Essay Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the stages of the essay development process. Back to Student Resources

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Editing – 1: getting your essay into shape

Copy-editing & proof-reading

Now you’ve written your second draft and your essay is in the best possible shape, you need to edit it. Editing is not the same as drafting because it does not involve major writing or rewriting. Publishers and professional writers usually think of editing as involving two different but related activities. These are:

Copy-editing, which means reading your essay for content and style, checking that you have expressed yourself as clearly as you can. When you are copy-editing you should try to identify superfluous words and clumsy expressions. This will help make your essay flow better and will also help you with that perennial student problem: keeping within the word count.

Proof-reading, which means you are reading your essay for grammar, punctuation and presentation, checking for spelling mistakes, sentences that suddenly stop in the middle and paragraphs that are too long or too short. You should also check that your essay is properly formatted according to departmental requirements. Are the titles of books and articles in the right form e.g. italicised or underlined or in inverted commas? Is your bibliography or reference list in the right form? Have you followed the correct referencing system for your subject?

Using feedback

The editing process is also a good time to use tutor feedback from your most recent essays. Has your tutor drawn attention to spelling and presentational issues? Do you find all your essays are
criticized for the same reasons? Check your new essay and fix the relevant areas.

Upside down & back to front

Before I became a full-time writer I worked in industry buying print and printed packaging. An important part of the process was checking proofs against the original artwork. When I was relatively new to the job, a senior colleague told me the best way to check for errors was to read the text upside down and back to front.

This sounds extreme but all my colleague was telling me to do was stand back from the text. The minute we start to read a sentence we start to get involved in the meaning of the words. When we are editing, we need to pay as much attention to possible errors.