The best piece of feedback I’ve ever seen written by an academic tutor on a student’s essay was “give the reader nothing to complain about”. That student got 70% for his essay and contacted me for a 1-1 Study Coaching session to figure out why he hadn’t got 75% and how he could achieve higher grades in the future.
If you’ve got deadlines approaching and a strong desire to maximise your grades (who doesn’t!) then you need to improve and hone your editing, as well as your writing skills.
Random typos, careless spelling mistakes and referencing errors will cost you marks. Unless you have mitigating circumstances (you’re dyslexic, visually impaired or disabled in some way) you will be penalised and marked down for mistakes that could and should have been corrected.
However, you can only correct mistakes if you can actually see them. Yes, I’m stating the obvious here but spotting your own mistakes is often easier said than done. Use the following tips and tricks to make your writing and editing processes quicker and easier:
1. Employ the Highlighter tool
Word and Google docs both contain essential tools that will enable you to keep track of required revisions. Use the highlighter tool for marking words and/or phrases that you know sound a bit ‘purple’ but you can’t think of the most suitable replacement.
Highlighting will remind you to return to that section of text and re-write it later when you’ve thought more about it whilst enabling you to continue writing or editing the rest of your document.
Highlighting is also essential when working on longer projects such as your thesis as you will most likely have to re-visit specific parts of the text to add page numbers, standardise spellings/phrasing or update references.
Standardisation and consistency are essential for refining your work, especially in a thesis. Whether you use UK or U.K., colour or color, use it throughout. Don’t chop and change.
2. ‘Perfect’ your referencing
I’m not normally inclined to use the word ‘perfect’ as it rarely exists. However, it is possible to reference with 100% accuracy.
Adhere precisely to your university/school/department’s guidelines but, bearing in mind most referencing systems have subtle variations, be consistent in your use of commas or full stops after each element of a bibliographical entry. The best way I know of to be precise here is to read over your text carefully; a computer can only do so much and is only as good as its operator!
Scan read up and down the page to spot and identify patterns to find any inconsistencies in your bibliographical list and/or footnotes. Enlarge or zoom in on the document to at least 125%. Doing this will also save your eyesight in the long-term! When editing fine detail in Word I often work at 150% in Print layout View.
3. Use Find/Replace to speed up standardisation
If your et al.’s are merely ‘et al’ use the Advanced Find and Replace to change formatting and style throughout your text.
This may sound counter-intuitive but avoid using the spell-check tool until you’re ready to finalise and submit your final draft of the entire document. If you have to re-write a section of text you may end up creating errors that don’t get picked up. So correct any spelling and typos as you’re going along if you end up re-writing a significant chunk of text.
4. Read your work aloud
Preferably print out your final version and use a pencil/pen to guide your eyes across the text, reading aloud or just sub-vocalising as you review your text. The process of using speech and therefore another part of your brain whilst reading something you’ve already read about 20 times already trips up the little ‘trick’ that your brain plays on your eyes that prevents you from spotting mistakes.
Your brain actually did the thinking behind the writing so it knows what’s on the page before your eyes see what’s there, or not there!
5. Take regular screen breaks
If you’re editing on-screen, remember to take regular breaks to refresh your eyes and your brain. Just looking away into the distance for 5-10 seconds can help.
Simple stretches such as shoulder shrugs and slow, gentle head twists and nods (avoid stretching your neck backwards) can relieve tension and strain.
6. Manage your time well
Aim to have at least 24 hours to put your work aside before you finalise and submit it. This will enable you to look at it with a fresh perspective. If all you can manage is overnight, that’s OK. Sleeping on it and reviewing in the morning will usually enable you to spot errors that you weren’t able to see the night before with tired eyes and brain!
Spend 30 minutes skimming over it to produce the final draft on the morning of hand-in day to carry out once last check for any obvious errors.
Always write with your reader in mind, they are, after all, grading your work! And always, always, strive to give that person nothing or at least as little as possible to complain about.
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