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SPARK: Editing

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.


In the final review of your essay make sure that you have clearly:

  • introduced your work
  • organized your paragraphs to lead your reader smoothly through your ideas
  • summarized your ideas appropriately

Editing Content

Consider the following questions as guides for editing your introduction:

  • Can the reader easily recognize the topic or question your essay is addressing?
  • Can the reader easily identify your essay’s thesis statement, its main point, or its answer to the question that you have chosen to address?
  • Will the reader know what to expect from your paper?

Consider the following questions as guides for editing your body:

  • Does each paragraph have a clear connection to the overall goal of your paper (as seen, for example, in your thesis statement or in the question that you have indicated in the introduction)?
  • Does each paragraph focus on a main point, and is each sentence of the paragraph clearly related to that point in some way?
  • Have you fully explained the point you wish to make in the paragraph so that readers will be satisfied that you have answered their questions: “What?” “Why?” “How?” and “So what?”
  • Are the transitions between paragraphs smooth so that the reader understands how one idea is related to the next?

Consider the following questions as guides for editing your conclusion:

  • Does the conclusion summarize concisely the main argument or idea of the paper and the most important points supporting it?
  • Does the conclusion offer some insight into the implications and significance of the ideas presented in the paper?

It is a good idea to review and revise the ideas and arguments of your essay regularly while writing. Strategies for this process of global editing are described in the Revising Your Arguments module.

Editing Grammar

Review your essay carefully, very slowly, sentence by sentence for subject/verb agreement, tense sequence, plurals and possessives, sentence fragments and run-on sentences. Once you have checked all of these things, check again; they are very easy to miss.

The following are some particularly important questions to consider with respect to grammar in your essay:

  • Does each subject agree with its verb (e.g., “the girl works”; “the girls work”)?
  • Is the tense of your verbs appropriate and consistent within each paragraph?
  • Can each pronoun (he, she, they, it, etc.) be easily traced back to the person or thing to which it refers?
  • Are all your sentences complete and appropriate in length?
    • Does each sentence have a subject and a verb?
    • If sentences are combined, have you used a conjunction or a semi-colon between them?

Editing Citations

Review your essay for any problems with the citation of the sources you have consulted in preparing the essay. Review your quotations and paraphrases to be sure they are appropriately introduced and punctuated. Bibliography software such as Zotero can be very helpful in the process, but a close check is still necessary as the software does sometimes make errors. In particular:

  • Have you checked all in-text citations to ensure they are formatted and documented accurately and appropriately according to the system you are using (MLA, APA, etc.)?
  • Have you checked your bibliography or reference list to ensure that the sources are in alphabetical order and formatted accurately and appropriately according to the system you are using (MLA, APA, etc.)?
  • Pay particular attention to:
    • Punctuation: location of periods, commas, colons
    • Titles: italics, quotation marks, capitalization
    • Capitalization of proper nouns, i.e., names of places and people
    • Noting page numbers, i.e., p. or pp. or numbers alone

The Creating Bibliographies module can help you understand the procedures and requirements for appropriately citing sources.

Editing Punctuation and Format

Punctuation is important for keeping the meaning of sentences clear, and errors in punctuation can increase a reader’s problems considerably. Inappropriate or inconsistent formatting can also distract your reader.

The following are some important points to consider:

  • Appropriate use of commas is particularly difficult to master. Review your essay carefully for correct comma usage. For a brief guide to the use of commas see the Using Commas resource.
  • Review each sentence in your essay for appropriate use of quotation marks and apostrophes.
  • Check to be sure that you have capitalized all proper nouns, titles and headings.
  • Check that the format of your essay is consistent throughout and adheres to the assignment guidelines. Look at margins, font size, line spacing, title page, page numbers and word count.
  • For a convenient listing of the most important questions to ask yourself in the editing process, see the Editing Checklist in Resources.

Editing Language

Review your essay to determine if there are ways to change the language to gain a tighter focus on your main ideas. Look for unnecessary words and phrases; be sure there is a reason for everything you have included.

Check for these common language problems:

  • excessive repetition of particular words or phrases
  • tone and language level that are inappropriate (too emotional, too sarcastic, or too informal, for example)
  • sexist language, particularly using masculine pronouns to represent people in general
  • clichés – convenient but unimaginative and overused expressions such as “avoid it like the plague,” “all’s fair in love and war” or “they’re driving me up the wall”

The following are useful questions to consider:

  • Is the language in the paper appropriate to your audience?
  • Have you incorporated key terms and concepts from the course correctly?
  • Have you removed any slang, abbreviations and contractions that do not contribute specific meaning to your essay?
  • Have you defined any acronyms such as OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) used in your essay?
  • Have you checked a dictionary to ensure that any unfamiliar words you have used accurately convey the meaning you intend? See the Research Guides for discipline-oriented dictionaries.