Editing Tips

      Editing paragraphs
  • Does each paragraph focus on one point? Does it have a topic sentence that announces that point, and if so, where is it located? If it's not the first sentence, should it be? If there's no clear topic sentence, should there be one?

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  • Does every sentence in the paragraph relate to the main point of that paragraph? If any sentences do not, consider whether they should be deleted, moved, or revised.

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  • Is there enough detail to develop the main point of the paragraph? How is the point developed—as a narrative? a definition? some other strategy?

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  • Where have you placed the most important information—at the beginning? the end? in the middle? The most emphatic spot is at the end, so in general that's where to put information you want readers to remember. The second most emphatic spot is at the beginning.

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  • Are any paragraphs especially long or short? Consider breaking long paragraphs if there's a logical place to do so—maybe an extended example should be in its own paragraph, for instance. If you have paragraphs of only a sentence or two, see if you can add to them or combine them with another paragraph.

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  • Check the way your paragraphs fit together. Does each one follow smoothly from the one before? Do you need to add any transitions or other links?

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  • Does the beginning paragraph catch readers' attention? In what other ways might you begin your text?

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  • Does the final paragraph provide a satisfactory ending? How else might you conclude your text?

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Editing sentences
  • Is each sentence complete? Does it have someone or something (the subject) performing some sort of action or expressing a state of being (the verb)? Does each sentence begin with a capital letter and end with a period, question mark, or exclamation point?

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  • Check your use of the active voice ("The choir sang 'Amazing Grace.' ") and the passive (" 'Amazing Grace' was sung by the choir.") Some kinds of writing call for the passive voice, and sometimes it is more appropriate than the active voice, but in general, you'll do well to edit out any use of the passive voice that's not required.

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  • Check for parallelism. Items in a list or series should be parallel in form—all nouns (lions, tigers, bears), all verbs (hopped, skipped, jumped), all clauses (he came, he saw, he conquered), and so on.

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  • Do many of your sentences begin with it or there? Sometimes these words help introduce a topic, but too often they make your text vague or even conceal needed information. Why write "There are reasons we voted for him" when you can say "We had reasons to vote for him"?

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  • Are your sentences varied? If they all start with a subject or are all the same length, your writing might be dull and maybe even hard to read. Try varying your sentence openings by adding transitions, introductory phrases, or dependent clauses. Vary sentence lengths by adding detail to some or combining some sentences.

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Editing words
  • Are you sure of the meaning of every word? Use a dictionary; be sure to look up words whose meanings you're not sure about. And remember your audience—do you use any terms they'll need to have defined?

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  • Is any of your language too general or vague? Why write that you competed in a race, for example, if you could say you ran the 4 x 200 relay?

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  • What about the tone? If your stance is serious (or humorous, or critical, or something else), make sure that your words all convey that tone.

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  • Do all pronouns have clear antecedents? If you write "he" or "they" or "it" or "these," will readers know whom or what the words refer to?

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  • Have you used any clichés—expressions that are used so frequently that they are no longer fresh? "Live and let live," avoiding something "like the plague," and similar expressions are so predictable that your writing will almost always be better off without them.

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  • Be careful with the language you use to refer to others. Make sure that your words do not stereotype any individual or group. Mention age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on, only if they are relevant to your subject. When referring to an ethnic group, make every effort to use the terms members of the group prefer.

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  • Edit out language that might be considered sexist. Do you say "he" when you mean "he and she"? Have you used words like manpower or policeman to refer to people who may be female? If so, substitute less gendered words such as personnel or police officer. Do your words reflect any gender stereotypes—for example, that all engineers are male, or all schoolteachers female? If you mention someone's gender, is it even necessary? If not, eliminate the unneeded words.

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  • How many of your verbs are forms of be, do, and have? If you rely too much on these words, try replacing them with more specific verbs. Why write "She did a story" when you could say "She wrote a story"?

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  • Do you ever confuse its and it's? Use it's when you mean it is or it has. Use its when you mean belonging to it.

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