Editing Academic Papers: Tips and Tricks

Writing involves several steps and different people struggle with different steps. Personally, I find the first draft to be the hardest part to complete and then revising and editing to be the most enjoyable part. I think papers improve the most during the revision phase and taking time to carefully review grammar, sentence structure and flow, quote and evidence integration, and argument progression can really make or break a piece of writing. Having the first draft done with all of the needed evidence incorporated—whether well-placed or not—and having theses written out and paragraphs segmenting your argument allows you take a look at your paper from a wider lens and really identify what is working and what isn’t. To help with this revision process, I’ve laid out some key steps and tips to help edit and take a paper from an initial to final draft.

  1. 1. Identify and Highlight Your Theses, Topic, and Transition Sentences

    Steps like this may seem like a throwback to middle and high school, but identifying these components of your essay is a great way to make sure your argument progresses logically and that each paragraph ties into the next. When I do this step it’s almost like a reverse outline; I highlight them in the paper and then write them on a separate sheet. Reading the theses and topic sentences alone should explain your whole argument and its significance, for both literary, historical, and social science writing. If there seems like a discontinuity between one topic sentence or sub-thesis to the next, it’s an indication that your transition phrases could be more effective and specific or your analysis in the paragraph between the two sentences should include sufficient analysis to elaborate on the connection and make the argument’s progression clear. 

    For example, instead of saying just "In addition, political turmoil contributed as well" to begin a paragraph, tie in the previous argument or paragraph and specify the transition: "In addition to economic insecurity preventing modernization in postcolonial Madagascar, political turmoil furthered prevented progress." 

  2. 2. Print it Out

    For longer papers this step is often overlooked because of potential printing costs at school libraries and the idea of saving paper, but I find printing out drafts and editing with a pen is extremely helpful. It’s scientifically proven that comprehension is better when reading a paper rather than electronic copy, and for me I am better able to get a sense of my paper’s flow and argument when reading it printed out. Distractions are also limited as computer notifications do not drag your eyes away from your essay. I’m not entirely sure why this works so well for me, but I strongly believe in this step; the amount of times I’ve found even simple typos on a hard copy that I missed when reading on my computer is enough to convince me.

  3. 3. Read it Out Loud

    While this is another high school throwback tip, reading your paper out loud can really help you identify inconsistencies in tenses, subject-verb agreement, poor sentence flow, and get a sense of the general tone of your paper. When reading your essay on the computer and silently saying it in your head, you automatically read it as you intend it to be heard. However, if you read it out loud and actually listen to the natural intonation and flow, you can identify areas that don’t align with your vision of what the paper is supposed to sound like or argue. 

Writing is tricky, but once you get the first draft done there are steps to take to help you systematically revise your paper and catch poorly phrased ideas, grammar mistakes, and areas where your argument needs clarification. These are just three easy strategies to use that don't add any substantial time to your writing process, but that can really make a difference between rough and final drafts!