Knowing how to revise an academic paper can be just as important as knowing how to do academic research. The revision process should include time and planning before you sit down to review. Then, you should look into the holistic direction of your research paper, to make sure it makes sense and meets the essay requirements. Lastly, you’ll be looking at your academic writing and doing detailed editing like fixing grammatical errors and implementing transitional words. 

Before Your Essay Review

After you finish the first draft of your paper, you need to do a few things. This will help you be more effective with your revision, leading to an overall better paper. Follow these guidelines as a checklist before embarking on the more traditional revision process.

  • Take a break from your academic paper. After your first draft is done, you need time away from your content. For starters, writing a research paper is no easy task. You’ve been in the trenches of research and nailing the writing process. If you jump into editing, you’ll likely miss some much-needed changes. 
  • Strategically plan your revision timing. When you go to edit your paper, you need to have an ideal time window. If you’re too rushed, you’ll be lucky to get a minor revision in. If you have too much time, you might overthink every word choice. Spend about one day revising your paper, or about 10% of how long the entire writing process took.
  • Plan breaks. You won’t be able to revise your entire research paper in one sitting—plan for breaks. Give yourself 10 - 15 minutes for every 1 - 2 hours of work, and 30 - 60 minutes for every 3 - 5 hours of work.

Directional Research Paper Revision

Don’t jump into revising details like word choice and grammatical errors yet. After you take a break from writing your paper, you need to make sure it makes sense, meets the requirements, and has good direction. Follow this checklist before you get into sentence structure, spelling errors, and grammar.

  • Ensure your research paper meets the assignment requirements. Double-check your syllabus and make sure you know what’s expected of the manuscript.
  • Make sure your main point is clear in the thesis statement. The reader should know right away what your paper is about and what your position is.
  • Confirm all sections relate to the topic sentence. Each paragraph should either support or clarify your thesis statement.
  • Read the essay out loud to confirm it makes sense. A sentence might make sense to you as you write it. But, when you read it out loud, it can be confusing. Take the time to read the paper out loud, maybe even to someone else, to ensure each sentence is understandable and relates to the main point. 
  • Look at the paper organization. Check out each header and subheader to ensure your thoughts logically flow from one point to the next. Reorganize any paragraph that sticks out.
  • Know your reader, audience, and purpose. Any writing process should thoroughly consider who the reader is and make sure the word choice and tone align with what and how the reader wants to read.
  • Read the essay in reverse.  Start with the end and work backward in your paper. It should still be clear on your main point and transition from details to larger statements.
  • Make sure you’re using your own words. Especially when you’re citing references, make sure you aren’t plagiarizing. The paper should sound like you (or a formal version of you). You shouldn’t be using words that are foreign to you that you couldn’t explain on your own. To test this, take a sentence and try to write it in another word document without referencing your paper? Are you able to get the same point across? 

Academic Writing Revision & Detailed Editing

After you know your academic paper makes sense, meets the requirements, and has a clear position, you can move into revising for detail. You should take a short break again if you haven’t already. This is because you’ll need as much attention to detail as possible during this process. Of course, you can pay for editing services at this point, but it isn’t realistic for most college students. Instead, use this checklist to fine-tune your paper before handing it in.

  • Use a digital revision app or plug-in. The most common is Grammarly, but there are others like ProWritingAid, Linguix, and White Smoke. You can also enable spell checker in Word or Google Docs, but these add ons are even more effective and help with tone and style.
  • Use concise and direct language. Look for unnecessary word choices. It’s common when we talk to include more words than one needs. But, formal writing is better when each word is critical for the sentence to make sense. Read through each sentence and imagine if any parts can be removed. Common extra words include:
      • That
      • In order to
      • Be able to
      • Usually
      • It is possible that
      • Needless to say
      • Basically
  • Confirm all research is cited. When you discuss research, confirm you have cited it correctly within the paper and in the bibliography. At this point in your editing process, you should double-check each one. 
  • Stick to the assigned writing style.  Most colleges require APA (American psychological association) style but check with your professor or in your syllabus to confirm this is the case. Some writing software programs will check for the writing style you need.
  • Have a peer review your paper. It’s always a good idea to get more eyes on your paper before it hits your professor’s desk. If you can, have one of your fellow students or mentors check out your paper after all clean is completed.

You don’t have to be an expert writer to do well on your writing assignment. Following these recommendations and writing skills for college students will help you represent yourself best in an academic setting. 

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