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12.2: Editing and Developing a Final Draft of a Research Paper (Part 1)

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  • Skills to Develop

    • Edit your paper to ensure that language, citations, and formatting are correct

    Given all the time and effort you have put into your research paper, you will want to make sure that your final draft represents your best work. This requires taking the time to revise and edit your paper carefully.

    You may feel like you need a break from your paper before you edit it. That feeling is understandable, so you want to be sure to leave yourself enough time to complete this important stage of the writing process. This section presents a number of opportunities for you to focus on different aspects of the editing process; as with revising a draft, you should approach editing in different stages.

    Some of the content in this section may seem repetitive, but again, it provides you with a chance to double-check any revisions you have made at a detailed level.

    Editing Your Draft

    If you have been incorporating each set of revisions as Mariah and Jorge have, you have produced multiple drafts of your writing. So far, all your changes have been content changes. Perhaps with the help of peer feedback, you have made sure that you sufficiently supported your ideas. You have checked for problems with unity and coherence. You have examined your essay for word choice, revising to cut unnecessary words and to replace weak wording with specific and appropriate wording.

    The next step after revising the content is editing. When you edit, you examine the surface features of your text. You examine your spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. You also make sure you use the proper format when creating your finished assignment.


    Editing takes time. Be sure to budget time into the writing process to complete additional edits after revising. Editing and proofreading your writing helps you create a finished work that represents your best efforts. Here are a few more tips to remember about your readers:

    Readers do not notice correct spelling, but they do notice misspellings.

    Readers look past your sentences to get to your ideas—unless the sentences are awkward, poorly constructed, and frustrating to read.

    Readers notice when every sentence has the same rhythm as every other sentence, with no variety.

    Readers do not cheer when you use there, their, and they’re correctly, but they notice when you do not.

    Readers will notice the care with which you handled your assignment and your attention to detail in the delivery of an error-free document.

    Being Clear and Concise

    Some writers are very methodical and painstaking when they write a first draft. Other writers unleash a lot of words in order to get out all that they feel they need to say. Do either of these methods match your style? Or is your composing style somewhere in between? No matter which description best fits you, the first draft of almost every piece of writing, no matter its author, can be made clearer and more concise.

    If you have a tendency to write too much, you will need to look for unnecessary words. If you have a tendency to be vague or imprecise in your wording, you will need to find specific words to replace any overly general language.

    Identifying Wordiness

    Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will appeal more to their audience and better fit their purpose. Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for in your draft. Eliminating wordiness helps all readers, because it makes your ideas clear, direct, and straightforward.

    • Sentences that begin with There is or There are
    • Wordy. There are two major experiments that the Biology Department sponsors.
    • Revised. The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.
    • Sentences with unnecessary modifiers
    • Wordy. Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke eloquently in favour of the proposed important legislation.
    • Revised. Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favour of the proposed legislation.

    Sentences with deadwood phrases that add little to the meaning. Be judicious when you use phrases such as in terms of, with a mind to, on the subject of, as to whether or not, more or less, as far as…is concerned, and similar expressions. You can usually find a more straightforward way to state your point.

    • Wordy. As a world leader in the field of green technology, the company plans to focus its efforts in the area of geothermal energy. A report as to whether or not to use geysers as an energy source is in the process of preparation.
    • Revised. As a world leader in green technology, the company plans to focus on geothermal energy. Researchers are preparing a report about using geysers as an energy source.

    Sentences in the passive voice or with forms of the verb to be: Sentences with passive voice verbs often create confusion because the subject of the sentence does not perform an action. Sentences are clearer when the subject performs the action and is followed by a strong verb. Use strong active voice verbs in place of forms of to be, which can lead to wordiness. Avoid passive voice when you can.

    • Wordy. It might perhaps be said that using a GPS device is something that is a benefit to drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
    • Revised. Using a GPS device benefits drivers who have a poor sense of direction.

    Sentences with constructions that can be shortened

    • Wordy. The e-book reader, which is a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone. My over-60 uncle bought an e-book reader, and his wife bought an e-book reader, too.
    • Revised. The e-book reader, a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone. My over-60 uncle and his wife both bought e-book readers.

    Choosing Specific, Appropriate Words

    Most essays at the post-secondary level should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation. Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate. For more information about word choice, see Chapter 2.

    Avoid slang. Find alternatives to bummer, kewl, and rad.

    Avoid language that is overly casual. Write about “men and women” rather than “girls and guys” unless you are trying to create a specific effect. A formal tone calls for formal language.

    Avoid contractions. Use do not in place of don’t, I am in place of I’m,have not in place of haven’t, and so on. Contractions are considered casual speech.

    Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as green with envy, face the music, better late than never, and similar expressions are empty of meaning and may not appeal to your audience.

    Be careful when you use words that sound alike but have different meanings. Some examples are allusion/illusion; complement/compliment; council/counsel; concurrent/consecutive; founder/flounder; and historic/historical. When in doubt, check a dictionary.

    Choose words with the connotations you want. Choosing a word for its connotations is as important in formal essay writing as it is in all kinds of writing. Compare the positive connotations of the word proud and the negative connotations of arrogant and conceited.

    Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for thing, people, nice, good, bad, interesting, and other vague words. Or use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.

    Now read the revisions Mariah made to make her third paragraph clearer and more concise. She has already incorporated the changes she made to improve unity and coherence.


    Exercise 12.8

    Answer the following questions about Mariah’s revised paragraph:

    Read the unrevised and the revised paragraphs aloud. Explain in your own words how changes in word choice have affected Mariah’s writing.

    Do you agree with the changes that Mariah made to her paragraph? Which changes would you keep and which were unnecessary? Explain. What other changes would you have made?

    What effect does removing contractions and the pronoun you have on the tone of the paragraph? How would you characterize the tone now? Why?

    Now return once more to your essay in progress. Read carefully for problems with word choice. Be sure that your draft is written in formal language and that your word choice is specific and appropriate.

    Exercise 12.9

    Return once more to the first draft of the essay you have been revising. Check it for unnecessary words.

    Try making your sentences as concise as they can be.

    Brief Punctuation Review

    Throughout this book, you have been presented with a number of tables containing transitional words. Table 12.2: Punctuating Transitional Words and Phrases shows many of the transition words you have seen organized into different categories to help you know how to punctuate with each one.

    Table 12.2 - Punctuating Transitional Words and Phrases
    Joining Independent Clauses (coordination)
    2 IND Coordinating conjunctions: FANBOYS Conjunctive adverbs and other transitional expressions
    IND;IND IND, ____ IND IND. _____, IND or IND; _____,IND
    for accordingly after all
    and after a while also
    nor anyhow as a result
    but at any rate at the same time
    or besides consequently
    yet for example for instance
    so furthermore hence
    henceforth however
    in addition indeed
    in fact in other words
    in particular instead
    in the first place likewise
    meanwhile moreover
    nevertheless nonetheless
    on the contrary on the other hand
    otherwise still
    then therefore
    Forming Dependent Clauses (subordination)
    after although as as if as though
    because before if in order that since
    so that that though unless until
    when whenever where wherever
    *which while who whom whose

    * This row contains relative pronouns, which may be punctuated differently.

    Joining Independent Clauses

    There are three ways to join independent clauses. By using a mix of all three methods and varying your transition words, you will add complexity to your writing and improve the flow. You will also be emphasizing to your reader which ideas you want to connect or to show things like cause and effect or contrast. For a more detailed review of independent clauses, look back at Chapter 3: Putting Ideas into Your Own Words and Paragraphs. Option 1 By simply using a semicolon (;), you can make the ideas connect more than if you were to use a period. If you are trying to reinforce that connection, use a semicolon because it is not as strong of a pause as a period and reinforces the link. Option 2 When you want to link two independent sentences and increase the flow between ideas, you can add a comma and a coordinating conjunction between them. With coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), you do not use a comma every time: you would only do so if what is on either side of the conjunction is a complete sentence not just a phrase. You would not put a comma if you are only giving a list of two items. For example:

    Comma:It is cold outside, so I wore an extra warm coat.

    No comma: It is cold outside. I wore an extra warm coat and gloves.

    The first example contains a complete sentence (independent clause) on either side of the conjunction so. Just the conjunction by itself or just a comma by itself is not strong enough to join two independent clauses. However, if you put the two together with so, you can link the two. In the second example, and is simply connecting two noun phrases: warm coat and gloves. What comes after the conjunction is not a complete sentence, so you would not add a comma. To check if there is a complete, independent clause, ask yourself, “Can that part stand by itself as a complete sentence?” In the case of the no comma example, gloves is what comes after the comma. That is not a complete sentence, only a noun: that means it is part of a list and is not a complete sentence = no comma. The point of these examples was to show you that you have to be careful how you use commas and conjunctions. As easy as it would be to just always toss in a comma, doing so would confuse your reader as what is and is not part of a list and what ideas are joined. Option 3 Your third choice is to join two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb or another transition word. These words are very useful because they clearly show your reader how you would like your ideas to connect. If you wanted to emphasize contrasting ideas, you would use on the other hand or however. If you wanted to show cause and effect, you could use as a result. Refer to the tables you have seen in other chapters to make sure you are using the transitions you actually mean to be using; then, check Table 12.2 to confirm how you should punctuate it. After your first independent clause, you can choose to either use a period or a semicolon, again depending on how much of a link you want to show. You may also want to consider how many long sentences you have used prior to this. If you use a lot of complicated sentences, you should probably use a period to allow your reader to take a break. You must also remember to include a comma after the transition word.

    Period:It is cold outside.Therefore, I wore an extra warm coat.

    Semicolon: It is cold outside; therefore, I wore an extra warm coat.

    Joining Dependent Clauses

    If one of the clauses in a sentence is independent and can stand on its own, but the other is not, you have to construct the sentence a little differently. Whenever you add a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun to an independent sentence, you create a dependent clause—one that can never stand alone. In the examples below, notice that when the independent clause comes first, it is strong enough to carry the dependent clause at the end without any helping punctuation. However, if you want the dependent clause first, you must add a comma between it and the independent clause: the dependent clause is not strong enough to support the independent clause after without a little help. In the examples below, the independent clauses are double underlined and the dependent clause has a single underline.

    IND first:I wore an extra warm coat as it is cold outside.

    DEP first: As it is cold outside, I wore an extra warm coat.


    If you want to start a sentence with Because, you need to make sure there is a second half to that sentence that is independent. A Because (dependent) clause can never stand by itself.

    At the bottom on Table 12.2, you can see a list of five dependent markers that can be used a little differently. These are relative pronouns, and when you use them, you need to ask yourself if the information is 100 percent necessary for the reader to understand what you are describing. If it is optional, you can include a comma before the relative clause even if it comes after the independent clause.

    Nonessential:As it is cold outside, I wore an extra warm coat, which was blue.

    Essential: My coat which is blue is the one I wear when it is really cold outside.

    In the nonessential example, the fact that the coat was warm was probably more important than that the coat was blue. The information that the coat is blue probably would not make a difference in keeping the person warm, so the information in that relative clause is not terribly important. Adding the comma before the clause tells the reader it is extra information. In the essential example, the use of the same clause without a preceding comma shows that this information is important. The writer is implying he has other coats that are not as warm and are not blue, so he is emphasizing the importance of the blue coat. These are the only five subordinators, or relative pronouns, for which you can do this; every other one needs to follow the previous explanation of how to use these dependent transition words. If you do decide to add a comma with one of the relative pronouns, you need to think critically about whether or not that description is completely essential.

    Using any of these sentence joining strategies is helpful in providing sentence variety to help your reader stay engaged and reading attentively. By following these punctuation rules, you will also avoid creating sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices, all of which improves your end product.

    Given how much work you have put into your research paper, you will want to check for any errors that could distract or confuse your readers. Using the spell checking feature in your word processing program can be helpful, it should not replace a full, careful review of your document. Be sure to check for any errors that may have come up frequently for you in the past. Use Checklist 12.4: Editing Your Writing to help you as you edit.

    Checklist 12.4: Editing Your Writing


    Are some sentences actually sentence fragments?

    Are some sentences run-on? How can I correct them?

    Do some sentences need conjunctions between independent clauses?

    Does every verb agree with its subject?

    Is every verb in the correct tense?

    Are tense forms, especially for irregular verbs, written correctly?

    Have I used subject, object, and possessive personal pronouns correctly?

    Have I used who and whom correctly?

    Is the antecedent of every pronoun clear?

    Do all personal pronouns agree with their antecedents?

    Have I used the correct comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs?

    Is it clear which word a participial phrase modifies, or is it a dangling modifier?

    Sentence Structure

    Are all my sentences simple sentences, or do I vary my sentence structure?

    Have I chosen the best coordinating or subordinating conjunctions to join clauses?

    Have I created long, overpacked sentences that should be shortened for clarity?

    Do I see any mistakes in parallel structure?


    Does every sentence end with the correct end punctuation?

    Can I justify the use of every exclamation point?

    Have I used apostrophes correctly to write all singular and plural possessive forms?

    Have I used quotation marks correctly?

    Mechanics and Usage

    Can I find any spelling errors? How can I correct them?

    Have I used capital letters where they are needed?

    Have I written abbreviations, where allowed, correctly?

    Can I find any errors in the use of commonly confused words, such as to/too/two?

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