Revising and Editing Academic Papers

Revision and Reality

The best way to ensure a higher grade on any writing assignment is to revise and edit each draft. While it has been said that writing “never ends,” the reality is that we face deadlines as writers and students. Deadlines limit us to one or two drafts, so make the most of each editing session.

Spelling and Grammar

Computers have made correcting spelling and grammar easier, but do not assume a computer will catch every error. Look for commonly confused words and common typographical errors. It is easy to switch or omit letters while typing. Few teachers look for perfect grammar, but there are common mistakes you should avoid. Look for subject-verb agreement errors and incomplete sentences.

Be Consistent

Does your paper start with a thesis and then maintain a consistent structure through the conclusion? It is important that you remain on-topic throughout the paper. Every paragraph should connect to and support the thesis. Do not let your paper meander or change opinions.

Test the Organization

A good way to test your organization is to outline your paper. Are there clear “blocks” (or “chunks”) of related paragraphs? Do you have sections, with subtopics? If you cannot outline the paper in a logical manner, it should be reorganized. Starting with an outline is often insufficient because it’s easy to go astray at the keyboard.

Close Logical Holes

If someone can ask a question that challenges your thesis, do you have an answer to it? Are there gaps in your logic or do you refute contrary assertions with facts or citations of experts? If your thesis is too broad, it will be easy for someone to find exceptions to your opinions or results. Make sure what you claim is logically defended.

The Experts Say…

If you want to persuade readers to believe you, it helps to have enough citations. Make sure you have cited all outside sources, and explained any special credentials of the experts you cite. Readers are more likely to agree with your points if you have relied on previous expert opinions. Mare sure your citations follow the format required.

Mark Up the Draft

Use a draft copy and make markings on paper. While you sometimes must edit a paper on a computer screen, most of us work better looking at paper. Make notes in the margins about the topic of each paragraph and any key thoughts. These marks can be used as you construct a test outline of the paper.

Check the Format

Finally, be sure your paper follows the guidelines of your discipline. If you are writing for the sciences, the APA format is preferred. In the language arts, the MLA format is used. Always ask if you are unsure which style to follow when formatting a paper — never guess.


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 08-Mar-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach