9.4 COMPOSITION: Be a Better Editor

When writing a research paper, it is easy to become overly focused on how it looks, such as the proper format for bibliographical entries. These details do matter. However, before you work on that, it is important to spend time reviewing and revising the content of the paper.

A good research paper has content that is both organized and cohesive. Organization means that your argument flows logically from one point to the next. Cohesion means that the elements of your paper work together smoothly and naturally. And in a cohesive research paper, information from outside sources of information supports — not replaces — the writer’s ideas.

Revise for organization

When you revise to improve organization, you look at the flow of ideas throughout the essay as a whole and within individual paragraphs. You check to see that your essay moves logically from the introduction to the body paragraphs to the conclusion, and that each section reinforces your thesis. Use the checklist below to help you.

Look at the whole essay and ask …

  • Does my introduction move clearly from the hook to the thesis?
  • Does each body paragraph have a clear main idea that relates to the thesis?
  • Do the main ideas in the body paragraphs flow in a logical order? Is each paragraph connected to the one before it?
  • Do I need to add or revise topic sentences or transitions to make the overall flow of ideas clearer?
  • Does my conclusion summarize my main ideas and revisit my thesis?

Look at each paragraph and ask …

  • Does the topic sentence clearly state the main idea?
  • Do the details in the paragraph relate to the main idea?
  • Do I need to rewrite any sentences or add transitions to improve the flow of sentences?

Try it

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper’s overall organization.

  1. Print out your paper.
  2. Read your paper paragraph by paragraph. Highlight your thesis and the topic sentence of each paragraph.
  3. Create a reverse outline. Using the thesis and topic sentences as starting points, outline the ideas you presented.
  4. Next, reread your paper more slowly, looking for how ideas flow from sentence to sentence. Identify places where adding a transition or rewriting a sentence would make the ideas flow more logically.
  5. Review the topics on your outline. Is there a logical flow of ideas? Identify any places where you may need to move things around.
  6. Revise your paper to improve its organization. Start with any major issues, such as needing to move an entire paragraph. Then proceed to minor revisions, such as adding a transitional phrase or tweaking a topic sentence so it connects ideas more clearly.

Remember: Good writing comes from rewriting. It’s OK to move words, sentences — even paragraphs — around in order to create a more logical flow of ideas.

Revise for cohesion

When you revise to improve cohesion, you analyze how the parts of your paper work together. You look for anything that seems awkward or out of place. Revision may involve deleting unnecessary material or rewriting parts of the paper so that the out-of-place material fits in smoothly.

In a research paper, problems with cohesion usually occur when a writer has trouble integrating material from an outside source of information. If facts or quotations have been awkwardly dropped into a paragraph, they distract or confuse the reader instead of working to support the writer’s point. Overusing paraphrased and quoted material has the same effect. Use the following checklist to review your essay for cohesion.

  • Have I included support from research (outside sources) for each main point in the body of my paper?
  • Have I introduced each quotation? Quotations should never stand alone in a paragraph.
  • Does paraphrased and quoted material clearly develop my own points?
  • Do I need to add parts or rewrite parts of the paper to help the reader understand how a quote or paraphrase is connected to my thesis?
  • Are there any places where I have used too much information from an outside source?
  • Does my conclusion make sense based on the rest of the paper?

Try it

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper to improve cohesion.

  1. Print out your paper.
  2. Read the body paragraphs of your paper first. Each time you come to a place that cites information from sources, ask yourself: What purpose does this information serve? Check that it is clearly related to the other sentences in the paragraph.
  3. Identify unnecessary information that you can delete.
  4. Identify places where you need to revise your writing so that readers understand the significance of the details cited from sources.
  5. Revise the places you identified in your paper to improve cohesion.

Remember: Good writing comes from rewriting. It’s OK to delete words, sentences — even paragraphs — to improve the logical flow of ideas in this particular essay.

Revise for style and tone

Everyone writes a little differently — that’s part of style. But your goal is to present your information in a knowledgeable and authoritative way. Writing about research is like being a tour guide who walks readers through a topic. An overly formal tour guide can make readers feel intimidated. Too much informality can make readers question your credibility. Extreme language comes across as confusing.

To help prevent being too formal or too informal, determine an appropriate style and tone at the beginning of the research process. Think about both your topic and audience because these can help determine style and tone. For our course, the self-reflection essay may have a more informal tone. However, our research paper will use a more formal tone in order to appear straightforward, appropriately academic, and serious. Use the checklist below to review your paper for other issues that affect style and tone.

  • My paper avoids excessive wordiness.
  • My sentences are varied in length and structure.
  • I have avoided using first- and second-person pronouns such as I/we and you.
  • I have defined specialized terms that might be unfamiliar to readers.
  • I have used clear, straightforward language whenever possible and avoided unnecessary jargon.
  • My paper states my thesis using a balanced and objective tone.

Note that word choice is an especially important aspect of style. Review your paper to make sure your language is precise, conveys no unintended connotations, and is free of biases. Here are some of the points to check for:

  • Vague or imprecise terms
  • Slang
  • Repetition of the same phrases (“Smith states…, Jones states…”) to introduce quoted and paraphrased material


Now practice with this exercise; it is not graded, and you may repeat it as many times as you wish:



Some text was adapted from Successful Writing, licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0

Some text adapted from: Guptill, Amy. Writing in College: From Competence to Excellence. 2022. Open SUNY Textbooks, 2016, milneopentextbooks.org/writing-in-college-from-competence-to-excellence/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Synthesis Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Krause is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.