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Editing your writing

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Academic Writing: Editing Your Writing and Seeking Feedback
by Averil Coxhead

Academic Writing tasks aim to find out how well you can research a topic, argue a point of view, evaluate evidence, and organize your thinking. In this series on Academic Writing I would like to provide general advice about different aspects of academic writing and what resources you can use for more specific advice.

• Editing Your Writing
• Editing Your Sentence Structure
• Editing For Grammatical Errors
Spelling and Punctuation
Seeking Feedback
Further Reading
Usage Notes

Editing Your Writing

Editing is the process you go through when revising drafts of your essay. It can take a long time so you need to include proofreading and editing in your timetable. All essays need revising at least once. It is easier to proofread a printed page than text on a computer screen.


Editing Your Sentence Structure

One way you can check your sentence structure is by reading the text from the bottom up to the top. This may help you focus on the sentences rather than on the content of your essay. Read your text aloud to yourself or to a friend to find errors in sentence structure, word choice, and logic. When you want to rephrase a sentence, you could try writing three versions of the same sentence to help clarify what you want to say. For example:

It seems that there is a direct relationship between alcohol and car accidents.
Alcohol and car accidents are clearly related.
There is an obvious connection between car accidents and the consumption of alcohol.

To avoid overusing words and expressions and to ensure variety in your writing, note expressions as you read that you can use and then consult your dictionary to find out what they mean.


Editing For Grammatical Errors

Look at these sentences. What is wrong with them?

The establishment of a new system for manage information was a significant advancement for the company.
If the outcome is to be measured in terms of dollars, the company would had to plan for this in advance.

The words in bold type are incorrect. The first should have the verb manage in the gerund form managing, while the second should read would have had.

Develop a checklist of mistakes you commonly make when writing an essay and use this list to help you check though your essays, concentrating on one problem area at a time. There are many books that deal with grammar problems. A couple of these are listed in the Further reading section.


Spelling and Punctuation

What is wrong with these two sentences?

The musuem contained many useful resources.
The instructors talk was interesting.

In the first sentence, musuem should read museum. In the second, instructors should read instructor's. Spelling and punctuation errors distract readers. Computer spellcheckers can be useful tools but look out for differences in American/British spelling, words such as there/their and its/it's, and words that are not in the computer's dictionary. Double-check your essay for errors yourself.


Seeking Feedback

Having drafted your essay, ask one or two people to read it and tell you what they think. Make sure that they know your essay topic, are aware of what kinds of comments you want, and are prepared to be honest.

When you receive feedback:

look at it carefully and check that you understand each key point your reader is commenting on
evaluate whether it is necessary to make all of the changes to your text that have been suggested or not
read through the entire essay thoroughly. It might help to imagine that you are a reader who is picking up the text for the very first time

When you receive a piece of writing back from being marked, go through and look at any of the written feedback and note points that you think will help you with the next piece of academic writing you do.


Further Reading

Here is a selection of Web sites and books that will tell you more about academic writing and grammar.

Academic Writing
Allen and Unwin eStudy Pages
Day, S.X., McMahan, E., and Funk, R. (1997) The Practical Writer's Guide. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Leki, I. (1995). Academic Writing (second edition). New York: St Martin's Press.
Rodrigues, D. and Tuman, M. (1996) Writing Essentials. New York: W. W. Norton.
Wilhoit, S. (1997). A Brief Guide to Writing from Readings. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Swan, M. Practical English Usage (1995) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Turton, N. (2001) ABC of Common Grammatical Errors Basingstoke: Macmillan.


Usage Notes

You can find Usage Notes on Academic Writing at the following entries in the Macmillan English Dictionary:

cause example quote significant
compare list related summary
definite paraphrase


evaluate prove