It is undeniable that writing, and writing well, is a crucial part of the American academic life. While high school may have been about the 5-paragraph essay, come college, writing assignments tend to get more complex. Term papers, research proposals, and theses are a given in college, which is why mastering writing skills becomes that much more important.
Editing your own work is a key part of the writing process, especially if you want to better your writing skills. It is with careful editing that you can improve upon your writing style and achieve maturity and confidence in your tone.
So, what does editing your own work entail?
To really become great at critically looking at your own writing, you first want to ensure that you plan and allocate enough time after writing your paper to the editing process. This process is usually split into two main parts: higher-order issues and lower-order issues. Higher-order issues deal with the overall structure and flow of your paper while lower-order issues address grammatical issues, weak phrases, etc.
Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to address higher-order issues in the editing process.
- Take some time off: Yes, you read that right. You don’t want to start editing your paper immediately after writing out your first draft. Coming back to it after a good night’s sleep or stepping out for a while helps you to approach it with fresh eyes. This way, you are more likely to catch any abruptly ending paragraphs or arguments that could do with more supporting evidence. This is also a good way to catch minor errors like skipped or misspelled words.
- Check against the outline: Read through your paper to make sure that you have included all the important elements you initially listed out in your outline. Did you include everything? Also, if you have been given detailed instructions for your paper and/or a rubric, use them as checklists as well to make sure your paper meets all these requirements. Another good idea, especially for research papers, is to make sure that all the required sections, like an abstract, a background and introduction section, the statement of the problem, the possible solutions, recommendations, and the conclusion are all included and well-fleshed out.
- Map paragraphs to topic sentences: In college-level papers, it is common to have paragraphs longer than the traditional five sentences. This makes it that much more important to map your paragraphs to your topic sentences, i.e., to ensure that your paragraph delivers on the promises made in the topic sentence. Do your paragraphs stay true to the issue and claim, if any, that you made in the topic sentence? Did you include sufficient supporting evidence and cite it appropriately within the text? Also, did you connect the supporting evidence properly back to your own ideas within the paragraph? Performing this check on at least the crucial paragraphs in your paper if not the entire text can really help tighten your arguments and bring the paper together.
- Check for transitional elements: To ensure that your paper flows well, i.e., each idea is connected and logically progresses into the next, you want to check that you included appropriate transitional elements. While words and phrases like however, in addition, similarly, contrastingly, on the other hand, etc. are traditionally considered sufficient to build transitions, note that transitions need not be limited to just these phrases. Sometimes, writing out entire sentences to elaborate the connection between ideas is warranted and even necessary, especially if they are seemingly disparate to the lay reader. So, do experiment with different kinds of transitional elements to add variety to your writing.
- Read your paper out loud: This is a great way to tell if your sentences are too long. Reading out loud forces you to process each sentence more slowly, which means that you will assess the ideas in a sentence more carefully. This can help you weed out sentences that have too many ideas crammed into them. You can then break these up into smaller sentences. Another benefit to reading your writing out loud is that you can hear any overly repetitive words or phrases, especially prepositions and conjunctions. We don’t pay much attention to the “tos” and “ands” while writing, but reading aloud can help us catch any instances where these words have been repeated too often.
Editing your own writing is an essential skill that can be learned with time and practice. Like writing, editing is also an evolving process. So, what other self-editing methods do you use with your writing?