A Guide to Self-Editing

Tips for Revising Your Own Writing

As you enter the final revision stages of the writing process for any paper, it is important to keep an eye out for details that will affect the clarity of your argument. In earlier stages of the writing process, you decided what to say in your paper; now is the time to refine how you express your ideas in order to get your points across clearly and effectively. Although it never hurts to let someone else, like a writing assistant, look over your paper, you are ultimately responsible for revising your own work. Taking the time to carefully revise your writing is well worth the effort because it allows you to improve your paper while learning good writing habits. This guide includes helpful self-editing strategies and explanations of how to recognize and correct some common errors in order to enhance the quality of your writing.

Useful Strategies to Employ During the Writing Process:

  • Start the writing process as early as possible. The more time you give yourself between the drafting and revision stages, the easier it is to edit effectively and identify the places where you can improve your paper.  
  • Read your draft out loud, and do so somewhat slowly. Your eyes often fail to see weak spots in the writing when you read it silently to yourself. You might be surprised by how many mistakes and awkward sentences you can catch by reading your paper aloud.
  • Read through your paper with your audience in mind. Think about where you may need to be more specific in order to help your reader fully understand what you are saying. Remember that while some things may seem obvious to you, your reader may need more information.
  • Pay special attention to your thesis statement. Does it make a specific claim that can be argued? Does it tell your reader what you plan to discuss in the rest of the paper? Does it address the purpose of the assignment? If not, you may want to revise it.
  • Check to make sure that each of your paragraphs is cohesive and develops relevant support for your thesis. Does each paragraph develop a complete idea with supporting examples and your own commentary? Make sure that the body of each paragraph expands on that paragraph’s topic sentence, which is essentially a sub-point to your thesis. Also, get rid of any information that is redundant or irrelevant to the point you are making.
  • Make sure that you have dedicated at least one or two sentences to elaborating on each quote or example that you used to support your point. Never throw a quote in your paper without properly introducing it (who said it?) and elaborating upon it. Give your interpretation of the quote, and explain how it is relevant to your point. And of course, make sure you cite correctly.
  • Vary the structure and lengths of your sentences to make your writing more interesting. If you notice that many of your sentences look nearly the same, consider restructuring some of them to add variety.
  • Look at word choice. Just as you want to vary your sentences, it is also a good idea to vary your word choice when you can. You may want to have a thesaurus handy when revising so that you can find synonyms for words that you repeat often. Make sure each word expresses your ideas well.
  • Learn to recognize the writing mistakes you make most often, and look for them when revising your paper.

What to Look For at the Sentence Level:

The following examples address some of the most frequently occurring kinds of writing mistakes. They are included in order to help you identify and avoid errors or weaknesses that can detract from the quality of your paper.

  • Problems with agreement – Make sure that in each sentence, the subject and verb agree. Also, make sure that pronouns agree with their antecedents. Agreement errors occur when the corresponding words are not consistent in number, person (first, second, or third), or gender.

Example of subject/verb disagreement:

INCORRECT SENTENCE: Many parts of Plato’s philosophy is very intriguing.

CORRECT SENTENCE: Many parts of Plato’s philosophy are very intriguing.

Example of pronoun/antecedent disagreement:

INCORRECT SENTENCE:  The student took their paper to the tutor.

CORRECT SENTENCE: The student took his paper to the tutor.

  • Missing word – A missing word is the type of error that you will likely catch when reading your paper out loud. It is almost always unintentional, and can easily be corrected by inserting the necessary word.
  • Wrong word – Some words, like affect and effect, are easily confused with one another because they are so similar, but they do have different meanings. Often, this kind of error is difficult to catch on your own, but if you are uncertain about a word in your paper, look it up.
  • Vague word – Check for vague words in your writing. Words like “this” and “it” may leave your reader wondering what exactly you are referring to. You can correct ambiguity by replacing these words with their specific antecedents.
  • Unnecessary words – Unnecessary words aren’t really errors, but they can detract from clarity. When revising your paper, omit words like “there is” and “I think that” when they don’t add anything to the meaning of a sentence. Sometimes you may find that you can substitute a concise, one-word synonym for a lengthy phrase (“as a result of the fact that” à “because”).
  • Misspellings – Many spelling errors can be eliminated using the spell check feature on programs like Microsoft word, but the spell check doesn’t always detect misspellings in words like authors’ names and other proper nouns. Double-check for typos when you read over your paper during revision.
  • Punctuation errors – An error in punctuation occurs when a punctuation mark is missing from where it is needed, or when it is placed where it is not needed. Some of the most common errors are missing commas after introductory elements in a sentence, missing commas in compound sentences, and unnecessary or wrongly placed apostrophes. Keep an eye out for punctuation errors when revising.
  • Problems with sentence construction – A problem with sentence construction usually becomes obvious if you read your paper aloud because it is one of the most distracting kinds of errors. Some common examples of faulty sentence construction include run-on sentences (i.e. putting two complete sentences together as one sentence without correctly separating them) and sentence fragments (i.e. incomplete sentences that do not express a complete thought). When revising your paper, make sure that each of your sentences is grammatically sound. 

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