Editing Your Writing

What does editing involve?

  • Writing usually undergoes several drafts before it is complete. As well as advancing, retreating helps to re-evaluate, revisit and get feedback (Murray and Moore, 2006, p. 37).
  • You might develop, reword, make better links, reorder or cut information.
  • Additionally, proofreading involves checking spelling, punctuation and grammar. Visit the University of Bristol’s (2015) interactive tutorials to discover common confusions.
Diagram of the process of writing.

Writing Process, adapted from Francis (2016, p. 30)


Strategies for editing

  • Decide whether you prefer to read from the screen or a printed copy.
  • Read aloud to be more aware of sentence length and readability. Ask: ‘Can you read each sentence without stumbling or running out of breath?’ (Trimble, 2010, p. 78)
  • Additionally, add comments, highlight or make notes about areas you want to develop.


Quick Questions for Editing

Content: Have all your points been supported by reliable evidence?

Structure: Are the paragraphs ordered logically? Has repetition of information been avoided?

Style: Have you used a suitable style? Hint: reports and essays use formal style with no abbreviations, shortened words or slang.

Spelling: Are authors’ names and subject specific words correct? Have you avoided commonly misspelt words and homophones (a word that sounds the same as another, but has a different meaning) such as there and their?

Formatting: Does the document follow correct formatting for font, line spacing and Harvard referencing?

Study Skills Toolkit
See our Editing Checklist for more detailed questions.

Cutting down word count at:

1. At word level

a) Phrasal verbs

  • Phrasal verbs contain multiple words that can be made into one. See some common examples in the table below.
Phrasal verb One word
Bring up/put forward Raise
Point out Highlight
Talk about Discuss
Think about Consider

b) Overuse of adjectives and adverbs

  • Adjectives describe nouns, and adverbs give more information about a verb, adjective, or other adverb.
  • Helen Sword (2016, p. 39) calls these “academic ad-words”.
  • Check your writing’s concision with Sword’s online tool: The writer’s diet.

Examples of overuse

Adjective: John Berger’s (1972) notable and seminal work, Ways of Seeing, will be used to understand the object of the gaze.

  • When introducing a work, be careful to avoid overloading with adjectives. You could pick one of these words.

 Adverb: This area is highly important to the creative arts.

  • The adverb ‘highly’ is unnecessary as it is subjective (influenced by feelings or opinions) rather than objective. You can also avoid other adverbs that emphasise such as ‘very’ and ‘really’.


2. At sentence level

Omit needless words… A sentence should contain no unnecessary words … for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines (Strunk and White, 2000, p. 23).