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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Revising & Editing

Why Should You Revise and Edit? 

Revising and editing an assignment might seem tedious but it is an essential part of the writing process and without it you will lose marks. Revising and editing something you have written invariably makes it better as it ensures your writing is clearer and more understandable to your reader.

It also ensures you have fully addressed the assignment requirements. Even spending a short amount of time on revising and editing your assignment can significantly improve your work and increase your grade.

What Does it Involve? 

Revising and editing focuses on improving the big picture of your assignment, namely the content, structure, organisation and overall flow of ideas. This involves reflecting on how ideas are expressed and arranged and making structural changes to your writing and checking the logic and flow. You may need to move, rearrange or redraft sections and add or cut content to strengthen your paper’s overall argument or organisation. You may even need to go back and conduct more research to clarify information or fill in gaps in your argument. Revising and editing happens during the draft process so it is important to keep this separate from the proofreading process which involves checking the grammar, spelling and punctuation in the final version. 

Revising and Editing includes: 

  • Adding supporting evidence or more balanced viewpoints where arguments/discussions are weak 
  • Deleting weak or irrelevant points and adding new, stronger ones where applicable 
  • Rewriting sections to make points clearer 
  • Changing the order of sentences or paragraphs in order to improve the flow 
  • Adding linking words and phrases to show the relationships between ideas 
The process of revision should be as much about organisation as it is about style and other features. In the revising and editing stage, it is important to check that your assignment follows a clear line of argument and moves logically and methodically towards your conclusion. One way of checking this is to create a skeleton outline of your assignment which helps you to identify the key message of each paragraph and to check that your ideas link together properly. Your reader should be able to follow your overall structure by reading the first line of each paragraph. Skeleton outlines are simple to create and help give you an overview of what you have written.
Underline your thesis statement (main idea) and all of your topic sentences (supporting ideas).
Using these topic sentences, write down a bullet point on a post-it note that summarises the key point or argument of each paragraph.
If the topic sentences of the paragraphs are not immediately clear, instead number each paragraph, review the content and summarise the main point on a separate sheet or on a post-it note. If the paragraph is focusing on more than one thing, include that in your summary. Keep in mind that you are not considering what you intended the paragraph to do but reviewing what you have actually written, this can help you see how different parts of your text are related.
Line up your post-it notes in paragraph order and examine how the assignment moves from one key point to the next. In essence, you are trying to turn your assignment into a list of bullet points, listing the point each paragraph is trying to deal with so that you can see, in brief, your overall argument and discussion.
Based on your post-it notes, examine the order of your paragraphs and assess if they are in the most logical order.
Verify that each paragraph is clearly connected to your main argument.
If the assignment is reasonably well-organised, you should have one point for each paragraph, and your points read out in order should form a coherent argument.
If it is not well structured, the outline from the topic sentences will be confusing to make and you will have to reread the text a lot. You might discover that some of your points are repeated at various places in your assignment. Other points may be out of place, and additional key points may not appear at all.
If you have trouble summarising a paragraph in one sentence or less or find you have more than one point on a post-it note, you probably have too many ideas in the paragraph. If so, break up your ideas to create two or more paragraphs. Alternatively, rewrite the topic sentence to more accurately mirror the content of the paragraph and get rid of the material that is not relevant to the main idea of the paragraph.
If you find it difficult to summarise a paragraph, it may also be because it is too short and underdeveloped. In this case, you can either expand the information in the paragraph, incorporate into one of your other paragraphs or discard the information.
Check for paragraphs that: (1) discuss several different ideas; (2) start thoughts that are not finished or introduce ideas that are not developed; (3) are unnecessarily repetitive by repeating the same point as other paragraphs; (4) fail to connect to the main argument; and (5) that do not have any particular function.
If your list of topic sentences does not reveal a clear, logical flow of ideas and organisation, you will know that you need to make some changes.
Think of all these points as the ingredients of an improved outline which you can now work on by moving the post-it notes around into a better order or re-ordering the points you copied into the new document. Reviewing this outline of your work will give you a stronger sense of your structure and organisation of ideas and help you determine whether you want to delete, move, or further develop any material.
By reviewing your skeleton outline, you should be able to identify problem points with the flow and structure of your writing. Adjust the content and structure of your assignment accordingly.
Cutting words is not always easy, especially in a piece of writing you have written yourself. It is harder to write concisely than write pages and pages – there are skills that can help you with this.
Get rid of unnecessary wording. By being more concise and specific you can reduce your overall word count.
Use the shortest form of a word. For example, 'use' instead of 'utilise' – while this may not specifically reduce your word count it will make your writing easier to read.
Use the shortest form of a phrase. You can save a lot of words simply through careful rephrasing. For example, 'however' instead of 'on the other hand'.
Try and keep your sentences no longer than 25-30 words. Once sentences significantly exceed this amount they become increasingly hard to follow. If you try to discuss too many factors together, they are likely to confuse the reader.
Remove wording that is not central to your main argument. Ask yourself whether a piece of information contributes to the main argument you set out to achieve. Go through a paragraph that you have written and cross out any words or phrases or even a sentence that may be unnecessary (or change the text colour of the words you might remove). Read it again to see if you have lost anything essential to the information or meaning. If you have not, then delete it permanently.
Reduce the length of your quotations. If quotations are included in the word count, you can make some savings by reducing their length or by paraphrasing the information more concisely instead.
Check the marking scheme/grading rubric. Have you split your word count appropriately to match the distribution of the marks for the assignment?
Have you properly understood the assignment? Is what you have written an appropriate or complete response to what has been asked? Have you answered all parts of the question or the assignment brief? Are the main ideas / concepts clearly stated and discussed?
What is(are) your main point(s)? Is it clear to someone reading the assignment? Is your point of view clear throughout? Could you write it in one sentence?
Have you covered all the main sides of the argument? Have you considered or discussed any counter-arguments or objections to your argument? Have you fully acknowledged opposing views?
Use the marking scheme, rubric, brief or any other information the lecturer has given you about the assignment (including in tutorials or workshops) and check that you have done what is required. Pay attention to what the marks are awarded for and how they are distributed. Is the word count of your sections appropriate in relation to the grading given to each section?
Have you covered all the main points in enough depth and is the content relevant and accurate? Is all the information discussed in the assignment relevant to the question/assignment brief and are all the main points clearly linked to the overall argument? Does any content drift from the main points? Are there any points that need to be cut because they are not related to the main discussion?
Have you clearly outlined the topic or issue you are discussing?
Have you given the structure and layout of the assignment, detailing the key points that are discussed in each section?
Have you clearly stated your main argument and thesis? Does your thesis statement clearly connect to the assignment question / task? Your reader should be able to read your thesis by itself and know exactly what your paper is about.
Read your introduction and conclusion without looking at the rest of the paper. Do they match? The content should be consistent
Have you used the assignment planning templates to help you structure your assignment?
Will your structure make sense to your reader? Does it follow the conventions outlined in the assignment guidelines? Have you followed the correct format? Assignment, report, literature review, research proposal etc.
Does the content of the main body follow the structure outlined in your introduction?
Have you separated the main body into distinct sections, dividing the content by the key themes of your topic? Is the grouping of information logical? Has the way you have organised your ideas worked? Have you covered all main points?
Where appropriate, have you used headings and subheadings to divide the content of the main body into different sections? Are the headings and subheadings relevant to the overall assignment argument? Do the titles accurately represent the content? If you have included a table of contents, ensure the headings are written exactly the same and in the same order
Have you introduced each section by outlining the key point(s) discussed?
Have you concluded each section by outlining the key point(s) discussed and linking to the next section?
Do you provide enough convincing evidence and supporting information throughout to support your argument? Do you demonstrate that you have read a broad range of relevant sources? Relying on just a couple of sources limits your argument.
Could you strengthen your evidence by using more than one source to support some of your ideas? Could you critically compare and contrast your sources rather than just summarising or describing what one source said?
Have you made any generalisations or claims without backing them up with evidence? If you provide no evidence then the point is not supported and it is just your opinion.
Are the sources that support your ideas up to date and relevant? Have you used good quality evidence (credible or academic sources)? Have you used the required types of information sources to answer the assignment question(s)? Check the assignment guidelines and brief.
Have you featured evidence without explaining it or expanding on it? Have you clearly explained/analysed/evaluated the evidence used and stated why it is relevant? Have you commented on the evidence to tell the reader why the evidence is important or significant? If you are just informing the reader of what you have read without explaining the significance of it to your assignment topic, your writing may be too descriptive.
If required (for example, postgraduate courses), have you used mostly peer reviewed academic journal articles and/or conference papers?
Does each paragraph focus on a single topic or issue? Is it clear what each paragraph is about?
Is there a new paragraph for each main idea? Does each paragraph begin with a topic sentence clearly stating the main idea? Does the topic sentence accurately reflect the content of that paragraph? Does every sentence in the paragraph support that main idea?
Are all the main points in your topic sentences connected and do they have a clear connection to your overall thesis?
Is the main point or idea supported by good quality evidence?
Is it clear how each paragraph adds to and supports your overall argument? Is every paragraph relevant to the question? Is all content relevant to the key point of that paragraph or have you gone off topic?
Do the paragraphs follow on from each other in a logical order? Are the paragraphs (points) in the right order to make clear the progression of the discussion? Is there a coherent flow of ideas from one paragraph to the next or do you jump from one idea to the next abruptly?
Have you avoided beginning and ending each body paragraph with a quote or paraphrase?
Does the last line of the paragraph bring it all together leaving the reader with a takeaway point or link to the next paragraph?
Is the relationship between the concluding sentence and the topic sentence in your paragraphs always clear? If you cannot connect them, you may have digressed from the original purpose of the paragraph
Do the main points in your conclusion match and summarise the main points discussed in the body of the assignment? Is your conclusion clearly based on the evidence and argument featured in your main body?
Does the conclusion fit with the introduction? Read your introduction and conclusion without looking at the rest of the paper. Do they match? The content should be consistent
Is your thesis statement clearly reflected in your conclusion? Does your conclusion clearly sum up your position with a final comment?
Have you clearly answered the assignment question(s) and brief?
Have you avoided introducing new material? Generally speaking, there should be no references in your conclusion
Have you finished your assignment with a strong concluding sentence?
Where you have used quotes, are they introduced smoothly and integrated fully into your sentences? Have you accurately copied the exact wording and put it in double inverted commas?
Have you overused direct quotes that could be paraphrases? Have you avoided using long quotations which could be paraphrased or summarised more succinctly?
Are paraphrases worded differently enough from the original source? Have you referenced all paraphrased material?
Have you used the appropriate referencing style?
Have you properly and accurately referenced all information / ideas used from outside sources - quotations, paraphrases and summaries? Are your references correctly formatted in the required referencing style? Are all reference details complete? Is there anything missing?
Is your in-text referencing clear enough to distinguish paraphrased/quoted information from sentences where it is just you expressing your own point of view?
If taken from a source with pages, do the references for your quotations include page numbers?
Have you provided a reference list and/or bibliography at the end of the assignment?
Are all the references mentioned within your assignment featured in your list of references at the end of the assignment?
Are all the references featured in your list of references mentioned within your assignment?
Have you checked the NCI referencing guides to ensure you have formatted your references correctly?
Is there any unnecessary detail or description? Are all your words/sentences important and necessary or are they simply taking up space? Look for any redundant (unnecessary) words and phrases that do not add to the meaning of the text and have no purpose. Try to find sections of your writing where one or two words can replace several words.
Are the meanings of words you are using truly conveying what you want them to? Are you absolutely sure you know the meaning of the words you have used?
Is there any unnecessary repetition?
Is the flow logical? Does your writing include phrases that signpost the structure and organisation of the assignment to the reader? Are the transitions between your ideas smooth and effective?
Have you used appropriate academic language throughout? Remove any informal words and expressions and substitute them with more academically acceptable ones.
Has objective language been used where appropriate? For example, ‘this assignment will describe’ rather than ‘I am going to describe’.
Do the sentences flow properly? Are there long and complicated sentences that can make the text difficult to read and understand? If you have long and rambling sentences, consider breaking them up into a number of shorter sentences. Are there sentences that do not fit and need to be deleted or moved to another part of your assignment? Are there any incomplete sentences?
Have rhetorical questions been avoided unless appropriate to the assignment type?
Use clear, precise and concrete language. Check for sweeping statements or vague generalisations - the more specific you can be, the more grounded your arguments will be. Try to avoid broad, over-generalised terms.
Have you kept to the word limit (without being substantially under or over)? It is normally +/- 10%

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