Editing your work

Now you have written a draft of your essay, you are ready to edit it. When you write, you know in your mind exactly what you're arguing. However, this might not always translate clearly onto the page. Therefore, it is important to edit with your reader in mind to ensure they easily follow the logic of your argument. 

Editing is best carried out in stages from argument through to expression. The four-stage approach comprises a series of questions that you can ask yourself to help with the editing process.

Four stages of editing

1. Edit for argument

  • Is your thesis statement clear?
  • Does it take a position and outline your supporting argument?
  • Does it answer the essay question?
  • Are your key reasons signposted in the introduction?
  • Are they summarised in the conclusion?

2. Edit for structure

  • Is your argument sustained through the essay body?
  • Do your topic sentences contribute to your argument?
  • Are your paragraphs in a logical order?
  • Does the order of your reasons in the introduction match the order of your paragraphs in the body?

3. Edit for paragraphing

  • Does each paragraph have a topic sentence and one main idea?
  • Do your paragraphs have too much evidence and analysis? If so, should they be split?
  • Are your quotations accurate?
  • Is the evidence you use correctly cited?

4. Edit for expression

  • Do your sentences flow together?
  • Are there any long sentences that could be shortened?
  • Is there a variety of sentence structures and language? Do not, for example, start every sentence with the same construction.
  • Are there any redundant phrases or areas of repetition that could be cut?
  • Have you signposted any lists? If you are presenting a list (First, . . . Second, . . . Finally, . . .) make sure you have told the reader what it is you are listing. E.g. 'The process can be explained in three steps. First ...' 
  • Do you avoid ascribing agency to concepts and theories? Avoid saying things like 'Realism changed the dynamic of the Southeast Asian political landscape.' Realism is only a concept, and it can't 'change' anything. A better sentence would be: 'The change in the dynamic of the Southeast Asian political landscape can be explained by the theory of realism.'
  • Have you avoided stating absolutes? Avoid using generalisations and phrases like 'a perfect example,' 'a total failure,' 'everybody believes,' 'always,' 'never,' 'only.'

After editing in these four stages, you will also need to make sure that you meet the word limit requirements and carefully proofread your work before you submit it. 


Reducing words

It is very common to have drafts that go over the word limit, and you may need to reduce words. When editing for structure and paragraphing in the stages above, you might identify ideas that can be cut or combined to reduce words. However, if you wish to keep the ideas in the work, another way to reduce words is to revise the expression and look at ways to express ideas more concisely. Here are some tips on using concise expression:

  • Could one or two words replace a phrase? There are many instances of phrases that can be replaced with single words. For example:
    • 'Authors such as' could be replaced with 'Authors including'
    • 'In this essay I advance the argument that' vs 'I argue that'
    • 'Now it is time to turn to the next stage of the essay' vs 'Now, I move on to'
  • Are there unnecessary words? Often when writing we use extra words that fill up sentences. When editing, you might find that these words are unnecessary. For example:
    • 'Gibson uses hesitancy in order to destabilise the central character's sense of reality' could be rewritten as 'Gibson uses hesitancy to destabilise the central character's sense of reality'
    • 'What the findings also imply is that actual entry does more than potential entry' could be revised as 'The findings also imply that actual entry does more than potential entry'
  • Change the sentence structure.Sentence structures can greatly affect word length. For example, passive voice sentences are often longer than active ones. Test out whether changing the sentence structure could make your writing more concise. For example:
    • 'Due to climate change being affected by many factors' could be rewritten as 'Since many factors affect climate change'
    • 'The patent system in Australia is governed by the Patents Act 1990 (Cth)' could become "'he Patents Act 1990 (Cth) governs Australia's patent system'

Be careful when revising your work to reduce the word count, because your writing can lose its natural rhythm and can begin to sound choppy or jarring. For example, if you have a series of short sentences all in a row, they can sound too abrupt. To ensure that your writing maintains an engaging, smooth rhythm, read your work aloud and ask yourself if it needs more balance in the rhythm. Generally, a variety of long and short sentences can help to balance the rhythm.


Having revised your work following the four stages above, you are now ready to proofread. Unlike editing, which involves reflecting on how ideas are expressed and arranged, proofreading is a more mechanical task. When proofreading, you are looking for errors such as spelling mistakes. Make sure to use techniques that de-familiarise the text, as they can help you to read it with fresh eyes. Here are some techniques and things to look for when proofreading.


  • Read aloud.
  • Read each sentence from the end of the text to the start.
  • Change the font or text colour.
  • Print out a copy to review.
  • Read for one thing at a time.
  • Use the 'find' and 'replace' functions in Word.
  • Do small chunks with frequent breaks.
  • Allow time between drafting and proofreading where possible.
  • It takes a lot of editing and proofreading to produce good work. Once you start proofreading, don't be afraid to go back to rearrange your ideas and adjust your argument.

Things to look for 

  • Delete repeated words.
  • Fix typos.
  • Remove grammatical errors. Check out our useful advice on writing in English for more resources on grammar.
  • Check references for accuracy, completeness and consistency. See our referencing guidance for assistance. 
  • If you use acronyms, spell the words out in full first with the acronym in brackets after it, and use the acronym thereafter. E.g. 'United Kingdom (UK).'
  • When referring to a decade, do not use an apostrophe, e.g. write 1980s, not 1980's.
  • Within paragraphs, numbers one to ten should be written as words. After that, numbers 11 onwards should be numerals. If you begin a sentence with a number, write the number rather than use a numeral.
  • Use gender-neutral language. For example, use 'human' or 'humankind' rather than 'man' and 'mankind.' Use 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she' or 'he/she'.
  • Use punctuation and capitalisation consistently.
  • Check that the work is formatted according to the course requirements.


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