How to Edit College Paper Grammar
Why Editing Helps
Whether you like it or not, your writing will be judged not just by your instructors, but by your employers. Learning to write correctly is vital to getting and keeping a good job. So how do you edit effectively? If you don't have time for all the steps, try to at least do 1-3 on your paper before you turn it in.
However, if you really want a better grade, try to do all the steps. The more you edit, the better your grammar will be. More importantly, when you edit your writing, you can learn about the mistakes you make so you can avoid them on your first draft.
#1 Use Computer Help
You would not believe how many students fail to do this obvious first step. Word Processing Programs are getting better and better at checking both spelling and grammar. I also use Grammarly and recommend that my students use it too. While the free version of the program won't find all of your errors, it can often help you correct more errors than your word processing progam alone. Better yet, it might help you to recognize patterns of frequent errors you make.
So learn how to use your word processing grammar and spell checking program and be sure to use it at both the beginning of your editing process and also as a last step before your print or turn in your paper (in case your editing of grammar caused you to make some typos) Don't automatically do all the corrections though. Here is how to do it:
- Open up two copies of your document.
- Put your cursor at the top of one copy of the essay (so you are sure the whole document is checked) and then start the spell/grammar check program.
- Look at each correction the program suggests.
- If you know the correction is right, then let program correct it.
- If you aren't sure about the correction. Click "ignore" but go to your second copy of the essay and underline that section. If you want, you can also put in the correction the computer suggested in a highlighted section, or else a different color.
- When you are finished, check the suggestions you weren't sure about with a friend, a writing instructor, your writing handbook or an online grammar guide.
- After you finish all the other steps, go back and use this spelling/grammar check one last time before you turn in your paper or print it out (especially if you've made a lot of changes).
#2 Read Aloud Slowly
Chances are, you can catch a lot of your grammar errors yourself if you slow down when you read. There are several tricks to help you do this:
- Print off a hard copy of your paper. Studies show that we don't read as carefully on a screen as we do on a paper copy.
- Read the paper out loud. Our eyes skip over words as we read silently. Many of my students find most of their errors when they slow down and read aloud.
- You might even want to read to someone else (give them a copy too) so that you can both discuss anything which doesn't sound right in your paper.
- As you read, notice if you are having trouble reading. If you are, there probably is a problem with that sentence. You might be missing a comma, or maybe the word order or word choice is awkward. Try to re-word sentences to make them clearer.
- Another tip? Some editors suggest reading backwards to try to catch errors.
#3 Have Help
Have someone else read your paper using my Peer Editing worksheet. Be sure you ask that person to look at the places you marked as errors from your word processing program. Ask your editor to especially look for:
- Missing commas.
- Missing semicolons, colons, hyphens or other punctuation errors.
- Problems with verb tenses, passive voice or run-on sentences.
- Misused words or homonym switches (there/there is the most common).
- Places where your sentences sound awkward or they had to read twice to get the meaning.
- Sentences where you use slang, cliches, or words that sound like talking rather than something you would read in a book.
- Errors in parallel sentence structure in lists.
Not sure of the rules? You can check out my easy guides on these subjects, check your writing handbook or look the rules up online. You were probably taught all these rules in school but you may have forgotten some of them, or not fully grasped how to use the rules in your writing. Rules about commas, parallelism, and word choice can take some time to master but they aren't hard if you are determined to become a better writer. Not sure what you need the most help on? Ask your instructor for ideas of where to start.
#4 Check Sentences
Transition Word List for Sentence Starters
Adding (like And)
Contrast (like But)
Examples or to Intensify
Cause and Effect
Summarize or Conclude
As a result
To put it differently
Has your instructor told you to use transitions? Or said that your sentences were awkward or not effective? Editing the first words of your sentence is the key to solving both problems. Here is how to edit your paragraphs for effective sentences:
- Circle the first word of every sentence in a paragraph. Do you see some words that are the same? Each sentence should start with a different word.
- Other sentences you need to change are any that start with words like But, And, So, This and It.
The easiest way to change sentences which start with the same word is to put a transition word in front of one (or both) of the sentences with a comma. To choose the best transition word, think about how the sentences relate to one another. Example:
People continue to smoke in spite of everything we know about the dangers of the habit. People who need to smoke are often not deterred by smoking ads.
- In fact, people continue to smoke in spite of everything we know about the dangers of the habit. Moreover, people who smoke are often not deterred by smoking ads.
Another way to vary these sentences is to change around the order of the words in one of the sentences, putting one of the phrases at the end of the sentence in the beginning as an introductory phrase (which will need a comma). Example:
- In spite of everything we know about the dangers of the habit, people continue to smoke. Unfortunately, those who smoke are often not deterred by smoking ads.
A third way to fix sentence variety is to change one of the words to a synonym (use "individuals" instead of people). Often, the best sentences use all 3 techniques. Example:
- In spite of everything we know about the dangers of the habit, people continue to smoke. Moreover, individuals who smoke are often not deterred by smoking ads.
What is so bad about But, And, So, This and It?
These five words are the most common words students use which just don't make good, professional sentences. Here's why:
"But, And and So" are actually conjunctions, which are intended to put two parts of a sentence together. We use these words when we talk because they help us to think about what we are going to say next, but they are not really effective in written communication, even though you might actually see these in a novel, or even in an article. However, one thing you should know is that this particular error often drives English professors crazy. When you see these in your paper as the first word of a sentence, try one of the substitutions in the chart.
"This" and "It." Students often write sentences such as: "This is an important fact to know" or "It can cause more difficulties than it fixes." The problem is the reader doesn't know exactly what "this" or "it" is supposed to be. An easy fix for this is to just write the noun with the "this": this problem, this information, this aspect of smoking advertising, this habit etc. Similarly, don't use "it" at the beginning of a sentence. Use the noun instead (whatever "it" is!).
#5 Check Word Choice Errors
Frequently Misused Words
meaning of 1st
meaning of 2nd
to accept (verb means to take)
all except one (means leave out or exclude)
affect is verb to influence
effect is noun meaning result
not alright, which is an incorrect spelling
not alot, and actually a poor word for college papers
cite your sources
site as in website or place
its means "belongs to"
it's means "it is"
their (belongs to them)
there (place), they're= they are
all together: a group together
compare to/compare with
"compare to" is for seeing how they are the same
"compare with" is to examine how things are same and/or different
every day/ everyday
every day means each day
everyday means common sorts of things
passed is a verb, she passed the car
past means: went past, or that is in the past
than is for comparing: smaller than
then is time sequence, means "next"
two=2, to=to go, to become
too="also," "very much." I love her too.
your=belongs to you, "your book"
you're=you are, "you're my friend"
Word processors can only check some types of errors. Others you will need to find on your own. Luckily, many of the most common grammar errors college students make are the same. If your instructor has written "word choices" on your paper, you can often improve your grammar pretty easily. Try the following:
- Check the "Frequently Misused Words" list. While this list isn't all the errors college instructors see, these are the most common, which means your instructor is on you like a hawk if they see them! Look for these words in your paper and make sure you've used them correctly.
- Look at Verbs. Especially if your instructor wrote about problems with verb tense shifts, look through your paper and circle the verbs. Make sure that you don't switch from present (now), to past tense (before), to future tense (not yet) without having a reason to do so.
- Singular and Plural. More importantly, be sure that the verb matches the subject. If the subject is singular (one), the verb should not be plural (more than one).
- Pay Attention to Instructor's Comments. If you've gotten a graded paper back from your instructor, then look to see what word choice errors were marked. Make sure you don't make the same error again. Instructors who see you are trying to improve and learn will give you a higher grade. If you don't understand the marks on your paper, be sure to ask. If your school has a writing lab for tutoring, be sure to visit. Another good idea is to take the time to talk with your instructor before or after class, or during office hours. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how you can improve. Your instructor will be glad to know you want to work on your writing.