How to Edit Academic Writing


Editing is an integral part of good writing. Students often ask for professional advice on how to edit their papers. Although this article mainly discusses how to edit academic writing, the suggestions below will also help you in editing books, newspaper and magazine articles, and ad copy.

When editing a research paper, a book, or, in fact, any writing, always pay attention to clarity and consistency. Grammar and spelling errors, for example, can cloud the meaning, making your paper difficult to read. Long and convoluted sentences may be hard for the reader to follow. Inconsistency in style leads to the reader’s confusion and makes your work appear sloppy.

How to ensure clarity

1. Use spell-check to identify any grammar or spelling mistakes. However, your relationship with spell-check should not be that of blind faith. While good in catching some of the more egregious errors, this computer program is highly unreliable when it comes to nuances.

2. This brings us to the next editing tip: Rely on your common sense. Ask yourself, “Will the reader know what I am trying to convey in this sentence or paragraph?” Keep revising the paper until you can say yes without a shadow of a doubt.

3. Find any sentences longer than three lines and shorten them. Readers today have notoriously short attention spans. Do not try to sound like James Joyce or John Maynard Keynes.

4. Request professional editing services and let an experienced editor perfect your paper.

How to ensure consistency

1. Make sure you spell specific terms in the same way throughout the paper. Haphazard use of quotation marks, dashes, and capitalization makes the reader focus on your spelling, not the content of your writing.

2. Use consistent formatting throughout the document. Make it easy for the reader to find the different sections and references in your paper.

3. Follow a particular style manual, especially when citing your sources. MLA, APA, and the Chicago Manual of Style websites are reliable guides for academic paper writers.

4. Hire a professional editor for a final review of your work.

Whether writing a term paper or a book that will become your very own magnum opus, paying attention to clarity and consistency is important. Editing is a necessary process in any serious writing. Make sure errors, such as vague or convoluted sentences and inconsistencies in formatting, do not obscure your intended meaning. Self-edit with diligence and then hire a professional editor. A thoroughly edited paper, article, or book is what sets you apart from amateur and sloppy writers.

Originally posted 10/5/2010 and happily updated 10/26/2017. Thanks for reading!

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