How to Edit: A Guide to a Polished Essay

One of the greatest authors of the 20th Century, Vladimir Nabokov, often said that his pencils outlasted his erasers because he rewrote so often.

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If you’re interested in becoming a better writer, or just in getting better grades, here is a guide to a polished essay stating how to edit your work. That means coming up with a plan for how to edit an essay.

Get Some Space

The first thing to do is walk away from your essay. Zadie Smith, a famous novelist, suggested a year or more for novels. Even if you can’t wait that long, put your essay down, go do something else, and then come back.

It’s hard to see errors right after you finished writing. You know exactly what you wanted to say, so often you’ll glance right through errors and assume you wrote exactly what you wanted. Walking away will help you look with the fresh eyes of a new reader.

Even if time is tight, you can still take a short break. So get up from your desk and enjoy that hard-earned break. Your essay will still be there when you get back.

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Read Your Essay Aloud

The other thing you can do to combat over-familiarity with your work is to read it aloud. We all read faster than we speak, and often we don’t read all the words on the page. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and look over every word.

It can also help you catch places that sound awkward. Especially if you are a native English speaker, you can often hear mistakes that you can’t quite pick up in writing. If any sentences sound strange, that can be a sign to give them an extra look.

The other thing reading aloud can help with is catching malapropisms, which is when you substitute a closely related or similar word for the one you want. For instance, you might have written “whaling baby” instead of “wailing baby”. Unless your essay is about a young Captain Ahab, you will want to correct that.

Modern spelling and grammar checkers have gotten much better overall, but they still struggle with that sort of replacement error. The word itself is not wrong, but it is in the wrong place and context, which programs have trouble recognizing.

How to Edit an Essay: Be Systematic

Especially if you are new to editing writing, it can be overwhelming to try to catch everything at once. The best approach how to editing your writing is to take it one piece at a time. Focus on each component as you go.

Paragraphs: One Big Idea

The most important thing to remember about paragraphs is that they should only cover one main idea. Once you move to a new topic, it’s time to start a new paragraph too.

One way to check for this is to summarize each of your paragraphs in a single sentence. If you can’t, or the sentence needs a bunch of conjunctions and semicolons, then you are trying to say too much in a single paragraph.

The first sentence of each paragraph should be your topic sentence. It should tell the reader exactly what he or she needs to get from the paragraph. Those one-sentence summaries you just made usually work as excellent topic sentences.

Read the first sentence of each of your paragraphs on their own: the essay should still make sense based only on those topic sentences. The rest of your paragraph is evidence for the claim in your topic sentence.

The last thing to check in your paragraphs is your transitions. You should always try to make things as easy as possible for the reader. One way to do that is to make the relationships between paragraphs very clear.

The easiest method is by using appropriate transition words. There’s one for any type of connection between ideas.

Sentences: They Should All Be Doing Some Work

Every sentence you write should have a job. For the most part, there are three main jobs to worry about:

  • Claims: these are things you’re trying to prove
  • Evidence: this justifies your claim
  • Bridges: these connect your evidence to your claim

Look at each of your sentences and ask what job they are doing. If they don’t have a job, don’t make things easier for the reader, or just repeat another sentence, then get rid of them. It’s better to be short than to be repetitive.

Next, you can check your sentence structure. It’s nice to switch things up for a reader sometimes by changing the length and order of your sentences.

Use short ones and some long ones, with multiple clauses and conjunctions, but not too many because that can become overwhelming, especially if you did it for a whole essay.

But never sacrifice style for clarity. It doesn’t matter how fancy your writing is if no one can understand it.

Intros and Conclusions: Keep It Simple

Save your introductions and conclusions for last. While the introduction comes first in your paper, it’s hard to know exactly what to say until you know how your paper will turn out.

When editing your introduction, focus on one thing: getting your reader to your thesis statement.

The main job your introduction has is getting your reader into the essay through the thesis statement. Give just enough information so that your reader can understand your thesis, and then move into the body of the paper.

Your introduction’s other job is to grab attention. Look at your first sentence. It’s your hook. Check to see if it will draw the reader in and if it doesn’t try to find something more exciting to open with.

Conclusions can be tricky depending on the type of essay and what it is about. The important thing to keep in mind is not to include any new information. Check to see if you mention anything in your conclusion that you didn’t talk about in a body paragraph.

Last Step: Grammar and Spelling

Now you can check your grammar and spelling. You might think that is the most important part of editing your essay, but it is the least important.

If you have nothing to say in your essay, or if the reader cannot understand your argument, it doesn’t matter how good your spelling is.

A Guide to a Polished Essay

Editing Is the Key to a Great Essay

Knowing how to edit an essay is the first step to becoming a great writer. For many great authors, you wouldn’t even recognize their first drafts because they change so much afterward. Get something down on paper, and then you can polish it.

For more tips that can help you write better essays for better grades, seek our editing services in the comfort of your home

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