Editing at the Sentence Level Help

Updated on Apr 25, 2014

Introduction to Editing Your Essay

To edit your essay effectively, you'll need to read each paragraph a number of times, paying careful attention to your sentences and the words that comprise them. While some students edit well on the computer, many others work better on a hard copy. Unlike revising, which entails the possible reworking of large parts of your essay, editing is a word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence task. Taking pen to paper may help you focus more closely on the pieces that make up your essay, rather than the work as a whole.

As you read the hard copy of your essay, pen in hand, ask yourself the following questions. Circle any problems as you encounter them. You might also want to make a quick note in the margin with an idea or two about how to improve the problem(s).

  • Are unnecessary words and phrases cluttering up your sentences?
  • Do you repeat yourself? Rework your point so that you say it well the first time, and remove any repetitious words and phrases.
  • Are there any clichés, pretentious language, or confusing jargon?
  • Do you use the active voice whenever possible?
  • Do you avoid using ambiguous words and phrases?
  • Are verb tenses consistent?
  • Is the antecedent for every pronoun clear?
  • Do you use precise adjectives and adverbs?
  • Is your sentence structure varied? Sentences should not be the same length, nor should they be repetitive in any other way, such as all beginning with a noun, followed by a verb, followed by an object.

After you've read your essay a few times and highlighted any areas that need improving, focus on one problem at a time.

Be Concise

Why use ten words to get across a meaning that could be better said in five? Those ten words will definitely waste your reader's time and probably confuse the point you're trying to make. Many of the words and phrases that follow are both well known and, unfortunately, well used. They don't convey meaning, and are therefore unnecessary. The following are three of the worst offenders, with usage examples.

  1. Because of the fact that. In most cases, just because will do.
    • Because of the fact that he was late, he missed his flight.
    • Because he was late, he missed his flight.
  2. That andwhich phrases. Eliminate them by turning the idea in the that or which phrase into an adjective.
    • These were directions that were well written.
    • These directions were well written.
  3. That by itself is a word that often clutters sentences unnecessarily, as in the following example:
    • The newscaster said that there was a good chance that election turnout would be low and that it could result in a defeat for our candidate.
    • The newscaster said there was a good chance election turnout would be low and could result in a defeat for our candidate.

Be Concise

Wordy and Concise Sentences

Wordy and Concise Sentences

Avoid Unnecessary Repetition

Unnecessary repetition is a sign of sloppy writing. It's easy to repeat the same thing, varying it slightly each time. It's harder to say something well once, and then write about your next idea or example. Repetition also wastes valuable time and space. If you are writing while the clock is ticking, or are limited to a number of words or pages, say it right the first time and move on.

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