What are the 12 tips for editing academic work?
This is the third of four lessons about Editing and Proofreading. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Focus specifically on the editing process
– Provide twelve pieces of advice for effective editing
– Explore how that advice can be best employed by a writer
The third lesson on this topic focuses specifically on the skill of editing, looking at the most important pieces of advice available to students during the editing process. Well-edited writing should be non-biased and satisfying to read, with clear connections between the thesis statement, main ideas and arguments and supporting evidence. Although it isn’t easy to write an assignment that ticks all of these boxes, the following twelve tips should make the editing process somewhat easier and more productive for non-native speakers of English.
1. Separate writing from editing
The first piece of advice for students when editing is to make sure that writing and editing processes are done at separate times. It’s important when writing your assignment that you do not interrupt your natural flow by worrying too much about what you’ve written and how you’ve written it. First write fluidly, committing your thoughts and ideas to paper without worrying too much about how to improve upon your writing.
2. Begin editing after completing a first draft
Only once you’ve completed a first draft of the whole assignment (or at least a complete section of that assignment) should you then turn your attention to the editing process. As is stated in Tip 1, it’s important that you allow your creative mind to flow without interruption; the creative mind requires different skills and processes to the editorial mind, which by necessity is more patient, critical and reflective.
3. Allow plenty of time
Students often make the mistake of not dedicating enough of their schedule to thorough editing. A common misconception of the creative-writing process is that it takes the largest amount of time, when in fact it’s more common for roughly 60% of the time spent writing to be allocated to editing. A well-edited document will have required numerous hours of dedicated editing, improving the style of the writing, the content of the arguments included, and considering also the overall organisational structure. In truth, many editors find it preferable to edit their document across multiple days so that reflection on decisions and changes can be made.
4. Create a comfortable environment
Editing takes considerable concentration and brain power, and to do this effectively a student should create a comfortable working environment so that they can think critically and reflectively. Make sure you’re able to maintain correct posture when writing, that your computer is at the appropriate height and distance from your body, and that you have a peaceful environment to think in. Although some people find that music helps with the creative-writing process (particularly instrumental music), for editing and proofreading silence is often preferred.
5. Save multiple versions of your document
When editing your document on a computer, be sure to save multiple versions of that document as you make your edits and improvements. It’s possible that you may end up disagreeing with the changes you made yesterday and wish to return to an earlier draft, which is only possible if you saved and clearly labelled that document.
6. Consider your audience
When editing, don’t forget to reflect on the audience you’re creating that piece of work for. Knowing whether you’re writing for your tutor only, for general publication, for your peers in the form of a presentation or for an informal seminar task will help you to maintain the voice and style of writing that’s most suitable. It’s important to be consistent with this style throughout your work so that your writing maintains consistency and flow and encourages engagement.
7. Consider your clarity of writing
It’s also important when editing to focus on the clarity of your writing, which with regards to content means judging whether your ideas, arguments and evidence are clear, logical and correctly organised. Try to read your assignment with a fresh perspective, imagining that you are a reader that has little knowledge of your subject. Pretending to be someone else, someone who has not written or ever read your assignment, is one of the best ways of obtaining an objective viewpoint as to the clarity of your writing and argumentation.
8. Edit the content first
One of the first aspects you should focus on when editing is the overall content of your essay. Having considered both the style and clarity of your writing, you’ll now want to ask yourself a series of questions regarding the quality of the content. For example, have you sufficiently answered the task question? Are your ideas directly linked to the assignment topic? Are your arguments convincing, and is your evidence accurate? Have you provided enough evidence? Asking yourself questions such as these should help to demonstrate gaps in your research, highlighting the areas that require the most editing and improvement.
9. Edit the overall structure next
Having considered the content, the next element to edit should probably be the overall structure of your assignment. Does your essay have a sufficient balance between its introduction, body and conclusion? Is your thesis clearly stated in your introduction, and does that thesis connect with the body-section topic sentences and concluding thesis restatement? When writing an essay, it’s important that your paragraphs are arranged in a logical sequence and that sufficient transition and summary sentences are provided to improve cohesion.
10. Edit the structure within paragraphs last
After editing for style, clarity, content and overall structure, one of the last aspects to consider is the structure within the paragraphs themselves. Successful paragraphs usually have one relevant main idea that’s contained within a clear topic sentence. Two to three supporting ideas are then commonly provided, with evidence, examples and explanation used to create a convincing argument, and perhaps a final summary sentence to remind the reader of that key argument. If your paragraphs do not include these elements, edit them thoroughly until they do.
11. Don’t forget to cite and reference
At this stage, it’s also imperative that you check that you’ve cited and referenced correctly so as to follow correct academic conduct by avoiding plagiarism. You should be including citations every time you paraphrase or quote another author’s ideas, arguments or investigations, with one related reference placed in a reference list at the end of your assignment. If at this stage you have uncited material that you wish to include in your final submission, now’s the time to determine where you found that information. You probably won’t have enough time during the last-minute proofreading stage to return to the research to find out.
12. Listen to your tutor
Finally, most academic (EAP) tutors – particularly during preliminary-year programmes – will provide their students with a variety of continuous feedback. Such feedback is usually provided for a plan, for one or two body paragraphs and for a complete draft. Carefully read any comments your tutor has regarding the style, clarity, content or organisational structure of your assignment and be prepared to make considerable changes. It can be disheartening for a tutor that spends considerable time on providing feedback for a draft which then becomes ultimately ignored or forgotten.
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