Although editing may seem like a minor part of any paper, it is actually one of the most important things you can do. No matter who you are, even the best of writers need to spend time editing their work.
Editing, at its core, is about making the ideas and research you’ve put together are presented as well as they can be. To turn in a paper without editing it, would be like putting a diamond into a ring without polishing or shaping it - it’s interesting, but not nearly as valuable or beautiful as it could be.
When to Edit
There are specific times when it is important to step back from your paper and devote all of your attention to editing. However, editing is also a process that can happen at any stage of the writing process.
A First Edit
The first time that will want to devote to truly editing your paper will be after you complete your first draft. Now that you have your ideas down on paper, you can start to refine them. There are two steps involved in a productive first edit.
First, you’ll want to re-read what you wrote immediately after writing it. This lets you go back through your paper to make sure that your paper unfolded the way that you wanted it to.
Often times we can find that our papers take different directions than we initially intended. Doing a cursory read-through immediately after finishing lets you look at your paper from the beginning with the perspective you had at the end.
The second step is to take some time away from your paper before doing another read through. Being able to take some time away from the immediacy of your paper will let your brain give it a fresh look when you do come back to it.
This read through will make sure that your paper actually says what you wanted it to say when you wrote it. Although a paragraph’s intention may be perfectly clear when we write it, it may be much more confusing when we aren’t as familiar with it.
After you’ve completed your first edits, it can be helpful to keep repeating the process of stepping away from the paper and then returning to edit it. Each time, you will have a fresh set of eyes and will find things that you can make clearer, more concise, or better organized.
The more time you have to edit your paper, the more polished it will be.
It is during this time that you probably won’t be making large structural changes to your paper but instead looking for the smaller and more refined points that can make a paper better.
How to Edit
When it comes to editing, everyone has their own style. Some people enjoy a good red pen and some enjoy the abilities that word processors give them. Here are three tools that we have found to help you edit your paper.
The first thing to know about editing is that everyone will have their own style. What works for you may not work for someone else but, the more ways that you can approach the editing process the better your chances are of finding any mistakes. Here are a few of our favorite ways to catch those lingering problems.
Read It Backward
This doesn’t mean you read your paper in reverse, rather start at the end of your paper and read each sentence line by line until you get to the beginning. Although it may seem weird, seeing each sentence by itself can help you catch errors that your brain would have automatically corrected in your mind when reading it from start to finish.
This is also an incredibly helpful way to analyze the flow of your paper. When reading a paper backward, you can more easily identify if there are sentences or paragraphs that don’t fit or make sense on their own. This method also lets you identify if there is unnecessary information in your paper. Since you begin with the conclusion, you’ll be able to more easily find research that doesn’t directly correlate to your paper’s purpose.
Read It Out Loud
Your brain is incredibly smart. When reading to yourself, it can fix typo’s, mis-ordered words, and countless other errors all without you even realizing it. The process of turning your paper into speech activates different parts of the brain and helps you to catch the things that would have slipped by before.
Out loud reading will also help you identify sentences that are overly complex, difficult to understand, or poorly structured. If you have a hard time turning your writing into speech, then your reader will probably have a more difficult time understanding what you are trying to say.
Use the Writing Center
Almost every single school has a Writing Center of some sort. Whether it is an actual office or an online tutor, writing centers can be one of the most helpful places for finding individualized support. From looking at outlines to polishing up final drafts, your school’s writing center can help you through any step of the writing process.
Many students will avoid using these resources at their school because they are nervous or unsure that it would help. Look at it this way, the faculty and staff in writing centers focus on helping students write quality papers every single day. They’re your school’s paper writing experts. And, they’ve probably seen the type of paper your instructor is hoping for countless times. Just like research librarians, writing center tutors can easily become your best asset when writing.
Tip: Just use it. If your school has resources to help you write your paper, use them. Period. Just do it. You’re only hurting yourself to not use them. Really! Once you do, you’ll probably never want to write a paper without using them again.
What to Look For
If you try to catch every single error every time you edit your paper, you can quickly become overwhelmed. A better way to edit is to look for specific types of problems each time you read through your paper. Here are some of the common things you should keep your eye out for when editing.