Improving your editing skills
Welcome to the improving your editing skills tutorial.
This tutorial is designed to introduce you to the task of editing your thesis. It will introduce you to the three major stages in the editing process and give you the opportunity to put some of the suggestions and techniques presented here into practice in your own writing.
Editing is an important part of the writing process and should be a regular part of your writing cycle.
This tutorial will cover:
- What editing is
- When you should edit
- How to edit
Some TIPS before you get started:
- It is best to put aside your writing for a day or two before editing
- Printing out a hard copy makes it much easier to see your work as another reader would
As you go through this tutorial you may find it useful to have a section of your writing to hand to practice the editing activities directly on your own work.
What is editing and when should you do it?
Editing refers to the process of correcting, altering, or modifying a written text in preparation for wider dissemination, such as publication.
Editing is important because it bridges the processes of drafting a piece of writing and formally presenting it to a wider audience. Editing is employed whenever a written text needs to be shared beyond the author. As a student, you will be expected to edit any formal work you produce as part of your degree program. Outside of the university environment, editing is used in jobs that require writing, from preparing and issuing reports to emailing colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders.
You may have heard people using different terms to indicate editing, such as revising and proofreading. In this tutorial, revising will be referred to as editing and proofreading will refer to a specific part of the editing process (see Stage Three below). Regardless of what term is used, it is important to remember that while editing often occurs after you have finished a piece of writing, it is also integral to the process of writing.
NOTE: While written feedback from your supervisor can often be in the form of edits, the person with the primary responsibility for editing your writing is you, the writer.
There are three stages to the editing process: click on each stage below to find out when you should do them.
The three stages of editing
How do you Edit?
Stage One: Big Picture
Editing is about asking questions of the text you have drafted. These questions will define the editing task you have chosen to do, whether it is Stage One, Two, or Three.
When you undertake Stage One editing (Big Picture), it is important to remember that you are focusing on the meaning and context of the piece of writing you are examining. You are looking to ensure that it communicates its ideas clearly and fits properly within the larger body of work, whether that be a paragraph in relation to a section, a section in relation to a chapter, or a chapter in relation to the work as a whole. Detailed examination of the connections between sentences in a paragraph will come later in Stage Two editing (Middle View).
With Stage One, the key question to keep in mind is: how does this piece of writing relate to the work as a whole?
When you begin Stage One consider the following questions:
What is the function of this piece of writing in the overall work?
- Are you introducing a topic or giving background information?
- Are you arguing a particular position or presenting evidence?
How well does it fulfil this function?
- Is it clear how it relates to the big picture?
- Does it actually communicate what you think it should communicate?
A visual diagram can often help us arrange our thoughts in response to these questions.
Think of your thesis as a tree:
Your RESEARCH is shaped by your defined GAP in the literature to create a RESEARCH QUESTION. The research question is developed into a series of CHAPTERS or major branches that examine and answer the research question. Each chapter contains a major argument (made of a series of minor branches or SECTIONS, containing PARAGRAPHS or leaves) that contributes to the overarching argument of your THESIS - the canopy of the tree. Each paragraph should clearly support the section and chapter it is part of, and every chapter should clearly support the thesis as a whole.
How might your own thesis look if you now tried to reimagine it from the outside in? Use the questions and space below to try and get a sense of how your thesis is built.
Activity: Thesis Reflection.
How do you Edit?
Stage Two: Middle View
When you undertake Stage Two editing (Middle View), it is important to remember that, just as with Stage One, you are focusing on the meaning and context of the piece of writing you are examining. However, in Stage Two editing, you are focusing in detail on the coherence and clarity of sentences in a paragraph, ensuring that all sentences clearly and logically contribute to the development of the key ideas in the paragraph.
With Stage Two, the key question to remember is: how does each sentence relate to other sentences within the paragraph?
You can see from the diagram below that Stage One (Big Picture) and Stage Two (Middle View) are both part of a continuing process, just like the overall writing cycle.
When you begin Stage Two consider the following questions:
Are there logical connections between the points of the argument? Does the argument need filling out?
Evidence—does the evidence support what it is supposed to support?
Relevance—does every point contribute to the argument?
Redundancy—is the argument repetitive?
Language—are the right words/expressions used to make the points you want to make?
Length—are the sentences too long or too short?
The following activities will focus on specific parts of the Stage Two process and help lead you through identifying answers to the questions above.
Stage Two (Middle View):
Editing for Coherence
Every sentence in a paragraph needs to contribute to the purpose of the paragraph. That is, every sentence needs to be logically connected to the others in the paragraph. Otherwise, the purpose and meaning of the overall paragraph will be unclear and confusing to the reader. Checking to ensure all the sentences in your paragraphs are logically connected is an important step in the editing process.
Returning to the image of your thesis as a tree, think of your PARAGRAPH as a leaf. The introductory sentence, sometimes referred to as the TOPIC SENTENCE, forms the spine and point of the leaf. That is, the topic sentence defines the overall purpose and point of the paragraph. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph act as veins of the leaf. Each subsequent sentence or vein fleshes out the paragraph with EXPLANATIONS and COMMENTS, backed up by EVIDENCE. Every vein should have a clear LINK to the spine of the leaf, and the spine of the leaf should clearly LINK the point back to the branch. If the sentences are not linked coherently, then they need to be edited, which usually means amending a sentence so the link is clear, or removing it all together.
The following activity will teach you how to visualise and draw the connections between sentences in your paragraph, making it easier for you to identify sentences that do not link properly to your overall topic and need to be removed or amended.
Editing for coherence
rearrange the sections below to make a logical paragraph.
Let’s break down this paragraph:
From the diagram you will see that the key ideas that form the purpose and topic of the paragraph, as outlined in the topic sentence, are error correction and conflicting views. Each subsequent sentence outlines and links the key ideas associated with the paragraph. The second sentence expands on the topic sentence by defining the purpose of correction as utilising negative evidence to draw attention to errors. The third sentence focuses on an extreme view that corrections have no significant effect and, therefore, teachers should point out errors, but not correct them as this is less time-consuming. The fourth sentence focuses on a more moderate view which indicates that correcting errors can have positive effects if they are undertaken systematically and consistently. The key ideas of each sentence appear to be linked to the main topic sentence.
The next exercise interrogates whether each sentence actually does connect logically to the topic sentence.
Do all four sentences in the following paragraph logically connect to make a single argument? Please select the correct answer.
Let’s look at the breakdown of this paragraph again:
Broadly speaking, all four sentences are on the topic of ‘error correction’, but the topic has not been developed to a satisfactory purpose or point. What is missing is a final comment that summarises and links the point you are making on this topic back to the ‘branch’ and to the next topic/paragraph or ‘leaf’.
The next exercise looks at how we might solve this problem.
Editing for Coherence [cont.]
Now choose the sentence that best comments on the specific points made in the paragraph and links to the next paragraph.
Let’s look at a new breakdown of the paragraph:
The better sentence returns to the topic, reinforces the point of examining the conflicting views, and links to the next topic, a deeper look at the extreme view.
From unpacking the sentences in this paragraph, it becomes clear that the original paragraph explains the purpose of error correction, but, because it does not develop the point of examining the conflicting views, it does not satisfactorily conclude and link to the next paragraph. As such, some editing is required.
While it might seem a bit cumbersome at first, breaking down paragraphs can really help clarify whether all the sentences in a paragraph logically connect to the paragraph topic and purpose.
Stage Two (Middle View):
Editing for Clarity, Part One
As a student, you often need to use technical expressions and present complex ideas. This can make your writing difficult to read. At the same time, your reader will not want to work too hard to understand what you are saying. What makes writing easy to read?
When we read, information perceived by the eye is held in working memory while it is processed by the brain. The more familiar we are with the subject matter of the text, and with the kind of text being read, the easier this processing task is. Our prior knowledge means that less visual information is needed, so reading is faster and easier.
So it is important to consider how much your readers know about your topic. This will influence your choice of terms, how densely you can pack in information and ideas, and how much explaining you need to do.
Some common problems
The following features of writing place a heavy load on the working memory, even for readers who know something about the topic:
- very long and complex sentences
- using many words when one would do the job
- densely packed information or data
Stage Two (Middle View):
Editing for Clarity, Part Two
Editing for Clarity, Part Two
Turn the card to show the suggested solution.
Stage Two (Middle View):
Bringing it all together
Free editing activity
Now let's bring Stage Two (Middle View) together. Read the following short passage and contribute an improved version that clarifies the ideas.
Stage Three: Close-Up View
When writing you need to make sure your work fits within required academic conventions and styles. This allows your work to be presented in an accurate and consistent fashion which aids the reader’s comprehension of the text. What are some features of good presentation?
Stage Three (Close-up View), or editing for accurate and consistent presentation, is usually referred to as proofreading and is done after the other two stages.
Some common problems
These are some examples of the details you should check at this stage:
Editing for Technicalities
While prescribed academic styles are technically important, consistency is equally important. Styles have to be accurately and consistently applied. Below are some of the technicalities that will need attention in Stage Three.
- Format of headings and subheadings checked
- Numbers, symbols, and abbreviations correct and consistent
- Italicising/bolding consistent
- Capitalisation correct and consistent
- Punctuation consistent (e.g. double/single inverted commas)
- Citations cross-checked with Bibliography or Reference List
Questions you can might ask of your text:
Have you spelt the same word in the same (correct) way throughout? Use the spell-check on your word processor, but be warned: it will not find everything, and it can recommend American spellings. Make sure the dictionary of your word processor is set to English (Australian).
Do subjects and their verbs agree in number? This is important particularly when a long or complex subject precedes the main verb.
Are participles attached to their subjects? Is it clear who is doing the action?
Do pronouns refer clearly to an antecedent? Is it clear what “this" refers to?
Are there sentence fragments? Do your sentences have a complete verb?
Are your tenses consistent? Have you changed tenses for no logical reason?
Are all references in the bibliography or reference list? Have you included all your sources?
Grammatical use of articles
Read this passage and roll over nouns and verbs that don't agree with each other. Make sure you check every word just in case!
Nitrifying bacteria are sensitive organism organisms and extremely sensitive to a wide variety of inhibitor inhibitors. A variety of organic and inorganic agent agents can inhibit the growth and action of these organisms. High concentration concentrations of ammonia and nitrous acid can be inhibitory. The effect of pH is also significant. A narrow optimal range between pH 7.5 to 8.6 exist exists, but system systems acclimated to lower pH condition conditions have successfully nitrified. Temperature also exerts a tremendous influence on the growth of nitrifying bacteria. However, quantification of this effect has been difficult. Dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration concentrations above 1 mg/L are essential for nitrification to occur. If DO levels drop below this value, oxygen become becomes the limiting nutrient and nitrification slows or cease ceases.
Tips for stage three
Proofreaders need to be highly critical, with an unwavering eye for detail.
Because errors can happen during the formatting process, remember your final proofread should take place after:
- the print document has already been laid out, complete with images and captions, or
- the web content has been uploaded to the web
When proofreading, check that:
- you have incorporated all edits from previous versions into the final version
- all content conforms with the appropriate style guide
- the images match text and captions
- elements such as page numbers, tabs, and headings are correct
- line breaks, white space, and tables have all been positioned appropriately
If checking web content, also check that:
- the page conforms with web accessibility guidelines
- all hyperlinks are labelled correctly and work
Other useful tips:
- It’s fine to start on screen, but your final proofread should be on a hard copy
- Proofreading is best done in (at least) two stages: one for sense and style, and one for spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- When proofreading for sense and style, put yourself in the reader's shoes
- If editing a Monash thesis, check that the style aligns with the Monash style guide
- Be methodical. Take one line at a time. Use a ruler to guide your eyes
- Read one word at a time. Most people read about four words at a time, so you need to make a conscious effort to stare at each word in turn. This isn't as slow as it sounds; it’s just a different reading technique. Some proofreaders read the piece of writing backwards in order to slow down their reading
- If you don't know a word, or you are unsure it is spelled or used correctly, look it up
- Proofread in a quiet environment. Don't listen to music. Schedule frequent short breaks, and enforce a break if your concentration starts wavering
- Read the content aloud. This helps you to spot faulty sentence construction and bad grammar
Do not proofread your own work if you can help it. If you must, schedule another task between writing/editing and proofreading.
Advice on the technical aspects of Academic English can be sourced at English Connect.
Advice on professional editors can be sourced at the Monash Graduate Association.
This tutorial introduced you to the three stages of editing:
STAGE ONE: BIG PICTURE
STAGE TWO: MIDDLE VIEW
STAGE THREE: CLOSE-UP/PROOFREADING
It provided you with the rationale and purpose of each of the stages and when and how to utilise them. Most importantly, this tutorial emphasised the following:
Editing is not something that should be left to the last minute – it is an integral part of the ongoing process of writing.
Good luck with your future writing endeavours.