Editing your essay before you submit it could mean the difference between a good grade and a great one, so don’t shortchange yourself by rushing through it. Here are some tips for making the editing phase as efficient and valuable as possible:
Delete excess verbiage.
Ideally, every word and phrase in your essay will serve a very specific purpose and none of them will be included just to take up space. A certain amount of experimentation and exploration is inevitable (and valuable!)- while writing the first draft, but now is the time to make sure that every sentence is sharp, concise, and full of intent. Try not to use three sentences when you can use one or to use a dozen words when you can use half that.
“Try not to use three sentences when you can use one…”
Use a thesaurus, but don’t overuse it.
When you are trying to find the perfect words to say what you mean, a thesaurus can be extremely helpful. But, proceed with caution. Never choose a word you don’t fully understand. Trouble lies that way, especially when trying to craft a convincing argument in essay form.
Vary your sentence structure.
Review your sentences to make sure you are not overusing a single style or pattern. If all your sentences sound the same, few, if any, will be able to make much of an impact. Try to start sentences in a variety of ways. Mix long ones with short ones and simple sentences with complex ones.
Don’t repeat yourself.
Watch out for any spots in your essay where you might repeat an idea or bit of information that you have already included. If you find two of the same thing, pick the best one and the delete the other.
Similarly, keep an eye out for any instances where you might be unnecessarily extending a point that you have already successfully made. Not only will that make it look like you are padding your word count, but it will tend to undercut the very point you are trying to make.
Keep your commas in check.
Commas can be tricky. If you use too many, you can end up with a sentence that sounds stilted and broken. If you use too few, your reader may get confused and have to read a given sentence more than once just to figure out what you’re trying to say. Remember to put commas in where you would naturally pause when speaking aloud. The best way to do that is…
Read your essay aloud.
It is all too easy to cobble together a sentence that tries to do too much and ends up just being unfocused or confusing. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to get a fresh perspective on what you’ve written and a better sense of the overall flow of it. Your ear will often detect problems that your eyes might miss.
Attribute any quotations.
Quotations from authors or academic writers should be properly attributed. As you read through your essay, keep a look out for any quotations you’ve included and make sure you have given proper credit to their original sources.
Check your formatting.
Looks matter, and the editing phase is the right time to check that your formatting is consistent. That means being aware of your use of fonts, italics, and underlining, if any. If your formatting is all over the place – with inconsistent line spacing, say – then all of your hard work is going to be unnecessarily undercut and look messy.