Editing is a huge part of writing any paper. If you can help it, you should never turn in a first draft. If you want to do your editing, but you are not sure what to look for, I think that this article will help you a lot.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Before we begin, I want to tell you about the editing software that saved me in graduate school. I trusted Grammarly with everything from sending the perfect email to my professors to writing my thesis.
Grammarly is not perfect. It catches a lot of errors, but you still need to look at and understand what it is finding. For example, Grammarly may not be the best editing software if you have a paper that includes technical jargon. Grammarly is meant to be used by everyone, so there are certain words that it will not understand due to specialized language. If you review each change that Grammarly suggests, you should be fine. I used Grammarly Premium in graduate school and continue to use it now as a freelance writer. I could not imagine my writing without the help of Grammarly, so I wanted to shout them out today.
The purpose of this article, though, is not to focus on just spelling and grammar. I want to branch out to some things that Grammarly will not be able to catch.
The Importance Of Batching Your Writing Process
In writing, batching is a thing to aspire to. You take your time to create an outline, then a few days to write your entire essay or blog post, then you take a day to edit, etc. Batching is helpful because it means that you will not be bogged down by all the edits you need to make while writing your paper. If you are in the process of writing, but you must stop every few minutes to fix a spelling error, that can get annoying at best, and completely ruin your writing flow at worst.
It may be hard to put away the editor in you while you are writing, but trust me, it is for the best. When you spend all your time editing articles and perfecting pieces you have not finished writing, you drag out the entire process of creating the thing you want to create.
1. Spelling Mistakes
The most obvious thing that you should be looking for is spelling mistakes. Spelling mistakes can cost you a lot of points on a paper, and to be honest, they are unnecessary. When you are editing for spelling there are a couple of things you want to think about:
Using The Right Form Of A Word
Spell checkers are not always the best at deciding if you are using the right form of a word. I love Grammarly because it usually does an excellent job of being able to tell if I am using the correct form of a word for the sentence I am writing. For those words like too, to, and two or their, they’re, and there you want to make sure that you read the sentences those words are in and understand the context.
Accidentally Mistyped Words
Sometimes we get keyboard happy, and this causes us to misspell words unnecessarily. We may know how to spell a word, but as we are typing it comes out wrong. Word processors like Microsoft Word are usually able to catch some of these things, but it does not always happen that way. You need to be ready to step in if that is the case.
Utilizing Your Smart Phone To Spell Words For You
Another tip for spelling, especially if your word processor does not seem to understand what you are saying is to ask your phone. If I am unsure how to spell a word, but I know how to say it, I ask my phone how to spell that word. I will go “Hey Siri, spell ____” and Siri will spell it for me. It is simple, to the point, and Siri will spell it aloud for me.
2. Repeated Words
Repeated words can be annoying for your professors to read, and you may not even realize that you depend on certain words and phrases often in your writing. I think most of us write like we talk, even if we do not know it as we are writing. For example, I depend on the words so, really, and literally often in my writing. If I went back to my headspace while writing the paper or blog post, I would realize that I was using those words often as a transition word in my head while I was writing.
It is not hard to realize that the use of my words would be irritating after reading a 10+ page paper on a topic. (I think I should let you know that I caught myself trying to write the word so here and had to delete it.) When you proofread your paper, go back through, and try to recognize your repeated words.
To get out of using the same dry words, use your resources. Microsoft Word has a synonyms function that you can access by highlighting a word and right-clicking on it to pull up synonyms for the word. Grammarly also has a synonyms function you can access by double clicking on any word. Another great feature for Grammarly is that they give you an alert when your word use has become repetitive.
3. Use Of Contractions
I did not get this every time I wrote a paper, but sometimes my professors would be very meticulous about the use of contractions in my academic writing. If your professors are like mine, you may not get this response all the time, but it is something to be wary of when you are writing. (Also cutting out contractions can be a great way to create a lengthier paper if you have a word count.)
When you spell out all your words instead of using abbreviations and contractions, your work sounds a lot more polished and scholarly. If you currently write using a lot of contractions, I would not try to edit as you go. Instead, I would write the entire paper, and then after you get done, use the search and find feature on your word processor to look for common contractions like won’t, can’t, and shouldn’t and replace them with their fully fleshed out counterparts.
If you do not want to go through that process, you can also look for the single ‘ character, although you will also pick up any possessive usage of the character and times where you needed to use the single ‘ in a quote.
4. Including Too Many Opinions
You are not an expert in your field. I hate to break it to you, but you are learning about your field by writing and editing the papers you are producing. Unless you are writing about research that you have personally conducted, your opinion is not valid in your writing. Take your opinion out of your paper and state the facts.
Removing your opinions can be hard to do, especially when you have a long paper to write. It can be easy to run out of ways to say what the authors you researched said about a subject. During those times of stress, it can be easy to want to inject your opinion here and there. When you add your opinion, you ruin the academic style of the paper. Often a good chunk of your articles in college are literature review based, so you should respect that, and discuss what the academics have stated.
Dig deeper and understand more of the articles you have read for this paper. Unless you are tasked with writing a 400-page novel about the research you are writing, there is a considerable chance you have yet to reach full-on saturation with your research material. There is always something more you could say about the research conducted over using your own opinions in your paper.
There is a time and place for your opinion in academic articles, though. You may include this in the conclusions section or the parts of the paper that ask you to make an argument for your article.
5. Spacing Issues
Spacing is a gigantic problem that is easy to run into while writing an essay. Many students depend on copy/pasting information into their articles, but once you do that, it can damage the spacing that you have set up in your paper.
When you are done writing, make sure you take some time to look at each page of your paper. You want to make sure that the spacing looks consistent or that it is consistent with the guidelines of your article. For example, when I turned in my thesis, my spacing was off in some places, but that was because the formatting requirements stated that all quote blocks be single-spaced instead of double-spaced like the rest of my draft.
Bottom line, your spacing should only change when the change is required based on instructions from your professor. Otherwise, your spacing should remain consistent throughout your paper.
6. Comma Usage
Correct comma usage is imperative. Commas can change the flow and style of your writing. If you are not using commas correctly, they can even create run-on sentences in your writing. My best tip for comma usage is to use a grammar checker like Grammarly and to read your paper aloud.
By reading your paper aloud, you can see where pauses in the paragraphs would naturally go which will help you place commas better. Of course, you also want to use checkers like Grammarly because reading your paper aloud does not always help you place commas correctly.
7. Correct Usage Of Jargon
While you are not an expert, you should be writing as an expert in many ways. One way to write as an expert is to use the jargon of your discipline. For example, if you are a sociologist, you may use phrases like “the sociological imagination,” “anomie,” or “capitalism” to name a few. Being able to use these terms in your writing is crucial.
You are writing for an academic. Chances are your professor has a Ph.D. in their field, and they have ample knowledge of the field’s jargon. You do not need to hold back on them or write for a sixth grader.
On the other hand, if you are going to be using the jargon of your discipline, you need to use it correctly. Since your professors know most (if not all) the jargon of their discipline/specialization, they will know when you do not truly understand the words yourself. Do not throw in jargon to impress your professor if you are not sure you are using them correctly. If you have any doubt about a word you are using in your writing, look it up.
8. Massive Blocks Of Quotes
Earlier in the part about spacing issues, I talked about copy/pasting information into your document. I am going to talk about that again now. YOU SHOULD NOT USE QUOTES UNLESS YOU DO NOT THINK YOUR PAPER CAN LIVE WITHOUT THE QUOTE. I recently turned in a thesis over the summer, and my thesis was over 30 pages long once I formatted everything and added my chapters in.
Can you guess how many blocks of quotes I had? I had three. Now, I did not lack in citations; I had three and a half single-spaced pages of citations for my thesis. So how did I write a thesis with that many citations and only three big quote blocks? I paraphrased my sources in my own words.
Using a ton of block quotes throughout your paper makes you look bad. If all you can do is share what other people wrote, it makes your professor question what you understand about the topic you spent so much time researching.
Writing things in your own words can be scary, especially if you are afraid of plagiarism, but writing stuff in your own words does not mean that you do not cite your references. Instead, you say things like “According to Smith, 73% of people will _______. (Smith, 2017, p. 14).” You take what that person stated in their article, and you write what they said in your own words. After you rewrite what they said, you cite them in-text, and then you cite them later when you create your works cited page (which I talked about how to create a few weeks ago.)
You can also cut down on massive blocks of quotes by only sharing a sentence from time to time. In my thesis, I did not have to create many of those indented quote blocks because I made my direct quotes a lot more concealed. In APA, at least, you do not have to create those quote indentions unless you share multiple lines of someone else’s work. So, to avoid all that, I shared only the most pertinent parts of other people’s papers in my work. You can quote others, just make sure that other people’s work does not take over your work.
9. Drawn-Out Sentences
Drawn-out sentences will be the death of many students. Some sentences need to be complicated. The longer your sentences, though, the higher the chance of you making a grammatical error. That does not mean all your sentences should be seven words, that is almost impossible in academic writing. You just need to be conscious of the length of your sentences.
Ask yourself the following question: could I have written that sentence more concisely? If the answer to that question is yes, dig deeper, and see how you can condense your sentence to make it more powerful.
Grammarly does a stellar job at showing places throughout your work where you could have written a sentence with fewer words. If you are writing creatively, flowery language may be appropriate. If you are writing academically, keep it concise.
10. Additions That Change The Meaning Of Your Writing
One thing that your grammar and spell checker will not be able to catch is your intentions. While editing this article, I realized that I said that Grammarly WAS NOT meant to do something when I wanted to say that Grammarly WAS meant to do something. The sentence was grammatically correct, so Grammarly is not going to notice that.
If I did not do my editing, I would have shared a piece of information that I did not intend to share. I would have been none the wiser about my mistake unless someone corrected me or I went back later and realized the issue in my writing.
These simple, yet careless mistakes can have an even more significant impact on academic work. Often in academia one or two words can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Take your time when you are editing your paper to make sure that you are expressing what you want to express when you write. No editor (human or software) can read your mind but you.
11. Logical Flow Of Writing
Last, but not least, you should edit for the logical flow of your writing. Does your writing have a beginning, a middle, and an end? I know this seems basic, but it is critical that your professor can keep up with what you are writing. Your professor should not have any issue getting from point a to point b in your writing.
Flow comes in many ways:
Creating An Introduction That Frames Your Paper
Your introduction should let your professor know what to expect from your paper. As you develop longer documents, you realize that your introduction does not have to be a single paragraph. Your introduction can include multiple paragraphs or pages long. The critical part of your introduction, though, is that it is as concise as possible, and it gives your reader guidance on what they will encounter later in your paper.
Utilizing Headers In Your Paper
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I love using headers in my writing. When you got to my blog, you knew what you were getting with this post. I did not cover everything in the introduction, but as you scrolled through my blog, you knew what each point would cover due to the headers that I used. Headers help my writing flow and help keep me on target while I am writing my blog posts. Using headers in your papers will help you stay on track while writing and help your professor understand the main points of your article.
Reading Your Paper Aloud To Make Sure It Flows Audibly
You should also take some time to read your paper aloud to make sure that it flows. You may also want to get your word processor to do this (you can do this in Microsoft Word by going to Review and then Read Aloud while you are in a document.) As you are listening to your paper, adjust things that you or your word processor get hung up on while reading the paper.
Flow is critical. Flow helps you create a stellar paper that your audience can breeze through without getting stuck on any part of your article. When your paper flows, it creates an overall better audience experience that will help your paper receive a better grade.
When you take the time to make these edits, you can create a paper that will wow any professor. Editing is a necessary part of the paper writing process, even though we would like to skip over it altogether. While it is one of the worst parts of writing a paper (second only to creating a Work’s Cited page), it is an essential step. We can never be perfect on the first try, or even the second or third try. Our goal is to try to edit our paper as much as possible so that we can avoid unnecessary mistakes. Editing also helps us catch some of the mistakes we could not avoid making.