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Essay Editing Tips and Samples

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Below are some helpful hints on how to edit your own essay.  We also provide you with a couple of samples of the editing you would receive from our service.

EDITING SAMPLES

SAMPLE 1                         SAMPLE 2

EDITING TIPS

  • Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation Check – One of the most basic, yet also most overlooked, elements in editing is the spelling and grammar check. Most word processing programs such as MS Word and WordPerfect contain these features. Yet, upon completion of a document, many people will often overlook these useful features in their desire to finish working on the document. Spend the extra couple of minutes required to run a spelling and grammar check. Usually these programs will also highlight problems in the use of punctuation in documents. Ultimately, the quality of the final document will reflect this added attention to detail

    This being said, a word of warning: do not automatically accept the changes spelling and grammar checks suggest in documents. Sometimes the spelling suggestions are themselves erroneous. This is particularly the case in documents that contain technical jargon (i.e., computer manuals, IT reports etc.) where many new terms may not yet even exist in the word processor's dictionary. As well, given the complexity of the English language, grammar checking programs – while handy – are notoriously unreliable. This explains why human editors and proofreaders are still widely used in journalism, business and government today.

  • ESL Problems – Colleges and universities today contain large numbers of students for whom English is a second (or even a third) language. As a consequence, editing is particularly important for these students. There are a number of editorial issues that frequently occur in the writing of individuals who are not native English speakers. In particular, during editing pay close attention to: incorrect use of definite and indefinite articles (i.e., the/a); confused use of present and past tense; and number agreement. While some of these errors may be caught by grammar checking programs, the best means of addressing these problems is through proofreading by a native English speaker or editing professional.

    In cases where such assistance is unavailable, a useful editorial trick is to read the text aloud to oneself. Those for whom English is a second language usually hear more English than they read. Thus, frequently they may notice that a sentence does not “sound right” in cases where it seemed okay when writing it on the page.

  • Active and Passive Voice – This is one of the most common problems in student writing. In general, one should rarely have to write in the passive voice, and only when one wants to emphasize the receiver of the action rather than the doer. The passive voice can be identified by the past participle with some form of the verb “to be” (am, is, was, were, has been, have been, and had been). For example:

    Passive Voice: My paper was eaten by a dog.
    Active Voice: A dog ate my paper.

    In the first example above, the subject of the sentence – paper – is passive as it is acted upon. In the second example above, the subject – dog – is active as it is performing the action.

    Look for examples of passive writing when editing your document. As an editorial rule of thumb: the active voice should be used most often, and the passive voice used sparingly.

  • Clear, Focused Thesis Statement – A central element in almost every academic term paper is the thesis statement. Usually this takes the form of a single sentence at the end of the introductory paragraph of a paper. In editing your document, ask yourself how closely the thesis statement reflects the argument(s) in the body of the paper itself. Often, in the course of writing a paper, new ideas or variations on the initial thesis will appear. Your thesis statement should be revised to reflect these changes (if any).

    It is also extremely important that the thesis statement be concise and focused. If you find that you cannot describe what your argument is in a single sentence, it is likely that your thesis is not clear enough. Spend a minute or two asking yourself precisely what you are saying in the document, and then put this into words (e.g., “This paper will argue that President George W. Bush's tax policies are fundamentally flawed…” or “It will be shown that the foreign policy drift of the Clinton administration led directly to the events of September 11, 1991…”).

  • Formatting/Appearance – The visual appearance of a document is often closely associated with how the document will be read and evaluated by your audience. In general, avoid non-standard margins and line spacing. These are easily identifiable as attempts to make text documents - in particular, term papers – appear longer than they are in reality. For the same reason, avoid non-standard fonts (Times New Roman, Courier and Arial are the most widely accepted fonts) and font sizes (12-point is the most common).

  • Run-on Sentences – This is one of the most common errors in student writing. While experienced writers can frequently craft long and complex sentences that are grammatically and syntactically correct, for most of us it is wiser to be conservative in our writing. Sentences that contain multiple instances of the word “and” or the use of several or more commas are more than likely run-on sentences. These may be easily edited by separating them into two or more component sentences.

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