One of the first things to look for when editing is making sure that you have met the requirements of the assignment. Like we mention in the very first step of the PERRLA Paper Steps, even amazing papers can be stuck with a sub-par grade if they don’t meet the requirements of the assignment.
One of the small aspects of academic writing that is often overlooked is the consistent use of verb tenses. While different disciplines request writers use different tenses for verbs (past for history, present for literature, etc.), it is always important to use the same verb tense throughout your paper. Switching between past and present - especially in the same sentence or thought - can cause your writing to lose focus and flow.
For example, “Dr. Sneed explains the difference between the Yetis sighted by students.” The switch from the present to the past tense in this sentence makes the timeframe for this event confused. It should be clarified as either “Dr. Sneed explained the difference between the Yetis sighted by students.” or “Dr. Sneed explains the difference between the Yetis students see.”
There are times when it is acceptable to switch tenses within a paper - such as when moving from discussing historical or present situations to discussing future consequences of those actions. If you do switch tenses, make sure that the switch does not occur within one timeframe or situation. It should be a distinct thought that is being expressed by the new verb tense.
For many people, grammar is one of the most challenging of items to properly edit. If finding grammatical mistakes is not your talent, our first piece of advice is to find a friend who is or make an appointment with your school’s writing tutors! However, if you can’t do that and need to take a stab at finding any grammar mistakes, here are some of the most common mistakes you’ll be able to find.
Writing complete sentences may seem like a simple task. But, when you are 6 pages deep on a research paper, your fingers don’t always work as fast as your brain. Slow down just a bit and make sure that every sentence expresses a complete thought with a subject and a verb. One common way this happens is when a sentence is split in two with a period instead of a comma. For example:
“Tests on Yeti fur have revealed many interesting things. Such as non-native pollen, mysterious berries, and high radiation levels.”
These two sentences should either be connected with a colon or the second sentence should be re-written.
When listing a series of items or actions, it is important that each item in the list is structured in a similar way. For example, if the first item in the list is an infinitive, each following item should be an infinitive as well.
Incorrect: “Clara enjoys biking, books, and overweight cats.”
Correct: “Clara enjoys riding her bike, reading books, and petting overweight cats.”
Pronouns can cause problems when they disagree with their antecedent or they have an ambiguous antecedent. The easiest pronoun to misuse is “they.” Pronouns must agree in number with the object they are replacing. Although common in speech, “they” should not be used to replace a singular object.
Incorrect: “When a yeti finds a home, they must claim it with a powerful yell.”
Correct: “When a yeti finds a home, it must claim it with a powerful yell.”
Ambiguous pronouns happen when there is more than one object to which the pronoun could be referring to. In these cases, the best solution is to not use a pronoun at all.
Commas are often one of the trickiest punctuations to use. A comma splice is when two independent clauses (complete ideas) are linked by a comma instead of a period or semi-colon.
Incorrect: In 2004, there were 12 Sasquatch sightings, however, none of them were caught on film.
Correct: In 2004, there were 12 Sasquatch sightings. However, none of them were caught on film.