Stand back from your own work
A good way to approach drafting and editing is to stand back from your own work. This is much easier than it sounds but you can do it by playing some games with yourself.
First, try not to think about your essay as finished. When you read through your work, you should always be on the look out for ways to improve it.
Second, plan the time you’ve been allowed for writing an essay so that you can include putting your work aside for at least 24 hours and coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Third, get a friend to read your work. You get so close to your own work that it is difficult to see it as it really is. When a friend says “What does that mean?” you suddenly think “Yes, what does that mean?”
How many drafts make a good essay?
There is no single answer to this question. An essay that requires a lot of reading and involves dealing with unfamiliar theories could require more drafts than an essay that asks you to compare and contrast X and Y. On the other hand, the compare and contrast essay could involve researching unfamiliar theories. You may find that the first undergraduate essays you write require more drafting than those you write in your final year. However, you should plan to do at least two drafts – and possibly three – of every essay you have to write. A 5000 word essay could involve four drafts.
Remember: all effective writing is the result of rewriting. In the next sections I’m going to assume that you make at least two drafts.