Editing your writing

This guide will help you maximise your marks by editing your work effectively. It includes advice on checking your content, organisation and structure, expression and style.

If you edit your writing for one issue at a time, you’re more likely to notice what you can improve.

Editing for content

Is the argument clear and consistent?

Your reader shouldn’t have to guess your argument or position – it should be stated at the beginning of your paper (e.g. in your introduction) and reinforced throughout.

Tip: An easy way to edit for a consistent argument is to write your main topic, argument or position on a piece of paper, then compare it to each of your paragraphs. Ask yourself: Is this paragraph useful? Is it relevant? Does it support my argument? If the answer is ‘yes’, keep it. If not, adapt it or put it aside.

Watch this video to learn how:

Are all the ideas relevant and presented in a logical order?

Writing from an outline or plan will help. But sometimes our plan changes as we write, so it’s important to go back and check your structure.

Tip: To easily see your final order of ideas, try writing the main topic of each paragraph as a list on a separate page. You’ll be able to more easily notice if a topic is missing, contradictory, irrelevant or in the wrong order.

Watch this video to learn how:

Is the writing balanced?

Ask yourself: Have I written an appropriate number of words for the importance of each idea? Is any section too long?

Tip: check your task brief and rubric to see how you’ll be marked and whether some criteria are given a higher weighting than others.

Is the question answered?

Ask yourself: Have I addressed all aspects of the question? This is vital!

Editing for organisation and structure

Are the connections between sections clear?

Each paragraph should be relevant and connected to the main topic and to the paragraphs around it.

To do this, you can:

Use linking words or expressions

e.g. In light of the above… or  In contrast to this…

Repeat key words from your main argument, topic or even the preceding paragraph

e.g. Clearly, there was something unique in Delaroche's style and technique that appealed to British audiences. 

This appeal became apparent when British audiences were first introduced to his work at the annual exhibition of Ancient Masters in 1938 …

Tip: A practical way to edit for connections between ideas is to copy each of your topic sentences (usually the first sentence of your paragraph) into a new document. Read them aloud. They will not form a very cohesive paragraph, but it should still be clear how the ideas in each sentence are connected to each other.

Watch this video to learn how:

Does each paragraph have one main idea expressed in a topic sentence?

Ask yourself: Could a reader understand the main idea of this paragraph from the topic sentence? If not, create a topic sentence to express the central idea of the paragraph.

Are all sentences in each paragraph relevant to the paragraph’s main idea?

Check that all your sentences in each paragraph relate to the topic sentence. If not, remove them (or refine your topic sentence).

Tip: There is no set length for a paragraph. In academic writing, a paragraph should be long enough to fully explore an idea, but not so long that it feels like you’ve moved on to another point.

Watch this video to learn how:

Editing for academic style

Are the sentences clear and easy to understand?

Academic writing deals with complex ideas, so it helps if the expression is as simple as possible. Aim for clear, easy to read sentences.

Simplicity of writing is generally a sign of clarity of thought.

Is the language consistent with academic style?

Academic writing is formal, so unless your assessment requires otherwise:

  • Be as objective as possible (generally avoid ‘I’ and emotive terms)
  • Use full terms (not contractions, e.g. use ‘have not’ instead of ‘haven’t’)
  • Be as specific and precise as you can (avoid slang and ambiguous terms)

Editing for expression

Are the sentences complete and do they make sense?

Ask yourself: Do all my sentences contain a main subject and a verb? Do I have a combination of shorter simple sentences and longer complex sentences?

Tip: There is no set length to a sentence. However, if your sentences are consistently longer or shorter than 15-25 words, consider splitting or combining sentences to help create variety in sentence length. This makes writing more engaging and easier to read.

Editing checklist

It can be hard to notice edits in your own writing. Try these tips to help:

  • Read aloud

    Read your work out loud (rather than in your head). This will help you notice aspects that don’t flow well, are repetitive or inconsistent.

  • Edit when you are freshest

    Edit at the time of day when you are most awake and alert. This will depend on what works best for you, e.g. mid-morning or early afternoon.

  • Edit after taking a break

    Leave your writing for a day or two before you edit. You are likely to notice more because the break creates distance from your work.

  • Review hard copy or alternative format

    You’ll be less likely to skim or jump over sections if your document looks different. If you can, print your work and edit in hard copy. If you don’t have access to a printer, convert your document to PDF or change the font for a similar effect.

  • Edit in a quiet setting

    Remove all distractions while you are editing – including your phone, TV and music.

  • Edit for an extended period

    Try to set aside enough time to edit your writing in full in one sitting.

  • Focus-edit

    Follow the techniques in this guide to edit for one aspect at a time; it’s hard to notice everything at once.

Final tip

Set yourself an artificial early deadline to make sure you have enough time to edit your writing. Leave your writing for a day, then thoroughly edit it – it’ll give you the best chance of submitting high quality work and getting the mark you deserve.

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