Given all the time and effort you have put into your research project, 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 revise and edit it. That is understandable—but leave yourself with enough time to complete this important stage of the writing process. In this section, you will learn the following specific strategies that are useful for revising and editing a research paper:
- How to evaluate and improve the overall organization and cohesion
- How to maintain an appropriate style and tone
- How to use checklists to identify and correct any errors in language, citations, and formatting
Revising Your Paper: Organization and Cohesion
When writing a research paper, it is easy to become overly focused on editorial details, such as the proper format for bibliographical entries. These details do matter. However, before you begin to address them, it is important to spend time reviewing and revising the content of the paper. It is also important to revise your content before editing for word choice and tone so that you only have to complete that more detailed level of editing once.
A good research paper is both organized and cohesive. Organization means that your argument flows logically from one point to the next. Cohesion means that the elements of your paper work together smoothly and naturally. In a cohesive research paper, information from research is seamlessly integrated with the writer’s ideas.
Revise to Improve Organization
When you revise to improve organization, you look at the flow of ideas throughout the essay as a whole and within individual paragraphs. You check to see that your essay moves logically from the introduction to the body paragraphs to the conclusion, and that each section reinforces your thesis. You also should make sure the transitions, or logical connections, between one paragraph and the next -- and especially one section and the next -- are clear. Use the following checklist to help you, but be sure the revise at the organizational level before you revise at the paragraph level.
At the essay level
- Does my introduction proceed clearly from the opening to the thesis?
- Does each body paragraph have a clear main idea that relates to the thesis?
- Do the main ideas in the body paragraphs flow in a logical order? Is each paragraph connected to the one before it?
- Do I need to add or revise topic sentences or transitions to make the overall flow of ideas clearer?
- Does my conclusion summarize my main ideas and revisit my thesis?
At the paragraph level
- Does the topic sentence clearly state the main idea?
- Do the details in the paragraph relate to the main idea?
- Do I need to recast any sentences or add transition words or sentences to improve the flow of sentences? See cohesion for more specifics about revising for this.
To help you decide whether your essay is organized correctly, try the low-tech way or seeing what paragraph organization works best. It can be especially cumbersome to reorganize paragraphs on a computer, so sometimes doing this on paper works better. Here are the steps:
1. Print out your paper one-sided. Add in spaces between paragraphs so that no paragraphs are split between two pages.
2. Cut apart your paragraphs (but keep each paragraph together).
3. Give the cut-apart paragraphs to a friend, and see if they can figure out which order they should go in. If they decide it goes in the order you already have your paper in, your paper is probably organized well already. If they cannot figure out the order, ask them to explain to you which paragraphs they are unsure about. This should give you a clue about where you should reorganize your paragraphs, if transitions need to be added, or if there is a missing chunk of information that should be developed to improve the overall cohesion of the paper.
Revise to Improve Paragrah Cohesion
In a research paper, problems with cohesion usually occur when a writer has trouble integrating source material. If facts or quotations have been awkwardly dropped into a paragraph, they distract or confuse the reader instead of working to support the writer’s point. Overusing paraphrased and quoted material has the same effect. Use the next checklist to review your essay for paragraph cohesion. Miguel did this in the introductory paragraph of his research paper:
Writers choose transitions carefully to show the relationships between ideas—for instance, to make a comparison or elaborate on a point with examples. Make sure your transitions suit your purpose and avoid overusing the same ones.
- Does the opening of the paper clearly connect to the broader topic and thesis? Make sure entertaining quotes or anecdotes serve a purpose.
- Have I included support from research for each main point in the body of my paper?
- Have I included introductory material before any quotations? Quotations should never stand alone in a paragraph.
- Does paraphrased and quoted material clearly serve to develop my own points?
- Do I need to add to or revise parts of the paper to help the reader understand how certain information from a source is relevant?
- Are there any places where I have overused material from sources?
- Does my conclusion make sense based on the rest of the paper? Make sure any new questions or suggestions in the conclusion are clearly linked to earlier material.
As Miguel reread his draft, he looked to see how the different pieces fit together to prove his thesis. He realized that some of his supporting information needed to be integrated more carefully and decided to omit some details entirely. Read the following paragraph, first without Miguel’s revisions and then with them.
Follow these steps to begin revising your paper to improve cohesion.
- Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from the first exercise on this page.
- Read the body paragraphs of your paper first. Each time you come to a place that cites information from sources, ask yourself what purpose this information serves. Check that it helps support a point and that it is clearly related to the other sentences in the paragraph.
- Be sure there is a direct connection between the idea in the sentence before the quote or paraphrase, as well as between the idea in the quote or paraphrase and the sentence that comes after it.
- Identify unnecessary information from sources that you can delete.
- Identify places where you need to revise your writing so that readers understand the significance of the details cited from sources.
- Skim the body paragraphs once more, looking for any paragraphs that seem packed with citations. Review these paragraphs carefully for cohesion.
- Review your introduction and conclusion. Make sure the information presented connects directly with ideas in the body of the paper.
- Revise the places you identified in your paper to improve cohesion.
Exchange papers with a classmate. On the classmate's paper, identify unnecessary information from sources that you can delete. Also, note any areas that would benefit from clarification or a clearer connection. Return and compare notes.
Writing at Work
Understanding cohesion can also benefit you in the workplace, especially when you have to write and deliver a presentation. Speakers sometimes rely on cute graphics or funny quotations to hold their audience’s attention. If you choose to use these elements, make sure they work well with the substantive content of your presentation. For example, if you are asked to give a financial presentation, and the financial report shows that the company lost money, funny illustrations would not be relevant or appropriate for the presentation.
Using a Consistent Style and Tone
Once you are certain that the content of your paper fulfills your purpose, you can begin revising to improve style and tone. Style refers to the way you use language as a writer—the sentence structures you use and the word choices you make. Tone is the attitude toward your subject and audience that you convey through your word choice. Together, your style and tone create the voice of your paper, or how you come across to readers.
Determining an Appropriate Style and Tone
Although accepted writing styles will vary within different disciplines, the underlying goal is the same—to come across to your readers as a knowledgeable, authoritative guide. Writing about research is like being a tour guide who walks readers through a topic. A stuffy, overly formal tour guide can make readers feel put off or intimidated. Too much informality or humor can make readers wonder whether the tour guide really knows what he or she is talking about. Extreme or emotionally charged language comes across as unbalanced or biased.
- Editing for Register and Tone. Authored by: Dr. Satu Manninen. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
To help prevent being overly formal or informal, determine an appropriate style and tone at the beginning of the research process. Consider your topic and audience because these can help dictate style and tone. For example, a paper on new breakthroughs in cancer research should be more formal than a paper on ways to get a good night’s sleep, partly because the audiences are likely different.
A strong research paper comes across as straightforward, appropriately academic, and serious. It is generally best to avoid writing in the first or second person, as this can make your paper seem overly subjective and opinion based. Use the next checklist on style to review your paper for other issues that affect style and tone. You can check for consistency at the end of the writing process. Checking for consistency is discussed later in this section.
- My paper avoids excessive wordiness.
- My sentences are varied in length and structure.
- I have generally avoided using first-person pronouns, such as "I," and definitely avoided the second person, "you."
- I have used the active voice whenever possible.
- I have defined specialized terms that might be unfamiliar to readers.
- I have used clear, straightforward language whenever possible and avoided unnecessary jargon.
- My paper states my point of view using a balanced tone—neither too indecisive nor too forceful.
- I have used the simple present tense when referring to what other people did in their research.
Note that word choice is an especially important aspect of style. In addition to checking the points noted on the above Checklist, review your paper to make sure your language is precise, conveys no unintended connotations, and is free of biases. Here are some of the points to check for:
- Vague or imprecise terms
- Repetition of the same phrases (“Smith states…, Jones states…”) to introduce quoted and paraphrased material (For a full list of strong verbs to use with in-text quotations, see Chapter 11.)
- Exclusive use of masculine pronouns or awkward use of he or she
- Use of language with negative connotations, such as haughty or ridiculous
- Use of outdated or offensive terms to refer to specific ethnic, racial, or religious groups
Using plural nouns and pronouns or recasting a sentence can help you keep your language gender inclusive while avoiding awkwardness. Consider the following examples:
- Gender-biased: When a writer cites a source in the body of his paper, he must list it on his references page.
- Awkward: When a writer cites a source in the body of his or her paper, he or she must list it on his or her references page.
- Inclusive: Writers must list any sources cited in the body of their paper on the references page
Keeping Your Style Consistent
As you revise your paper, make sure your style is consistent throughout. Look for instances where a word, phrase, or sentence just does not seem to fit with the rest of the writing. It is best to reread for style after you have completed the other revisions so that you are not distracted by any larger content issues. Revising strategies you can use include the following:
- Read your paper aloud. Sometimes your ears catch inconsistencies that your eyes miss.
- Share your paper with another reader whom you trust to give you honest feedback. It is often difficult to evaluate one’s own style objectively—especially in the final phase of a challenging writing project. Another reader may be more likely to notice instances of wordiness, confusing language, or other issues that affect style and tone.
- Line-edit your paper slowly, sentence by sentence. You may even wish to use a sheet of paper to cover everything on the page except the paragraph you are editing—that forces you to read slowly and carefully. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.
On reviewing his paper, Miguel found that he had generally used an appropriately academic style and tone. However, he noticed one glaring exception—his first paragraph. He realized there were places where his overly informal writing could come across as unserious or, worse, disparaging. Revising his word choice and omitting a humorous aside helped Miguel maintain a consistent tone. Read his revisions.
Using the "Style" checklist, line-edit your paper. You may use either of these techniques:
- Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from the previous exercise. Read it line by line. Check for the issues noted on the "Style" checklist, as well as any other aspects of your writing style you or your instructor have previously identified as areas for improvement. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.
- If you prefer to work with an electronic document, use the menu options in your word-processing program to enlarge the text to 150 or 200 percent of the original size. Make sure the type is large enough that you can focus on only one paragraph at a time. Read the paper line by line as described in step 1. Highlight any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.
Proofreading Your Paper
The following video will give an overview of some proofreading strategies.
Proofreading strategies. Authored by: Coventry University, Centre for Academic Writing. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
After revising your paper to address problems in content or style, you will complete one final editorial review. Perhaps you already have caught and corrected minor mistakes during previous revisions. Nevertheless, give your draft a final edit to make sure it is error-free. Your final edit should focus on two broad areas:
- Errors in grammar, mechanics, usage, and spelling
- Errors in citing and formatting sources
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—but this 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. Grammar check can also sometimes be helpful, but they may not catch grammar errors in the more complicated sentences that college students write. Be sure to do your own proofreading; however, if you want to get someone else's eyes, ask them to either circle or underline where they see a problem (but not fix it), or write an "x" next to the line with the proofreading mistake. It is then up to you to find the actual mistake. Either way, you should figure out what the mistake is and fix it yourself.
Writing at Work
Proofreading well is essential at many workplaces. Proofreading mistakes -- even in short emails -- can give the impression that you do not pay attention to detail or that you are not knowledable. Even though it is not necessarily true that writing is a basic skill, many people in the workplace view it as such, so proofreading is a skill you should have under control when you are in the workpplace so that people don't get the wrong impression of you.
Checking Citations and Formatting
When editing a research paper, it is also important to check that you have cited sources properly and formatted your document according to the specified guidelines. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, citing sources correctly ensures that you have given proper credit to other people for ideas and information that helped you in your work. Second, using correct formatting establishes your paper as one student’s contribution to the work developed by and and the conversation in a larger academic community.
Citations and Formatting
- Within the body of my paper, each fact or idea taken from a source (whether quoted of paraphrased) is credited to the correct source.
- Each in-text citation includes the source author’s name (or, where applicable, the organization name or source title) and page number (if there is one -- MLA format). I have used the correct format of in-text and parenthetical citations.
- Each source cited in the body of my paper has a corresponding entry in the references section of my paper.
- My references section includes a centered heading that says "Works Cited" and double-spaced, alphabetized entries.
- Each entry in my references section is indented on the second line and all subsequent lines (hanging indent).
- Each entry in my references section includes all the necessary information for that source type, in the correct sequence and format.
- The margins of my paper are set at one inch. Text is double spaced and set in a standard 12-point font.
For detailed guidelines on APA and MLA citation and formatting, see Chapter 13.
Writing at Work
Following APA or MLA citation and formatting guidelines may require time and effort. However, it is good practice for learning how to follow accepted conventions in any professional field. Many large corporations create a style manual with guidelines for editing and formatting documents produced by that corporation. Employees follow the style manual when creating internal documents and documents for publication.