The division between drafting and editing is a porous one. Most of us tidy up our prose as we write. Still, once we’re reasonably happy that we’ve made all our points, it’s time to do some final editing. This process can range from rearranging entire paragraphs to tweaking the odd sentence. Either way, make sure you save enough time for editing. Even a quick read through will often reveal a number of obvious errors.
If you’ve got the time, set your work aside for a day or two. Once you’ll come back to it, you’ll be well rested and you’ll see the text with a new pair of eyes (well, not literally, but you get the point).
If you’ve been staring at the screen too long, print out your work instead. You might even consider changing the font size (or even the spacing), so that nothing is quite in the same place. It’s amazing how quickly our eyes gloss over mistakes when we’ve seen something a hundred times.
Another great strategy for spotting mistakes is to read the text aloud. Some people even suggest reading your essay backwards, one sentence at a time. Sounds like great advice, but who is really going to read backwards? You’re better off just reading aloud slowly, questioning all the time whether your prose sounds natural. If you’ve written sentences that you would never utter in a normal conversation, then perhaps your writing may be a bit stilted.
Reading aloud also makes you aware of the pace and rhythm of the text. Are you using one long sentence after another, or do you mix it up? Are the sentences clearly connected to each other? There’s nothing like reading aloud (particularly with another person in the room) to make you aware of the peculiar features of your own writing.
It’s easy enough to run a quick spell or grammar check. No need to be embarrassed by silly mistakes.
One of our favourite proofreading strategies is to use a marker and go through a paragraph highlighting all the key words. After that, just ask yourself whether all the key words are connected to one central idea. If not, you may need to do some rewriting to create more coherence.
Constantly ask yourself “why is this important?” or “who cares?” Quantity does not guarantee quality, so cut out anything that doesn’t add something new and interesting.
Another good question to ask yourself is whether your audience is likely to find your point obvious, or if you provide a unique angle or spin on the subject matter. Highlight what is different about your particular perspective.
Finally, if you’re completing a specific writing assignment, it’s never a bad idea to read instructor’s guidelines again. Have you fully answered the question, and do all your subpoints back up your central idea?
No need to lose marks over bad formatting. Make sure you use our guides on essay formatting and citation. A bit of time spent on making your essay look professional will make your instructor very happy.
If you’re still unsure about your assignment, don’t be shy to visit your instructor or go to a writing centre (most universities have one). Although there are plenty of cranky and obnoxious professors out there, most will be happy to sit down with you and help you develop your ideas.
Finally, you can also do more editing, but at some point it’s time to stop. Don’t be embarrassed by the final product. If you’ve put in the time and effort, that’s all anyone can ask for. Reward yourself a little and then move on to your next writing project.