How to revise an essay
The most effective approach to revising an essay is to move from general to specific:
- Start by looking at the big picture: does your essay achieve its overall purpose, and does it proceed in a logical order?
- Next, dive into each paragraph: do all the sentences contribute to the point of the paragraph, and do all your points fit together smoothly?
- Finally, polish up the details: is your grammar on point, your punctuation perfect, and your meaning crystal clear?
Step 1: Look at the essay as a whole
There’s no sense in perfecting a sentence if the whole paragraph will later be cut, and there’s no sense in focusing on a paragraph if the whole section needs to be reworked.
For these reasons, work from general to specific: start by looking at the overall purpose and organization of your text, and don’t worry about the details for now.
Double-check your assignment sheet and any feedback you’ve been given to make sure you’ve addressed each point of instruction. In other words, confirm that the essay completes every task it needs to complete.
Then go back to your thesis statement. Does every paragraph in the essay have a clear purpose that advances your argument? If there are any sections that are irrelevant or whose connection to the thesis is uncertain, consider cutting them or revising to make your points clearer.
Next, check for logical organization. Consider the ordering of paragraphs and sections, and think about what type of information you give in them. Ask yourself:
- Do you define terms, theories and concepts before you use them?
- Do you give all the necessary background information before you go into details?
- Does the argument build up logically from one point to the next?
- Is each paragraph clearly related to what comes before it?
Ensure each paragraph has a clear topic sentence that sums up its point. Then, try copying and pasting these topic sentences into a new document in the order that they appear in the paper.
This allows you to see the ordering of the sections and paragraphs of your paper in a glance, giving you a sense of your entire paper all at once. You can also play with the ordering of these topic sentences to try alternative organizations.
If some topic sentences seem too similar, consider whether one of the paragraphs is redundant, or if its specific contribution needs to be clarified. If the connection between paragraphs is unclear, use transition sentences to strengthen your structure.
Finally, use your intuition. If a paragraph or section feels out of place to you, even if you can’t decide why, it probably is. Think about it for a while and try to get a second opinion. Work out the organizational issues as best you can before moving on to more specific writing issues.
Step 2: Dive into each paragraph
Next, you want to make sure the content of each paragraph is as strong as it can be, ensuring that every sentence is relevant and necessary:
- Make sure each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
- Check for redundancies – if a sentence repeats something you’ve already said, cut it.
- Check for inconsistencies in content. Do any of your assertions seem to contradict one another? If so, resolve the disagreement and cut as necessary.
Step 3: Polish the language
Once you’re happy with the overall shape and content of your essay, it’s time to focus on polishing it at a sentence level, making sure that you’ve expressed yourself clearly and fluently.
You’re now less concerned with what you say than with how you say it. Aim to simplify, condense, and clarify each sentence, making it as easy as possible for your reader to understand what you want to say.
- Try to avoid complex sentence construction – be as direct and straightforward as possible.
- If you have a lot of very long sentences, split some of them into shorter ones.
- If you have a lot of very short sentences that sound choppy, combine some of them using conjunctions or semicolons.
- Make sure you’ve used appropriate transition words to show the connections between different points.
- Cut every unnecessary word.
- Avoid any complex word where a simpler one will do.
- Look out for typos and grammatical mistakes.
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