4 Key Steps for Better Academic Editing


You’ve finally finished writing your academic essay, put in all your references, completed your bibliography, and did the proper formatting.

Time to hit the submit button.

But hold on! Not so quick. You’re actually not done yet.

Ugh…I know, right?

But the truth of the matter is, the editing stage is a necessary one. It’s where you look at your work through your readers’ eyes and scan it for all errors, inconsistencies, and gaps in your arguments.

In the end, editing is what might get you that higher grade or a positive piece of feedback because it ensures your paper looks well thought-out and put together.

So, where do we start?

What is academic editing?

As opposed to fiction editing – where character development, plot arcs, and your narrative voice are a major editing focus – academic editing is all about logic and structural flow.

You’re not here to tell a story. You’re here to convince someone of the validity of your arguments, and that requires subtlety, persuasion skills, attention to nuance, and excellent use of research resources.

When you edit an academic paper, you’re looking to get rid of redundant sentences, strengthen your main arguments, and cut down your word count if necessary.

(As a recent graduate, I can honestly say that the number of words I’ve had to delete just to meet all requirements throughout my studies would make for a whole dissertation. But it’s also taught me the magic of brevity.)

Here are the 4 key steps that will improve your academic editing process.

Step 1: Look at the flow of your arguments

The number one thing I had to learn in my first year at university was that academic writing widely differs from fiction writing when it comes to paragraph structure.

It’s common for research papers to include quite long paragraphs, and that’s because each paragraph ought to focus on one major point.

This way, your arguments will flow from one to the next not only logically but also structurally.

For example, if you were to argue a point by discussing three different supporting arguments, your essay could look something like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction
  • Paragraph 2: Major Point
  • Paragraph 3: Supporting Point A
  • Paragraph 4: Supporting Point B
  • Paragraph 5: Supporting Point C
  • Paragraph 6: Conclusion

Of course, your structure will differ based on your subject and the specific topic you’re addressing. But the important thing to keep in mind is that your paragraphs ought to flow well from one to another and they should all relate to the main question.

Step 2: Ask yourself which information is truly necessary

It’s very common for students and academics alike to go on a tangent and take their writing in completely new directions.

And while this can be a very productive activity, it’s important to polish the draft during the editing stage and get rid of everything that doesn’t serve a clear purpose.

Look at your paper and ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • “Does this point support my argument?”
  • “Is this point relevant to the main theme?”
  • “Is this point backed up by valid sources?”

If your answer to any of these is no, consider cutting it out (even if you really like how the sentence sounds).

RELATED READ: Follow These Rules for Comma Usage

Step 3: Check the strength of your arguments

Now that you’ve thrown out all the unnecessary information, it’s time to check how strong your arguments really are.

Look at each argument closely and consider if it’s:

  • backed by sources that give it validity and weight
  • sufficiently expanded on (i.e., it isn’t two sentences long)
  • related to the main theme and question in a logical and coherent way

If you end up feeling unsure about one of your arguments, brainstorm how you could expand upon it or try to find more sources that’ll help you understand it in more depth.

Step 4: Read for grammar, repetitiveness, and punctuation

Just like other forms of editing, academic editing checks for grammatical mistakes, errors in punctuation, and writing style.

Sometimes, it may be a good idea to let your friend read the paper and offer some language-related feedback or to outsource the editing part of the process to professionals.

However, always remember to abide by the rules and requirements of your academic institution where these matters are concerned.

If you decide to edit your paper yourself, make sure to check that all sentences work on a syntax level, that your punctuation is correct, and that your sentences don’t sound too repetitive.

A great piece of advice is to read your paper out loud – it’ll help you see where your writing voice is lacking and if there’s a natural rhythm to your work.

RELATED READ: Top Five Most Common Citation Mistakes


Need some more help with academic editing? Asking a professional editor to have a look at your work is an excellent way to get some valuable input and improve the quality of your paper.

Services like FirstEditing are perfect precisely for this reason – a team of experienced Ph.D. English editors can give you in-depth feedback and help you boost your own editing skills as a result.

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