Once you are satisfied that your revising has solved the large-scale problems of structure and meaning – unity, coherence, logical structure—retype, recopy, or run off a clean copy of your draft and begin editing for more specific matters. Just as having a hard copy to examine the whole essay helps in adding or rearranging large chunks of material, for some reason, working from a hard copy also makes editing and small-scale revising easier.
As you edit, look not only for errors but also for ways to make your paper as effective as possible in fulfilling its purpose and to make reading it a pleasure rather than a chore. However, if you find further large-scale revisions need to be made as you edit, go ahead and make them. One aspect of revising will almost certainly need further attention: make certain you include effective transitions to improve coherence. Also, if you have not already chosen a satisfactory title, try to come up with one as you edit. Look through your paper again for problems or logic, especially for those errors of reasoning called fallacies that may creep into your writing at any level in a sentence, paragraph, or whole composition. Mark all changes on your hard copy, and then transfer them to the computer screen.
Read each sentence for ambiguity, which has many possible causes, especially squinting, misplaced, and dangling modifiers. Awkward or confusing shifts of tone, person, or verb tense can occur in the paper as a whole, in paragraphs, or in individual sentences. Certain kinds of sentence faults are particularly annoying to writing instructors, who need to see that you understand the conventions of grammar before you deliberate deviate from some of them for special effect. Unless you are writing a stream-of-consdousness story or novel, avoid run-on sentences. Check also for sentence fragments and comma splices, which can be justified only in very special circumstances. Many software packages include programs which will help you check your text for these types of errors. Keep in mind, however, that computer programs are not error-free; sometimes their suggestions make sentences worse or more confusing. Be sure to proofread your text one more time alter you print the final draft.
Especially if English is not your native language, check for correct use of definite and indefinite articles and of idioms and for the appropriate order of descriptive adjectives.
Check for agreement of subjects and verbs and agreement of pronouns and antecedents, for correct case of pronouns, and for verb errors, especially for problems with verb tense. If you need to review any of the parts of speech to determine correct usage, now is the time to do so.
Writers should avoid language that discriminates or appears to discriminate against members of either sex. You will find useful advice in this website under both nonsexist language and agreement of pronouns and antecedents.
One of the principal obstacles to clarity is unwise word choice, especially vague words, cliches and other trite language, and words that are beyond the vocabulary of your readers. For example, jargon that is an efficient means of communication among fellow workers in a particular field may leave other readers mystified; the same is true of allusions, which may be clear to one reader but baffle another. Choose appropriately between abstract and concrete words and between general and specific words. Abstract and general terms allow you to express large ideas with great economy, but they may need to be supported with more concrete and specific terms or examples in order to be clear. The dictionary and the many usage entries in this site can help you to find the right word to express your meaning. A thesaurus can also be helpful with synonyms; however, since it gives no information about connotations, it can lead you to use an unfamiliar word inappropriately if you do not check the meaning in a dictionary. Many word-processing programs now include a dictionary and thesaurus for quick and easy reference. A word of advice, though: be sure to save your text before opening these auxiliary programs. Sometimes accessing them can cause older word-processing programs to crash.
Clarity is also enhanced by effective subordination and emphasis, sentence variety, balanced sentences, parallel structure, and avoidance of vague or ambiguous pronoun reference. Choppy writing can be eliminated by combining simple sentences into compound, complex, or compound-complex sentences. Sometimes an analogy or one of the other figures of speech can help explain an unfamiliar concept or clarify a vague one.
Look through your paper for ways of making it more concise (see conciseness/wordiness). Some word-processing programs contain grammar and style checkers, but you should never rely on such devices alone; even the best ones are far from perfect. One of the surest ways to tighten up your writing and give it more life is to substitute active to passive voice – unless the passive voice is preferable for reasons of emphasis or tact.
Now, if you have used ideas or language from any source other than your own knowledge and invention, go through your paper carefully and make sure that in every instance you have given proper credit with appropriate documentation. To fail to give such credit is to commit plagiarism, a very serious offense, even if it is unintentional, in many cultures – and especially in the academic culture. In addition to the entries on documentation and plagiarism, the entries on quotations, paraphrasing, and summarizing will help you in deciding when such credit is called for, and you will find still further guidance in the appendix The Research Paper.
Before turning to some final mechanical matters that are more efficiently addressed when everything else is in place, read the paper through aloud—or, better still, have someone read it to you—and pay special attention to the consistency of tone and the appropriateness of the tone for the audience you have in mind. Listen for anything that strikes you as “off key” especially for contractions and other informal or colloquial usages that may be inappropriate to your rhetorical situation.
A few more or less mechanical matters remain. Please do not suppose that they are, unimportant, however. They are important because lapses will hurt your credibility with your reader and undermine your accomplishment of your purpose. Go through the paper and check all punctuation. The entry for punctuation in this site contains cross-reterences to all the specific entries—on commas, periods, semicolons, and so forth—that you need to be concerned with. Check any abbreviations you may have used, as well as any numbers and symbols. Check throughout for proper use ofcapital letters and italics (or underlining). Check all dates and all proper nouns and proper adjectives for both accuracy and proper form.
If you are editing a research paper, go through it to make certain that it conforms in every respect to whatever documentation style you are supposed to follow—that of the Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psycho logical Association (APA), or some other. (See the appendix. The Research Paper.
Finally, go through the paper—with a dictionary in hand if necessary—and check all spelling. Both the site entry on spelling and the section called Spelling Tips for Proofreading at the end of this introduction offer help. If you are writing on a computer, see the handbook entry on word processing for advice about what a word processor’s spelling checker can and cannot do for you.
With all of these editing steps completed, you are ready to copy, type, or print out your paper in the appropriate manuscript form. Be sure to proofread it carefully before giving it to your reader.