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How to Edit an Essay

Updated on November 26, 2014
Get ready to use that red pen!
Get ready to use that red pen!

Just finished writing that big essay worth 25% of your grade? Now it's time to edit. This is one of the most important stages in essay crafting, since a well-polished essay can earn a much higher grade than the same essay before editing and revision. Not sure where to start? Don't worry. I'll point out the most common issues that need clearing up before the essay is ready for submission.

1. Tenses

There is nothing more jarring to any reader, especially a teacher or professor, than tense changes in a piece of writing. Choose a tense for your essay, and stick with it from beginning to end. Do not go back and forth from past to present because this often leads to mistakes and can confuse readers. If necessary, ask someone to read over your essay strictly for tenses. In this way, problem areas can be quickly and easily identified, and therefore quickly fixed.

2. Quotations

There are several mistakes that can occur when using quotations, and these differ based on the type of quotation used.

Paraphrasing - Make sure to include the in-text citation at the end of a paraphrased statement. This is done in parentheses and should be placed directly before the period.

Direct Quotations - Punctuation should only be included before the end quotation marks if it is part of the quote. Otherwise, place the period after the citation.

Block Quotations - If the quote is four or more lines long, it should be offset from the rest of the essay in a block quote format. Include only the punctuation that is included in the quote. The citation goes at the end of the block and should not be followed by a period.

3. Commas

One of the most misused and misunderstood parts of punctuation, the comma is often an issue in essays. Here I will go over a few key places where it should or should not be used.

Compound Sentences: If two sentences are combined with a conjunction (and, but, so, or, yet), there must be a comma before the conjunction. If the second part does not have a subject, then there are not two combined sentences, and no comma is needed.

Comma Example: I went to the store, and I bought a loaf of bread.

No Comma Example: I went to the store and bought a loaf of bread

Complex Sentences: A complex sentence includes an independent clause. If the independent clause is at the beginning of the sentence, then there must be a comma following it, but if it is at the end of the sentence, then there should be no comma preceding it.

Comma Example: Because he was hungry, he ate a snack.

No Comma Example: He ate a snack because he was hungry.

4. Flow

If you have gotten this far, congratulations! You have already likely done far more than most people to improve your essay. This part is meant to polish up the last bit of your paper to make it as well-written as possible. Flow is a measure of how well your essay reads. If there are choppy sentences or confusing sections, it hurts the flow of your piece. In order to fine-tune this flow, read through your essay out loud. If you stumble on your words or frown in confusion at any point, try making that section more smooth. This may require adding a few words or changing around the sentence structure slightly. Once you have finished this, your essay should be suitable for submission, and you will be well on your way to a good grade in the class.


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    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 

      6 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      Very nicely done! I wish more writers on Hubpages followed the basic rules of grammar, or at least, used the spell-check...(did I put my commas in the right place here - that can be tricky!):)


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