Updated on January 14, 2017 Virginia Kearney moreVirginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier. Whether you like it or not, your writing will be judged not just by your instructors, but by your employers. Learning to write correctly is vital to getting and keeping a good job. So how do you edit effectively? If you don’t have time for all the steps, try to at least do 1-3 on your paper before you turn it in. However, if you really want a better grade, try to do all the steps. The more you edit, the better your grammar will be. More importantly, when you edit your writing, you can learn about the mistakes you make so you can avoid them on your first draft. You would not believe how many students fail to do this obvious first step.
Word Processing Programs are getting better and better at checking both spelling and grammar. I also use Grammarly and recommend that my students use it too. While the free version of the program won’t find all of your errors, it can often help you correct more errors than your word processing progam alone. Better yet, it might help you to recognize patterns of frequent errors you make. Open up two copies of your document. Put your cursor at the top of one copy of the essay (so you are sure the whole document is checked) and then start the spell/grammar check program. Look at each correction the program suggests. If you know the correction is right, then let program correct it. If you aren’t sure about the correction. Click “ignore” but go to your second copy of the essay and underline that section. If you want, you can also put in the correction the computer suggested in a highlighted section, or else a different color.
When you are finished, check the suggestions you weren’t sure about with a friend, a writing instructor, your writing handbook or an online grammar guide. After you finish all the other steps, go back and use this spelling/grammar check one last time before you turn in your paper or print it out (especially if you’ve made a lot of changes). Chances are, you can catch a lot of your grammar errors yourself if you slow down when you read. Print off a hard copy of your paper. Studies show that we don’t read as carefully on a screen as we do on a paper copy. Read the paper out loud. Our eyes skip over words as we read silently. Many of my students find most of their errors when they slow down and read aloud. You might even want to read to someone else (give them a copy too) so that you can both discuss anything which doesn’t sound right in your paper.
As you read, notice if you are having trouble reading. If you are, there probably is a problem with that sentence. You might be missing a comma, or maybe the word order or word choice is awkward. Try to re-word sentences to make them clearer. Some editors suggest reading backwards to try to catch errors. Have someone else read your paper using my Peer Editing worksheet. Be sure you ask that person to look at the places you marked as errors from your word processing program. Missing semicolons, colons, hyphens or other punctuation errors. Problems with verb tenses, passive voice or run-on sentences. Misused words or homonym switches (there/there is the most common). Places where your sentences sound awkward or they had to read twice to get the meaning. Sentences where you use slang, cliches, or words that sound like talking rather than something you would read in a book.