The following is a guide for editing your own writing. After your draft is complete, use this helpful guide to help you uncover problems in your writing as you perform your final revisions.
Basic Editing Advice (for final draft revisions)
1. Check to see if you are beginning sentences with this or it. Often these pronouns are ineffective substitutes for the actual subject of the sentence. Ask yourself what the subject of the sentence is and see if you can follow it with a more precise verb.
|“This is Dr. King’s belief (or It is Dr. King’s belief that)” could be changed to “King believes in non-violent direct action,” resulting in a clearer subject and stronger statement, while also eliminating the ‘to be’ verb is.|
2. Check for repeated sentence patterns and try to vary your sentence structures. Make changes that honor the complexity of your argument and work to keep your readers’ interest. If, for example, most of your sentence structures consist of clauses connected with and or but.
|“She raised her hand, and the whole class was surprised” could be changed to “The whole class was surprised when she raised her hand.”|
It’s also helpful to vary sentence structures to more effectively illustrate the relationship between your arguments and evidence.
|“The author’s assertion further illustrates the point that readers appreciate sentence variety.”|
*For more information on effective sentence writing, see the chapter on Sentence structure.
3. People are animate and should be referred to using the pronouns: who, whom, and whose. Things are inanimate and should be referred to as that, it, or which.
|“The students who understand the material are more likely to succeed.”|
|“The rules that we’ve established are for your protection.”|
4. Review basic comma use. The following are just a few of the most common uses of the comma. For a more comprehensive look at commas, see the chapter on Commas.
- Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)
|“He frowned at her as he was leaving, but she did not understand his response.”|
*Note the comma comes before the conjunction but; if no subject exists in the second clause, leave out the comma (see following example).
|“He frowned at her as he was leaving but wasn’t angry” (the single subject performing both actions here is He).|
- Nonessential/Parenthetical Clauses, Phrases, and Words
|“My mother, the computer programmer, works late at night to keep up with her work and to support the family.”|
*Note the commas around the extra information that clarifies the subject but is not necessary for the sentence to make sense.
5. Use a semi-colon when each part of the sentence could stand alone as a sentence (independent clause) but you want to show balance or equivalence between the concepts.
|“Biography tells us about the subject; biographers tell us about themselves through another’s life.”|
6. Use a colon when you 1.) introduce a quote with a complete sentence, 2.) introduce a list, or 3.) when the second clause explains the first.
|1. The author makes a compelling point: “Student loan debt is at an all-time high” (citation).
2.There are three things all students should understand: higher education is costly, earning a degree does not necessarily guarantee you a job, and many students don’t end up working in the field of their majors.
|3. He knew there was a problem: he hadn’t varied his sentence structures well enough.|
7. Early on, introduce the full name of the source to which you are responding or using as support.
|“The Banking Concept of Education” by Paolo Freire asserts that…”|
*Note the inclusion of the author’s full name the first time it’s introduced; following this, you can then refer to them by their last name only (NOT: “Paulo asserts…” BUT: “Freire asserts…”) throughout the rest of your paper.
8. Quotations: Follow the ‘quotation sandwich’ suggestion where you 1.) introduce the quote using the author and title, 2.) add the quote, 3.) explain the quote in your own words, and then 4.) discuss how the quote relates to your overall argument or point (don’t assume your reader will understand the quote, even if it seems obvious to you).
|Paolo Friere in “The Banking Concept of Education” (1) says “The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop critical consciousness” (citation) (2), which means… (3) and is relevant to my argument because…(4).|
9. Indent quotations of FOUR or more lines: indent ten spaces (or use tabs) from the left and leave out the quotation marks.
|The author explores how art can evoke feelings that might have been unexplored:
Just as the physicist’s scrutiny changes the object of perception, so does art transmute experience. One cannot look upon what Kathe Kollwitz has drawn without feeling. The lines around the child are bleak with unreason. Never have I seen so clearly what we call poverty is simply raw exposure to the terror and fragility of life (citation).
10. Pay attention to parallel structure with verb forms and lists and by using articles and prepositions consistently.
|1. He wanted three things out of college: to better his writing, to make friends, and to learn about life.|
|2. The professor praised the students for working hard on their research and revising their final drafts carefully.|
|3. The professor praised the students for working hard on their research and revising their final drafts carefully.|
|4. The year, the date, and the time are all included in the report.|
11. Check for proper use of apostrophes in contractions and possessives.
|1. It’s solid paper that she’s worked hard on. (contractions)|
|2. Freire’s essay quotes another researcher’s work. (possession)|
|3. His parents’ objections didn’t seem to faze him much. (plural possession)|
12. Finally, read your work aloud, either to yourself or to an audience. This seems simple, but it’s one of the most effective ways of editing your own work. We can often hear problems in our writing that we sometimes can’t see, such as areas where the writing doesn’t flow well, the structure needs reorganizing, and/or where there are grammatical or punctuation errors to fix. Reading aloud to an audience can be even more effective in helping to identify problem areas.
- “How to Edit Your Own Writing,” an article from Harry Guiness at the New York Times
- “Grammarly” is a writing assistant that flags common writing, spelling and grammatical errors; it’s great for catching simple mistakes and cleaning up drafts of your work.