Five steps to flawlessly edit your writing

College expository writing

There is no such thing as a perfect essay, but there certainly are imperfect ones. Botched grammar, careless typos, and ineloquent wording will be sure to raise the eyebrows of admissions committees, teachers, and professors alike. When the stakes are high, careful editing can make all the difference.

Below are five ways to sharpen your writing and catch mistakes before hitting “send.”

1. Learn from the best.

Flawless editing starts with a solid understanding of the English language. Invest your time in learning from the greatest writers around; they have written much about what reads well and what strains the eye. George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” is a good place to start. The style guides of major publications, which address writers’ most common questions and mistakes, are also valuable resources (my personal favorite is that of The Economist). These works will help you think like an editor. Once understood, their lessons will stay with you for life.

2. Hear your writing.

Listening to your writing will invariably improve it. What might have looked fine on paper can sound odd when read aloud. From your new viewpoint, you may realize that you need to expand on a certain part, shorten another, and add a transition in between. Hearing your writing will also slow you down enough to notice mistakes that your eyes had skipped. Since your computer can read aloud to you without human error, take advantage of it (press Option-Esc on Mac or use Narrator on PC)!

3. Read backwards.

After you have read and heard your piece forwards, read it backwards. Starting from the last paragraph and moving up will disrupt your paper’s storyline or argument. Because you will not be thinking so much about the content, you can better focus on the grammar, language, and spelling.

4. Go word by word.

I recommend this step primarily for the most important pieces you’ll ever write—those in which you have no margin of error. Personally, I’ve used it in editing my book, master’s dissertation, and admissions essays. Print your paper and use a pen or pencil to put a checkmark on every single word. Yes: every single word. As you strike, ask yourself if that word belongs. If it doesn’t, fix it on your computer, reprint the relevant page, and start over. This technique will catch many mistakes that would have otherwise been overlooked. You’ll be amazed.

5. Wait.

If the deadline allows, wait to submit your writing assignment. The temptation to be done with a final draft is alluring, but taking a night’s sleep and some distance from your work will give you fresh perspective. This will improve the end product—and bring you closer to your goals.

Comments

topicTopics
academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions GRE GMAT LSAT chemistry writing strategy math physics ACT biology language learning test anxiety graduate admissions law school admissions MBA admissions interview prep homework help creative writing AP exams MD study schedules summer activities history personal statements academic advice career advice premed philosophy secondary applications Common Application computer science organic chemistry ESL PSAT economics grammar test prep admissions coaching law statistics & probability supplements psychology SSAT covid-19 legal studies 1L CARS logic games reading comprehension Spanish USMLE calculus dental admissions parents research Latin engineering verbal reasoning DAT excel mathematics political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches chinese DO MBA coursework Social Advocacy academic integrity case coaching classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics medical school skills IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs PhD admissions algebra astrophysics athletics biochemistry business business skills careers data science letters of recommendation mental health mentorship quantitative reasoning social sciences software engineering trigonometry work and activities 2L 3L Academic Interest Anki EMT English literature FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Italian Pythagorean Theorem STEM Sentence Correction Zoom algorithms amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing art history artificial intelligence cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chromatography climate change clinical experience cold emails community service constitutional law curriculum dental school distance learning enrichment european history finance first generation student fun facts functions gap year harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intern international students internships investing investment banking logic mandarin chinese mba meiosis mitosis music music theory neurology operating systems phrase structure rules plagiarism poetry pre-dental presentations proofs pseudocode school selection simple linear regression sociology software study abroad teaching tech industry transfer typology units virtual interviews writing circles