You've Just Finished Your First Draft ... Now What?
Five Steps to Help You Edit Well
You’ve just finished a paper. Now what are you supposed to do? The world of editing can be daunting and perhaps a little overwhelming. Please do not worry if you don’t have the most positive feelings when it comes to editing. I promise you are not alone. As your friendly writing center consultants, we are familiar with the editing process. Although we are by no means perfect writers or editors, we do know something about how editing works. In order to share some of this knowledge with you, I’d like to give you five tips to help you get started editing your papers. So, the next time you’ve written a paper and have no idea what to do next, consider these five steps a place to begin. If you need help, please come see us. We’re glad to lend a hand.
- Step 1. Walk away. Stop looking at your paper. Easy enough, isn’t it? After completing your
first draft, one of the most beneficial things you can do is leave your paper alone.
Not looking at it for a couple hours or even overnight will help you see your work
with fresh eyes. You’re more likely to finish with an overall better paper if you
can give yourself a break between writing and editing.
- Step 2. Review your thesis and topic sentences. These two elements are arguably the most important
parts of your paper. If they do not say what you want them to say, your paper won’t
say what you want it to, either. Spend some time figuring out the best way to articulate
your thesis and your topic sentences as this will produce a strong paper.
- Step 3. Read your paper out loud. This practice is one of the best ways to catch both small-scale
and large-scale errors. Listening to what you wrote instead of just looking at it
helps bring to light things you could make better that you never would have noticed
otherwise. Reading things out loud helps you catch what you wrote, not what you think
you wrote. This step can be done throughout the entire editing process, and it’s great
when done more than once.
- Step 4. Revise for clarity and cohesion. This step is where you go back through every sentence
and make sure it not only says what you want it to say, but it says it well. Be sure
to take the time to reword sentences that are awkward or jumbled. Be clear on what
you are saying, and make sure everything flows well together.
- Step 5. Check mechanics. Grammar is sometimes nit-picky, but it’s important too! This step is where you focus on small-scale issues such as comma placement, punctuation, and in-text citations. It’s important to be tedious in this step as grammar is just as important as your paper’s argument.
These five steps are a great place to start when you are unsure of what to do after you finish your first draft. I hope these help the next time you have a paper sitting in front of you. I also hope you will come see one of us in the writing center. We like to edit, and we would love to help you out.
Haylee is a junior English education major and is available for sessions on Monday evenings from 7-9 PM.