Make sure your paper transitions well from paragraph to paragraph as well. Creating a reverse outline can be a useful way to check for such organization.
9. Read aloud
Though it sounds simple, reading aloud is one of the best things you can do to proofread your work. At no point is an extra word or misspelling more clear than when you come across it while verbalizing your words. You may feel silly at first, but you can’t argue with the results! You can read out loud to yourself in a quiet room, to a group of people, or even to your pet — you’ll notice wordy or awkward sentences, issues with language, and tone.
10. Give yourself some room for mistakes
Writing is a lifelong learning process, so if you struggle with editing and proofreading in the beginning, give yourself a little credit. There are resources around you to help you learn to be a great self-editor. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with language by reading a lot, writing trial essays, and peer editing with a friend so you can both provide insights to each other. By doing these things consistently, you'll already be on your way to becoming a better writer and editor.
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