by Karen O’Connor
Once you’ve written your paper, spending a short time revising it can make a huge difference in the overall presentation, and your overall grade on the assignment. Here are some of the steps you can try:
- Spelling and Punctuation – some professors get especially grumpy if you mix up words like to, too and two; there and their; or its and it’s. You can’t always trust your word processor to spot them. When in doubt, check it out. There are many fine websites that will help you with spelling and grammar. One helpful example is http://www.factmonster.com.
- The universal standard for essays is that they should be in the “Times New Roman” font, 12 points, left justified, and double-spaced. Use these guidelines unless your teacher specifies something different.
- Remove words that don’t add to the overall meaning – when you remove extra words, it helps the essay flow better and can even make the meaning clearer. Some things to look for are words and phrases like “in my opinion,” “very” and “just.” According to Stephen King, any word that ends in –ly is probably unnecessary. See if your sentences still make sense when you cut a word.
- Avoid using vague words like “thing.” Anywhere you see a word that could be more specific, choose a different word. You can find ideas in an online thesaurus like this one: http://www.thesaurus.com/. An excellent blog post on words to avoid can be found here: http://www.freelancewriting.com/articles/ten-words-to-avoid-when-writing.php.
- Flow – Check the flow of your writing. One helpful technique is to read your essay out loud. Words or phrases which sound awkward will probably get your teacher’s attention as “rough” or “unpolished.” Revise the sentence until it flows. Try changing the order of the words or making a run-on sentence into a couple of shorter ones.
- Check your tenses. Make sure that the whole essay is written in the same tense, rather than going back and forth between past and present. When you are concentrating on your topic, it’s surprisingly easy to mix tenses, but it’s also an easy fix when you know what to look for. Here’s a tip—when writing about literature, use the present tense: the literary present.
- Avoid starting sentences with “I” – if you are writing a casual essay, it is fine to speak in the first person, but it’s considered bad form in college to begin sentences, and especially paragraphs, with “I.”
- Consider your contractions – if you are writing a more formal piece or just want your writing to sound smoother, go through your paper and separate contractions such as don’t into do not. It will give your paper a tone of authority and polish.
- When it comes to slang, less is more – you and I know that language is a living and breathing entity that changes all the time. However, if you are using words that can be found in the Urban Dictionary but not Webster’s, your teacher probably won’t understand you. That is probably not a good thing.
- Ask for help proofreading – if you’re lucky, you have a relative who teaches English. If not, maybe you know someone who gets good grades and is good at proofreading. Even better, see a HEOP writing tutor, or go to LIU’s Writing Center. An extra pair of eyes will often help to smooth out issues that you might not notice on your own.