Put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Look at your work through their eyes. Keep in mind that, while you may know something about a topic and write about it with supported research, your audience may be new to the topic. Being specific in your writing helps clarify your message to audiences. Do not assume that your audience already knows what you know.
- Cut unnecessary words. Inexperienced writers should be able to cut 20 percent (or more) of their prose. Look hard at each word, each phrase, and each sentence. Does each and every one help you achieve your purpose? Does each sentence in a paragraph relate to the main idea? If you are like most people, you will find unnecessary repetition rampant in your writing. Pruning the verbiage will result in leaner, tighter, and more forceful writing. Remember E.B. White’s mantra: “Omit needless words. Omit needless words. Omit needless words.”
- Understand that revising your paper should not be the last thing you do — revision should be ongoing throughout the creation of a document.
After doing all this by yourself, seek help from others. First, find an individual who knows about the assignment, your intended audience, and the purpose of the essay. Then, share it with someone who fits the description of the audience for whom the document is intended. Ask your readers if everything is clear and easily understood, if phrases are worded correctly, if the document is logically sound, etc. If you have other specific concerns — Is the second example effective? Does my conclusion resolve the paper nicely? — ask your readers to direct their attention to those issues.
After your have written your paper, return to the beginning to see how the end relates to the beginning. Have you maintained the same tone and main idea throughout? Does the ending reiterate your main idea without just summarizing what you’ve already said?
It is also oftentimes helpful to have someone read your paper aloud to you. This will force you to go over the material more slowly and allow you another chance to absorb the content of the paper. When you read your own paper aloud you are more apt to read the paper as you intended it to be read, as opposed to reading what is actually on the page.
After going through the steps above and making changes as necessary, you should feel your paper is nearly complete. The content should be in place, and your text should make your case clearly and forcefully. If you feel this is the case, you are ready to closely edit and proofread your text.
“Books aren’t written; they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”