Editing: Revising Sentences

Many revisions take place at the sentence level. When reading over your first draft, consider the following three broad areas to help you check systematically for common sentence and word errors.

How to Edit

There are computer programs and aids that can help you edit, and we urge you to use any of them that you find helpful. But using technology does not mean you shouldn't also read over your work yourself, carefully ensuring your sentences are clear and correct. Use a grammar checker or writing program as a first step, but follow that step with a close reading of your essay.

Remember to use a hard copy if at all possible and give yourself a few days, or at least, a few hours between drafting and editing. Try

reading out loud and listening to yourself as you read. Your ear can often catch problems that your eye might not.

You may also ask a friend to "peer-edit", but as the essay is yours, ultimately, you must make the decisions about what needs to be changed and what does not. The stronger your knowledge of grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation and usage is, the easier this step will be. Be patient and do not be too hard on yourself. The more you write, and the more you edit, the more you will learn.

Grammar and Syntax or Sentence Structure

Correct syntax ensures your sentences communicate what you intend. When syntax breaks down, the sentence loses its balance, and meaning can become obscured.

Most students make only a few grammatical errors, but they make these same errors over and over again. If you find yourself making the same errors repeatedly, or if your written work is returned with the same comments repeatedly, the Academic Skills Centre's Grammar Modules can help you learn to correct your errors and to understand what the comments mean. As well, practise exercises with answer keys are provided.

You may not have time to go through these modules while you are trying to revise an essay that is due soon, but keep them in mind for when you may have some time to spend on improving your writing at the sentence level. In the meantime, the Module home page provides a handy table that can help you find the exact help you need to begin to improve your writing at the sentence level.

Scroll down the home page to find the table. If, for example, you find you get the comment “c.s.” or "comma splice" on your essays, click on “c.s.” on the table, and you will be taken to the page that deals with how to correct that error.

Your goal is not to achieve perfection but to ensure that your sentences are clear and correct.

Checklist: Revising Sentences

Spelling, Word Choice and Diction

Spelling correctly and not confusing words that sound alike but are spelled differently add professional gloss to any piece of writing and are doubly important in academic writing.

Diction refers both to a writer's choice of words and the art of speaking itself, reminding us that good writing is close to good spoken English, that is, to English as it is seldom spoken.

Your written words should be natural enough to say aloud without seeming awkward or overly elaborate. At the same time, your words should not be chatty or slangish because such language is not exact enough to express rigorous, precise thinking. Don't use contractions, such as "won't", don't", "can't", etc., in academic writing.

And avoid the use of "you"; "you" literally means the person one is addressing when one writes, the reader; when I use "you" here, I mean, "you" the student reading this and going on to write your essay.

It's rare in academic writing to address one's reader, so the other reason students sometimes use "you" is when they are generalizing; in that case, use "one" as I did above: "It's rare in academic writing to address one's reader" not "It's rare in academic writing to address your reader."

While you should strive to make your diction formal, readers should not have to struggle through difficult diction to understand your sentences. Students often believe that academic writing is elaborate, jargon-filled and laden with words with many syllables. Good academic writing is not like that. Choose the one syllable word over the four syllable word when you can.

When you revise your diction, you are trying the get the right fit between your thought and your words. Strive to be as simple and clear iin your diction as possible.

As you do this, remember to vary your sentence length. If your sentences are all the same length, your writing can seem choppy if you tend to like short sentences, and difficult to understand if your sentences tend to go on and on. Open your sentences in different ways, with the subject, with a transition, or with a short introductory phrase or a subordinate clause. Add details to short sentences or combine two to make a compound or complex sentence.

Exercise Two: Revising Diction

Punctuation and Capitalization

Both terms are self-explanatory; if you need to brush up on either, the ASC's Grammar Modules can help.

Exercise Three: Editing

Back to Revising, Editing and Proofreading