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Tips and Ideas for Effectively Revising, Editing, and Proofreading an Essay

Tips and Ideas for Effectively Revising, Editing, and Proofreading an Essay

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson provides specific strategies for revising, editing, and proofreading essays.

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today we're going to cover a bunch of tips, tricks, and ideas for effectively revising, editing, and proofreading an essay. And then we'll talk about some strategies common to all three.

There are many strategies for revising an essay. Today we'll cover some of those that experienced writers have found to be the most effective for them and their writing processes. The first is to make sure you give yourself enough time between drafts, because it will be easier to see your work clearly if you've been looking at something, anything else, for a while. Ideally there should be a day or two between finishing a draft and beginning the revision process, but even a few hours can sometimes work wonders.

Second, reading your draft out loud, or having someone else read it to you, helps provide what we like to call critical distance, which will in turn help you identify sentences and phrases that don't flow as well as they could. It's also a good idea to have lots of questions for your draft. Look at the thesis and ask whether you still agree with it or not since it's not uncommon for our opinions to change while writing. Ask if your essay is supporting the thesis overall and if the thesis could or should be changed to better reflect the ideas and support in the essay.

Looking at the essay as a whole, ask if it's fulfilling the requirements of the assignment on a conceptual level as opposed to a formatting level. Is the tone, voice, word choice, and syntax appropriate for the intended audience? How will they react to it? And are there any counterarguments that should be addressed?

Then, go through the essay's body paragraphs one-by-one asking of each whether the paragraph as a whole is supporting the thesis and if there any points or sentences that should be cut out for irrelevance, even if they're interesting or well-written. Ask whether each paragraph has a strong topic sentence and if the ideas it expresses are clear. Are the connections between sentences, points, ideas, and support adequately clear?

Ask if there are any other points, ideas, or support that should be included in the essay to better drive the argument and prove the thesis. Does the evidence you've chosen adequately support the topic sentence of each paragraph? And are there better forms of support you might be able to use or use instead of the current ones? If your essay uses sources directly, have you represented them fairly and accurately and explained their relevance to your argument?

It's also important to ask questions about the coherence and flow of the essay as a whole and of each paragraph, each sentence. Does the essay include transitional phrases at the beginning and end of the paragraphs signaling to the readers where we've been or where we're going? If not, should they be added? And within each paragraph, is there a unity to the sentences organizing them around a single point? Are there transitional phrases to ease the flow from one sentence to the next?

Then, look at the introduction in particular and ask whether it lays out the thesis adequately and if it's engaging and likely to encourage your reader to keep reading. Many writers will wait until this point to really fill in their introduction. After all, only now will they really know for sure what they're introducing, right?

And finally, take a close look at the conclusion. Make sure it's doing everything it can to wrap up the essay. And ask yourself if there's anything you might be able to add or change to make it more interesting or complicated.

Once your essay has been revised and all your big picture concerns have been accounted for, it's time to edit. While doing so, there are many things to be on the lookout for. The first are unneeded or distracting words and repetitive words or phrases. Then, you should look out for jargon, excessive formality, and any places where the essay slips into slang, euphemisms, cliched phrases, or inappropriate idioms.

It's also important at this stage to look for and change any sentences that seem too wordy, vague, or unclear for any reason. Keep an eye out for awkward metaphors, similes, analogies, and hypotheticals that aren't working. And similarly, you should trim any excessive or unneeded adverbs or adjectives, and if necessary, supply the information they were providing in some other way.

Passive voice constructions can slow down your essay. So if you see any, consider switching them to active voice changing any to be verbs you can to more active and interesting verbs. And while you're doing all this, it pays to consider the essay's overall style, clarity, and flow and to be on the lookout for places where you might be able to streamline it a little.

Once you've both revised your essay for big picture concerns and edited it to improve style, flow, and word choice, it's time to proofread. And for when you do so, here are some tips and tricks that experienced writers have found make the process more effective and more reliable. First, it's a good idea to proofread with a hard or paper copy of the essay and use a pen or pencil to take notes of any mistakes in grammar or punctuation. Look for and fix any problems with run-on or incomplete sentences, subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, and any other grammatical errors you could find.

Assuming you write on a computer, make use of the word processor's Spell Check function, but don't allow it to get you complacent. Remember, these programs can only identify misspelled words, and they won't know if you've used the wrong word in the wrong place. So it's important to go through the essay yourself looking for typos.

If your essay uses research, take a little time to make sure that every in-text citation and parenthetical reference is correctly formatted. The same goes for the references or works cited page. And if you find yourself having trouble proofreading reliably, it's OK to get outside help. Though if you do, it's best to remain an active participant in the proofing process, since that's the other way you'll get better at it.

And as a final step before completion, I recommend taking one last look at the assignment or submission requirements and make sure your essay is formatted correctly and aligns with any other restrictions or requirements that apply.

Now, we'll end today with a brief discussion of some tips that can be applied to all of the three steps we've been talking about. First, revising on paper. Just like reading out loud or having someone read your work to you, using hard copies to revise, edit, and proofread gives you a little distance from your writing and can make it easier for you to spot problems, inconsistencies, and errors that you might have otherwise overlooked. Paper and pencil is also a good medium for jotting down ideas, comments, and notes for moving, cutting, and adding.

Second, summarise your essay, either briefly in writing or verbally to someone else. Try to quickly express the main idea your essay wants to convey. Then, read through your essay with this summary in mind and make sure it reflects what you've actually written.

Third, and this might sound silly, but read your essay backwards. Start at the last sentence and work your way towards the first in order to gain a little more critical distance. This will help you focus on each sentence as it stands, since you won't necessarily have the distracting context that you might have had reading it normally. And finally, read the essay out loud, listening as you do for any awkward or unclear sentences, places where you stumble because of errors or difficulties with sentence structure, unintentional rhythms or rhymes, repeated words or phrases, or any other issues you might have overlooked just looking at the draft.

So what did we learn today? We learned a lot. All kinds of tips and tricks for revising, editing, and proofreading essays, including some general advice. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Notes on "Tips and Ideas for Effectively Revising, Editing, and Proofreading an Essay"

(00:01 – 00:16) – Introduction

(00:17 – 03:00) – Revising an Essay

(03:01 – 04:01) – Editing an Essay

(04:02 – 05:19) – Proofreading an Essay

(05:20 – 06:33) – Tips for All Three

(06:34 – 06:45) – Conclusion