An"A" paper was never created on the first draft. Here are some editing tips for kicking your next paper up a notch.

By Colleen Sexton

Let's face it. After spending a ton of time researching and writing a paper, no one wants to take another look at it.  You've had it up to here with those tiny black streaks on a bright white screen and the continuously blinking cursor that mocks your lack of literary elegance.

But here's the truth. As much as it hurts to do it, you have to give your paper another look through. In college and graduate school, first drafts do not make the cut.

Whether you pursuing your education through an online degree program, or a traditional on-campus program, all students have to write – and rewrite – papers.

Here are some tips to help you push through the editing process.

1.  Put your paper aside and outline.

Once you are finished with your paper (or even just a paragraph), set your writing aside and draft a quick outline of what you want that piece of writing to accomplish. This not only helps you solidify that you are, in fact, keeping on topic, but it also helps the flow of your writing.

For example, you might find that you set out to write about how the Saint Leo core values apply to your coursework, and after looking back on your paper, you are talking about how the core values affect students at Saint Leo.

Don't be fooled by the term "outline." This doesn't have to be formal at all. You can write anything from single words to sentences or use graphic organizers— the form doesn't matter as long as you know what you set out to do and can compare it to your work.

2.  Review your thesis.

Does your thesis answer the question on the assignment?

Sometimes you may need to revise your thesis after you've written the meat of the assignment because it may have slightly changed.

This is nothing to worry about. Your thesis – unless your professor says it needs to stay the same as what you proposed – can change with your research and writing. You may even find that when you are finished writing, the path you originally chose does not quite fit what you originally started.

Don't freak out.

Just read through your paper and think about the point you are now making and fit it in with your original thesis or write a new one altogether.   

3.  Review your topic sentences and body material.

Do your topic sentences for each paragraph and body material relate back to your thesis?

Think about your body material as mini-essays with your topic sentences being the thesis. You don't want anything to go off topic.

For example, if your thesis is about how the Saint Leo core values apply to your coursework, you wouldn't want a topic sentence like: "The homework load in the classes is too heavy."

Write a topic sentence that supports your thesis: "Even though my courses have a lot of assignments, I do my best to apply Personal Development to each assignment I complete."

The same thing goes for your body information. For example, follow the topic sentence above, with an explanation of how you would apply Personal Development in each assignment.

"In each assignment, I try to improve on the previous one. During the beginning of the semester, I struggled to correctly answer half of the questions right on my quizzes; however, I worked very hard on each of my assignments and started to understand the material better, and, as a result, I started to get more question right on my quizzes."

4.  Look at your conclusion.

New information does not belong in your conclusion. Rather, briefly summarize what you covered in your paper.

Don't include a blatant restatement like, "This is what I talked about." Instead, sum it up in fresh words.

For example, if you are talking about writing papers, you could say, "Overall, if students want to succeed in writing, they must be willing to commit themselves to the long road of revision that includes drafting, edits, and rewrites."

The conclusion is your opportunity to leave your reader with something to think about. For instance, with the example above, you could end with, "Once these preparations are put into practice, students can rest assure that their papers in all classes will improve over time."

5.  Give credit to all sources.

Properly cite all direct quotations and paraphrases. If you aren't sure about whether or not you need to cite something, cite it just in case. It's always better to over-cite than under-cite.

Also, include a works cited or reference list at the end of your paper. If you have questions about works cited or references pages, refer to your respective style's (MLA or APA) section.

You can use citation machines like for formatting because they save a lot of time. A word of caution! Always double check what those machines spit out because they can put in information that is not needed (and you can lose points for extra information!)

6.  Review your grammar.

Here are a few of the most common grammar errors to look for when revising.

Comma splices: A comma separates two complete sentences without a coordinating conjunction – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Incorrect: I went to the store, I bought eggs. Correct: I went to the store, and I bought eggs.)

Apostrophe use: Do not use apostrophes unless you have a matter of possession. Apostrophes do not make things plural. (Incorrect: The boys book. Correct: The boy's book.)

Contractions: Avoid contractions in your academic writing. Write out the words.

Number agreement: Find out who you are talking about and stick to that number. (Incorrect: The student brought their books to class. Correct: The student brought her (or his) book to class.)

7.  Check your format.

Does it match the style your professor wants? MLA, APA, or something else? If you're not sure, check out Purdue's Online Writing Lab:

8.  Read your paper out loud.

This trick will help you catch things you might have skipped when you read silently. It works because it incorporates another one of your senses into the mix. If you to stumble over a section there is, most likely, something you need to address. Correct as you go or mark it and come back to it later.

9.  Take advantage of writing support services.

If you are an on campus student, stop in or visit to schedule an appointment with an English tutor.

If you are an online student, you can schedule an appointment on SmartThinking. Don't have an account yet? Email to setup an account.

10.  Don't be satisfied with a first draft.

Writing is a process that doesn't end with the first draft – even though we all wish it would!

Unless you are backed into a corner by time, don't be satisfied with a first draft. You can improve your words by running them through the writing ringer.

Don't feel discouraged by the process because it is a tough one – especially when you are just getting into the habit of writing at the college and graduate level.

You usually won't catch everything during editing – after all, you're human – but you'll most likely save yourself the heartache of silly errors that can be the difference between a hard-earned A and one of those lousy B+s.

Good luck writing!

What other tips do you have for creating an awesome essay or research paper?

Colleen Sexton, SLU Class of 2010, is a professional English tutor in Saint Leo's Learning Resource Center. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is an avid reader and writer of young adult fiction. She loves working with students who are looking to improve their writing because she believes everyone can be effective writers if they are pointed in the "write" direction. You can reach Colleen in the LRC at 352-588-8307 or

Image Credit: theilr on Flickr/Creative Commons

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