Simple Steps to Writing, Revising and Editing an essay
Writing a good essay requires refined critical thinking, which can be improved by experience. But one of the key elements to a good essay is form, and we are here to help you with it. There are numerous forms of writing that we face everyday. The following is an explanation of the process of writing in a simple and understandable way.
An essay can have many purposes, but the basic structure is basically the same. You may be writing an essay to argue for a particular point of view or to explain the steps necessary to complete a task.
Either way, your essay will have the same basic format.
If you follow these simple steps, you will find that writing an essay is easier than you had initially thought.
- Select your topic.
- Choose the thesis, or main idea of your essay.
- Prepare an outline or diagram of your main ideas.
- Outline your essay into introductory, body and summary paragraphs.
- State your thesis idea in the first paragraph.
- Finish the introductory paragraph with a short summary or goal statement.
- In each of the body paragraphs the ideas first presented in the introductory paragraph are developed.
- Develop your body paragraphs by giving explanations and examples.
- The last paragraph should restate your basic thesis of the essay with a conclusion.
- After you followed these easy steps your writing will improve and become more coherent. Always remember, form is only a part of the process. You become a better writer primarily by reflecting and analyzing rather than memorizing.
Guidelines on how to revise an essay
The best writers revise. And they revise again. Then they revise yet again. So, given that professional writers revise, it would be wise for beginning and intermediate writers to revise, too. One Professor, when asked how students could improve their writing, said these three words: "Revise, revise, revise." It's such a common mantra for writers and artists that a recent online search came up with over 16,000 hits for the phrase!
Revision means, literally, to see again. There are several stages to revision.
The first thing to consider is the goal of revision: Writing to communicate.
In order to communicate well, here are some guidelines to consider while you revise:
- Don't necessarily include everything
- Especially for academic writing, include a thesis, which is your answer to a (researched) question or your (reasoned or researched) position on a debatable topic.
- Include clear markers or transitions, citation of sources, and other help so readers can follow you along the path of your thoughts (argument, analysis, critique)
- Include the main points and the highlights from your research or reasoning that which supports your thesis, and that which might appear to contradict your thesis except that you, as a "tour guide," will explain why the material doesn't fit or why the contradictory material is wrong, and that which readers might reasonably expect, given your subject matter
- Include support and evidence for each main point, which might be logical reasoning, explanations, data, and arguments of your own; or evidence, arguments, and theories from other sources (properly credited)
- Often you should include answers to these questions: who, what, where, when, why and how about the whole topic; about major sources, theories, concepts; and about major developments related to the topic
- Make sure the result is clear communication that will be understood by your intended audience
Revision gives new life to your writing. The first stage involves going through the draft and reorganizing main ideas and supporting ideas so that they are grouped in a way that is understandable to your reader. Your organization will usually first put forward stronger points (in an argument), earlier information (for a narrative), or background (in many cases). However you organize, your readers need to understand what you are trying to communicate.
After that, refine your arguments and evidence, your descriptions, and all of the details, so that they give a sense of the writing being of one piece, or a whole. Let one description arise from another, or one piece of evidence support the next. Put all of the pieces in that are needed, and remove those that are not.
Even the most experienced writers make inadvertent errors while revising--removing a word or adding a phrase that changes the grammar, for instance.
Here are some tips to help focus your revision:
- Have other readers looked it over? A professor, boss, classmates, colleagues, roommates or friends
- Explain to a few different people what you've written, same group as other readers
- Read more on the topic (new sources, but also revisit already cited sources)
- Make an outline or highlight your draft as though it were a reading
- Set it aside for a day or two (longer, if possible) and then re-read it
- Read aloud to yourself
- Read it backwards
- Make a presentation. Presenting your paper orally to others often helps shape and focus your ideas
- Write a new introduction and conclusion, and then see if the paper fits the new introduction and the new conclusion
- The final stage or revision is copy editing, or proof reading.
Tips for editing a paper or an essay
Good editing or proofreading skills are just as important to the success of an essay, paper or thesis as good writing skills. The editing stage is a chance to strengthen your arguments with a slightly more objective eye than while you are in the middle of writing.
Indeed, editing can turn a good essay or paper into a brilliant one, by paying close attention to the overall structure and the logical flow of an argument. Here we will offer some tips on how to edit a paper or an essay.
Tips for editing a paper or essay:
1. Read over other things you have written, to see if you can identify a pattern in your writing, such as problematic punctuation, or repeated use of the same adjectives.
2. Take a break between the writing and editing.
3. Read by sliding a blank page down your lines of writing, so you see one line at a time. Even in editing or proofreading, it is easy to miss things and make mistakes.
4. Read the paper out loud to get a sense of the punctuation, and make any changes to parts that feel unnatural to read.
5. Allow someone else to read over your paper, fresh eyes can see things you will not see.
Revising gives you the chance to preview your work on behalf of the eventual reader. Revision is much more than proofreading, though in the final editing stage it involves some checking of details. Good revision and editing can transform a mediocre first draft into an excellent final paper. It’s more work, but leads to real satisfaction when you find you’ve said what you wanted.
Here are some steps to follow on your own. Writing centres can give you further guidance.
Start Large, End Small
Revision may mean changing the shape and reasoning in your paper. It often means adding or deleting sentences and paragraphs, shifting them around, and reshaping them as you go. Before dealing with details of style and language (editing), be sure you have presented ideas that are clear and forceful. Make notes as you go through these questions, and stop after each section to make the desired revisions.
First check whether you have fulfilled the intention of the assignment. Look again at the instruction sheet, and revise your work to be sure you can say yes to these questions:
- Have you performed the kind of thinking the assignment sheet asked for (e.g., analyse, argue, compare, explore)
- Have you written the genre of document called for (e.g., book review, critique, personal response, field notes, research report, lab report, essay)?
- Have you used concepts and methods of reasoning discussed in the course? Don’t be shy of using theoretical terms from the course. Also beware of just retelling stories or listing information. Looking at your topic sentences in sequence will show what kinds of ideas you have emphasized. (See our handout on Developing Coherent Paragraphs.)
- Have you given adequate evidence for your argument or interpretation? Be sure that the reader knows why and how your ideas are important. A quick way of checking is to note where your paragraphs go after their topic sentences. Watch out for repetitions of general ideas-look for progression into detailed reasoning, usually including source referencing.
Then look at overall organization. It’s worthwhile to print out everything so that you can view the entire document. Then consider these questions, and revise to get the answers you want:
- Does your introduction make clear where the rest of the paper is headed? If the paper is argument-based, you will likely use a thesis statement. Research papers often start with a statement of the research question. (Ask a clear-headed roommate or other friend to give you a prediction of what he or she expects after reading only the first few paragraphs of your paper. Don’t accept a vague answer.)
- Is each section in the right place to fulfil your purpose? (It might help to make a reverse outline: take the key idea from each paragraph or section and set it down in a list so you can see the logical structure of what you’ve written. Does it hang together? Is it all necessary? What’s missing? Revise to fill in gaps and take out irrelevant material.)
- Have you drawn connections between the sections? (Look again at your topic sentences to see if they link back to what has just been said as well as looking forward to the next point. Find ways to draw ideas together explicitly. Use logical statements, not just a sprinkling of connecting words.)
- Would a person reading your conclusion know what question you had asked and how you had arrived at your answer? (Again, ask for a real paraphrase.)
Now polish and edit your style by moving to smaller matters such as word choice, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may already have passages that you know need further work. This is where you can use computer programs (with care) and reference material such as handbooks and handouts. Here are some tips
- Read passages aloud to see if you have achieved the emphasis you want. Look for places to use short sentences to draw attention to key ideas, questions, or argumentative statements. If you can’t read a sentence all the way through with expression, try cutting it into two or more.
- Be sure to use spell check. It will help you catch most typos and many wrongly spelled words. But don’t let it replace anything automatically, or you’ll end up with nonsense words. You will still have to read through your piece and use a print dictionary or writer’s handbook to look up words that you suspect are not right.
- Don’t depend on a thesaurus. It will supply you with lists of words in the same general category as the one you have tried-but most of them won’t make sense. Use plain clear words instead. Use a print dictionary and look up synonyms given as part of definitions. Always look at the samples of usage too.
- Don’t depend on a grammar checker. The best ones still miss many errors, and they give a lot of bad advice. If you know that you overuse slang or the passive voice, you may find some of the “hits” useful, but be sure to make your own choice of replacement phrases. A few of the explanations may be useful. But nothing can substitute for your own judgement.
A Note on Appearance:
Looks do count. Give your instructor the pleasure of handling a handsome document-or at least of not getting annoyed or inconvenienced. These are the basic expectations for any type of assignment
- Include a cover page giving the title of your paper, the name of the course, your name, the date, and the instructor’s name. Don’t bother with coloured paper, fancy print, or decorations.
- Number your pages in the top right-hand corner. Omit the number for the first page of your paper (since it will be headed by the title), starting in with 2 on the second page.
- Double-space your text, including indented quotations, footnotes, and reference lists. Leave margins of one inch (2.5 cm) on all sides of the page.
- Use a standard font in twelve-point size. For easier reading, don’t right-justify your lines.
- Put the reference list or bibliography on a separate page at the end. (See the handout on Standard Documentation Format: choose your format, then use the examples as guides.)
- Staple your pages; don’t use a bulky binding or cover.