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Editing in 3 rounds
Rather than editing every aspect of your writing at the same time, aim to edit in rounds, focusing on three key elements in turn: a) structure and flow, b) academic style, spelling and grammar, and c) formatting and presentation. Editing in this way is much more time efficient: you can concentrate on one feature at a time, and move quickly through the text, particularly if you are using a standard paragraph model to structure your writing.
Top tip: Try reading you essay backwards sentence by sentence, starting with the last line of the conclusion. This will help you to take a step back from your writing and to read more actively, rather than skimming over sections that you are already very familiar with.
A strong writing structure starts with your paragraphs as the building blocks of any argument. Each paragraph should neatly capture an idea from your essay, complete with supporting evidence and critical discussion. Following a four-part structure in every main body paragraph in your writing will help to ensure that your ideas are fully developed and follow a logical line of argument:
In the editing stage, it is important to check that your essay follows a clear line of argument and moves logically and methodically towards your conclusion. One way of checking this is to create a skeleton of your essay, helping you to identify the key message of each paragraph and to check that your ideas link together.
For more information on structuring your essays, including how to write introductions and conclusions, please see our guide to planning and structuring your assignments.
1. Focus your key ideas
Most essays will only need to focus on 3-5 key points, ideas or perspectives from the literature. The quickest way to cut down your word count is to decide which of your key paragraphs are repeating or consolidating a previous idea without offering any new evidence or critical discussion. Cut (Ctrl+X) these 'padding' paragraphs and paste them into a new document to keep them safe. Then go back to your draft and check that your ideas flow and your paragraphs link clearly together.
2. Refine your introduction
It is often easy to include too much information in the introduction, but it should be no more than 10% of your overall word count. Ask yourself, how much background information does the reader need to know? For example, if you had been asked to "Critically reflect on how universities might work to decolonise the curriculum", it would not be relevant to give background information on how the curriculum has developed over the last 200 years up until present day, or to offer multiple definitions on what the curriculum is. Instead, you might give a key quote showing that this is a contemporary issue, or give a brief explanation of what it means to 'decolonise the curriculum'.
The introduction functions primarily as a road map that tells the reader what to expect from the essay, and should not be used to discuss detail on any key topics or examples.
3. Quality over quantity
Think about your evidence as offering quality over quantity. Include the sources that contribute most to your argument or offer an interesting perspective from the literature. The focus of your paragraphs should be on offering critical analysis and evaluation in your own words, rather than referring to a large number of sources.
4. Cut unnecessary adjectives
Look out for double adjectives – these are often a feature of creative or descriptive writing but are unnecessary in academic writing:
5. Replace verb phrases with nouns
Look for verb phrases that can be replaced with a noun:
|Communicating with others in a timely and efficient manner… (9 words)||Effective communication… (2 words)|
|A search of the literature databases was carried out and any papers published more than five years ago were not included as these are not relevant to the current setting. The search also filtered out papers not written in English for the researcher’s understanding. (44 words)||Inclusion criteria for publication date and language ensured the literature search returned relevant papers. (14 words)|
Don’t feel under pressure to use complex language or multi-part sentences: strong academic writing is all about use objective language to create a logical and structured argument. Writing for university comes with a set of expectations to follow, but there is also plenty of space to bring your opinions and unique perspective on a topic into your essays. Here are the key conventions to follow when writing to help ensure your ideas are communicated as clearly as possible:
Avoid conversational language & colloquial expressions
"kids in education today"
"kind of" or "a bit"
Solution: Use more formal language
Don't shorten words (contractions)Don't
Solution: Write words in their full formDo not
Don't be vague and non-specific
Solution: Give specific details where possible e.g. quantities, numbers, and names.
"Several scholars have written about this topic (Brown, 2016; Campbell, 2018; Marshall, 2011; Yates, 2017)""According to statistics, 26% of people aged 60-69 in England have diabetes (Diabetes UK, 2016)"
Avoid repeating the same words/variations of them in the same sentence"However, although Davies (2007) argues that genetics are crucial in personality development, Jones (2011) argues that environmental influences are just as crucial"
Solution: Pay extra attention to your vocabulary when proofreading. Use synonyms to vary this:"However, although Davies (2007) argues that genetics are crucial in personality development, Jones (2011) contends that environmental influences are just as important.”
For a full guide to academic writing style, please see our assignment writing toolkit.
Download an editing checklist to check your assignments before submitting.