Western University AntropologyWestern Social Science

Tips on Writing and Revising Essays

You have done your research, made your notes, thought about the material you have collected, and about the possible solutions to the question you posed yourself, and pulled your hair out several times. You are now in the final phase of your writing project. Here are some tips for getting the thing down on the page. The first section deals with general hints for making the process easier, while the second section provides checklists for the all important rewriting process.

Basic Tips


1.GET ORGANIZED
Have all of your reference material and notes at your fingertips.

2.DRAW UP AN OUTLINE
This is essential. An outline should be one or two pages on which you sketch how you want to present your information, and what key concepts you want to introduce and define. The outline should break topics down into paragraphs or paragraph clusters.

3.WRITE YOUR CONCLUSIONS FIRST
This is not contradictory. By writing a first draft of your concluding section first, you provide yourself with a guide for developing the argument in the body of the paper. If you know where your are going before you begin, you will have a much better chance of actually getting there.

4.WRITE YOUR INTRODUCTION LAST
Writing this last makes it much simpler to describe what the paper is, in fact, about. Writing the introduction first can be a problem because you can lose sight of what you tell the reader you intend to do. Writing it last means that it accurately introduces the essay.

5.WRITE THE BODY OF THE PAPER IN THE ORDER OF YOUR OUTLINE
Write each section in the development portion of your paper in the same order you have laid out in your outline. This will help making transitions between topics clearer, and will ensure that the evidence you plan to use is explained in an orderly fashion. Keep track of what you place in each section so you can check it against your outline.

6.REFERENCES
Keep a running list of your references as you write. Mark down each source on a separate list as you cite it in your text. This will make creating your reference list a much simpler task.

6.KEEP A LIST OF WORDS WITH DIFFICULT SPELLINGS AND OF CONCEPTS WITH VARIANT MEANINGS
This helps consistency in both spelling and explanation when you come to rewrite your paper.

7. NOW, STEP BACK FOR A MOMENT
Once the first draft is completed, set it aside for a couple of days. It is important to begin rewriting only after the first draft has had a chance to bang around in your head for a couple of days. Take some time away from the paper. Work on something else. Go to a party. Relax. The first draft is the major hurdle. Once you are beyond that, the final part of this process, the revisions and final formatting, are simple.

REVISION CHECKLIST

J.B. Priestly once said that writing is re-rewriting. A common error among student writers is to complete only a single draft of their papers. Handing in your first draft of an essay can be dangerous, however. All too often we fall prey to the delusion that what we have written first time around is brilliant, comprehensive, and technically correct. Grading papers that have not been adequately proofread and revised is a disheartening experience for the instructor. Good ideas and interesting arguments become lost in a jumble of ill formed or incomplete sentences, improper or inadequate citations, and curious word usages.

The message in this section is a simple one. Reread and revise your essays before you turn them in for evaluation. Better yet, have someone else read through them. It is very easy to miss common errors in our own writing, errors that we would catch in an instant in someone else's paper.

This section is a simple set of checklists for specific items that you should carefully review when you are completing your final draft. You might consider drawing up a list with two columns beside each entry - one column labeled OK, and the other labeled FIX. Make certain that the final version of your paper has nothing left in the FIX column.

CONTENT

PURPOSE AND STRUCTURE:
1. Is the topic of your paper clearly stated in the introduction?
2. Do you describe accurately and completely all of the evidence you intend to use?
3. Does your introduction explain why you are pursuing this topic?
4. Does your introduction contain an explanation of the structure and content of the paper?
5. Does your introduction explain the sorts of findings you intend to pursue?

ORDER:
1. Are the sections of your paper organized in a logical manner so that they support the development of your argument?

RELEVANCE:
1. Does each section of the paper relate to the topic?
2. Has all unnecessary material been eliminated?

COMPLETENESS:
1. Have you included all of the information needed to make each part of your paper complete?
2. Are all aspects of the topic covered fairly and completely? If not, do you explain why you have left out certain aspects of the topic?
3. Do you describe your sources, and explain their limitations, if any?
4. If you have used endnotes, are they relevant to the argument, do they contain information that actually belongs in the body of the paper, and are the endnote numbers placed at the appropriate spot in the body of the text?

CITATION AND SOURCE ACCURACY:
1. Have you referenced every idea that is not your own?
2. Are the citations placed in the proper spot in the body of the paper?
3. Are all citations complete - that is, do references to specific ideas include page designations in the citation?
4. Are all citations accurate - have you made certain that citations contain the correct information?
5. Have you double checked all quotations for accuracy?
6. Are your tables and illustrations clear, and directly related to the argument in the text?
7. Have you accurately indicated the source of all tables and figures?
8. Is your presentation of other people's work clearly indicated and presented as written? Have you clearly indicated editorial or critical embellishments of your own?

STYLE AND FORMATTING

PARAGRAPHS:
1. Do all paragraphs contain only one central idea?
2. Do all paragraphs contain a topic sentence that introduces the topic of the paragraph?
3. Have you use appropriate transition phrases or paragraphs to introduce new ideas?
4. Does the order of the paragraphs flow logically one from the other?

SENTENCES:
1. Are all sentences written in the active voice except where passive voice is definitely appropriate?
2. Are the tenses in each sentence correct to the meaning being conveyed, and do all tenses within sentences match?
3. Have you checked that number, noun and verb, and sentence structure match?
4. Are nouns and verbs used correctly?
5. Are the adjectives and adverbs you have used both necessary and correct?
6. Are adverbs placed to eliminate split infinitives?
7: Are all the sentences complete sentences and not fragments?

WORDS AND PHRASES:
1. Have you eliminated all unnecessary or redundant words or phrases?
2. Are word choices clear, accurate, and consistent throughout the paper?
3. Have you double checked all spelling?
4. Have you limited or eliminated all jargon, except in direct quotes?
5. Have you eliminated all contractions, except in direct quotes?
6. Have you eliminated all slang or colloquial words or phrases except in direct quotes?
7. Have you defined all foreign language terms clearly?
8. Have you used any technical language correctly, and with adequate explanation?
9. Have you provided definitions of words or concepts that have multiple meanings in the discipline in which you are writing? Have you explained your source's use of these words or concepts? Have you explained your use of these words or concepts?
10.Do you use these definitions consistently throughout your paper?
11.Are all acronyms explained and used correctly?
12.Have you double checked that/which clauses to ensure that they are being used correctly?

PUNCTUATION:
1. Are colons and semi-colons used correctly?
2. Have you eliminated unnecessary commas?
3. Are commas used properly in series and lists?
4. Is the punctuation of in-text citations correct?

REFERENCES:
1. Do in-text citations match reference entries in your reference list?
2. Have you referenced everything you have cited in your paper?
3. Have you referenced only those sources you directly cite in your paper?
4. Is the punctuation, order, and content of the reference list correct? Have you double checked all spellings and titles? Is the reference list in alphabetical order?

TABLES, ILLUSTRATIONS, APPENDICES:
1. Are all tables and illustrations drawn in black ink or in computer graphics format?
2. Are they clearly labeled, and are they referred to directly in the body of the paper?
3. Do in-text references to tables and illustrations match the labeling of the tables and illustrations themselves?
4. Are tables and illustrations placed at appropriate places in the text? If not, are they gathered together in a special section at the back of the paper, and do you tell the reader where these figures are located?
5. Are appendices clearly labeled, and placed at the end of the paper?
6. Are appendices directly relevant to the paper, and are they directly referred to in the body of the text?

GENERAL:
1. Have you made a copy of your paper in the event the original is lost?
2. Have all corrections to the text been made clearly and cleanly?
3. Does your title page contain the following information:

COURSE NAME

ASSIGNMENT NAME

PAPER TITLE AND SUB-TITLE

INSTRUCTOR'S NAME

YOUR NAME

YOUR STUDENT NUMBER

THE DATE PAPER IS SUBMITTED

You should be prepared to review this checklist at least twice to ensure that you have formatted and structured your paper correctly. At least two drafts are necessary to prepare a well presented research paper. No one can guarantee a good grade on a writing assignment, except perhaps you. Be ready to work, to set up your paper accurately, and to ensure that your presentation is complete and clear. Working harder pays off. Working clearly pays even more. So, work.....

© 2006 dr.d.