Does this picture seem familiar? Nearly everyone can relate to those late nights in college, university, or high school where you are just about ready to give up and exclaim, “Please, somebody, edit my essay!”
Yes, you could simply hire an editor to do the job for you, but if you’re looking to save on costs and do it yourself, here are a couple of quick tips and tricks I’ve picked up during my professional editing career and still use here and there depending on the type of paper I’m editing to this day:
- Take a Break: First things first, if you’ve been working on something for a long time, it always pays to simply get up and walk around a bit. Go outside if you can, make yourself a cup of coffee, or just stretch out and relax in a different room. Though it might seem counter-intuitive when you just want to get things done, the longer you’re staring at the computer screen and forcing it to come out, the worse and more full of mistakes your essay becomes. Get up, get refreshed, regroup, and then come back and get down to business full steam ahead. A change of scenery can do wonders for inspiration when writing.
Note that this is supposed to be a short break — not an excuse to get lost in a two-hour conversation with a partner or friend or get carried away watching videos for hours on YouTube!
- Disassociate with the Content: When editing and proofreading your paper the first time through, it can often be a useful editing technique to completely ignore the meaning of the text as a whole, and instead, to just motor through looking for typos, spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, etc. You’ll find you can go through much quicker and by not getting lost in the story, argument, subtleties, etc., and you can often catch and pick up on so many mistakes that would otherwise slip right by. Yes, you can definitely take advantage of your word processor’s spell check to do this as well, but don’t rely on that alone as spell check won’t catch every error.
Tip: To better fine-tune the process, you could try to look at one problem per read. If spelling is your concern, then focus on that and ignore the rest. For round two, focus on sentence structure. For round three, make punctuation your primary concern. The more times you read through your content in this way, the more likely you’ll be to catch any problems with your paper.
- Complete Sweep, Slow and Steady: After that first time through, now go back and reread the whole paper one sentence at a time. Force yourself to really read slowly, despite how quickly you might feel inclined to go. This time, pay careful attention to the meaning of each word within the context of each sentence and ensure that each sentence makes sense within the context of its paragraph.
- Re-Research Your Research: Chances are that the points you raise in your paper are backed up by at least one or more studies that you’ve cited in your work. Before you put your dissertation or paper out there for marking, review, or publication, make the time to take a good, hard second look at all of the points you’ve made and the research you’ve selected to back up your arguments. Is it the best study to use to prove your point? Have you done your best in representing the meaning of that study? In addition to making sure that the study itself supports your paper’s findings, you’ll also want to check for accuracy in facts, accuracy in figures, that proper names are being used, and that correct dates are being used
- Print It Out: When you’re sure that you have a paper that’s grammatically sound and that has great research to back it up, then it’s time to print that paper out. Why? Though some will say otherwise, having an actual hard copy of your work will force you to look at your work in a whole other way, one that will perhaps give you a brand new perspective on your work that you otherwise wouldn’t be treated to if you read it on a computer screen yet again.
- Read It Out Loud: Got that paper printed out? Then it’s time to start talking. There are a number of benefits that come with reading your paper out loud, from helping you catch any missed errors to actually hearing just how well certain phrases and sentences sound when pieced together in your work. Having a creative argument with great research to back it up is important, but having content that flows seamlessly together is equally important if you want to truly make a mark and have a chance of getting a good grade or getting published.
Tip: Another tried and true trick for many editors is to read the text of their work backwards. While this may not help so much in the way of fact checking, it will certainly force you to focus on that individual word rather than the sentence or the paragraph, which can help in terms of correcting the mechanics of spelling, grammar, and more.
When in doubt, always make sure to consult whatever style guide your essay must adhere to. You don’t necessarily need the official book on hand — a quick Google search can often yield the very things you’re unsure about.
And if you can, try to get a friend or relative to give it a final once-over. A second pair of eyes can often make valuable suggestions and catch things you hadn’t considered.
So the next time you’re ready to scream, “Edit my essay!” take a deep breath and try implementing the tips above — then you might just find you’re done before you know it and can get a good night’s sleep after all.
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