Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu

Editing is the very final step in writing an essay. Think of editing as the icing on the cake. This is where a writer will make the final product look great. Students should not begin editing until they are sure that the draft is exactly how they want it.

Submitting papers to a service like Turnitin or Grammarly can help students find grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. However, while Turnitin and Grammarly are both wonderful options for helping you edit your papers, understanding the basics of grammar will help you to make better editing decisions.

Whether you are new to the English language or a native speaker, learning the rules of grammar might seem intimidating. However, it’s important to remember that, if you are speaking English, you are using grammar. You might not know the terms to talk about how you speak, but the knowledge is there. If you are a native speaker, you likely know whether or not something sounds correct.

Here is a great checklist to use prior to submitting a final draft:

Editing Checklist

Editing Checklist for Academic Essays


  • All papers are in MLA format
    • Appropriate headings and page numbering are used
    • Margins are correct: 1/2 inch from top to right header, 1 inch all around
    • Spacing is set to double, with no extra line spaces between headings and title, title and body, or between paragraphs
  • Within the essay, parenthetical citations are used (Lastname 13).
  • A works cited page is included when appropriate, with all necessary information.

Mechanics: Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar, Syntax

  • Did I run spell-check?
  • Did I check homonyms? (Example: to, too, and two)
  • Did I look up difficult words?
  • Did I proofread aloud to catch obvious errors?
  • Are all sentences complete (subject & verb, complete thought)?
  • Did I use one verb tense throughout (unless there was a good reason to switch)?
  • Did I use present tense verbs to discuss texts?
  • Have I checked for run-on sentences and comma splices?
  • Does my paper flow when read aloud? Did I use different sentence lengths and styles?

Editing Checklist” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Babin, et al licensed by CC NC 4.0.

Editing and Proofreading

When you have made some revisions to your draft based on feedback and your recalibration of your purpose for writing, you may now feel your essay is nearly complete. However, you should plan to read through the entire final draft at least one additional time. During this stage of editing and proofreading your entire essay, you should be looking for general consistency and clarity. Also, pay particular attention to parts of the paper you have moved around or changed in other ways to make sure that your new versions still work smoothly.

Although you might think editing and proofreading isn’t necessary since you were fairly careful when you were writing, the truth is that even the very brightest people and best writers make mistakes when they write. One of the main reasons that you are likely to make mistakes is that your mind and fingers are not always moving along at the same speed nor are they necessarily in sync. So what ends up on the page isn’t always exactly what you intended. A second reason is that, as you make changes and adjustments, you might not totally match up the original parts and revised parts. Finally, a third key reason for proofreading is because you likely have errors you typically make and proofreading gives you a chance to correct those errors.


Editing and proofreading can work well with a partner. You can offer to be another pair of eyes for peers in exchange for their doing the same for you. Whether you are editing and proofreading your work or the work of a peer, the process is basically the same. Although the rest of this section assumes you are editing and proofreading your work, you can simply shift the personal issues, such as “Am I…” to a viewpoint that will work with a peer, such as “Is she…”

As you edit and proofread, you should look for common problem areas that stick out, including the quality writing components covered in sentence style, word choice, punctuation, mechanic, grammar, sentence building. There are certain writing rules that you must follow, but other more stylistic writing elements are more subjective and will require judgment calls on your part.

Be proactive in evaluating these subjective, stylistic issues since failure to do so can weaken the potential impact of your essay. Keeping the following questions in mind as you edit and proofread will help you notice and consider some of those subjective issues:

  • At the word level: Am I using descriptive words? Am I varying my word choices rather than using the same words over and over? Am I using active verbs? Am I writing concisely? Does every word in each sentence perform a function?
  • At the sentence level: Am I using a variety of sentence beginnings? Am I using a variety of sentence formats? Am I using ample and varied transitions? Does every sentence advance the value of the essay?
  • At the paragraph and essay level: How does this essay look? Am I using paragraphing and paragraph breaks to my advantage? Are there opportunities to make this essay work better visually? Are the visuals I’m already using necessary? Am I using the required formatting (or, if there’s room for creativity, am I using the optimal formatting)? Is my essay the proper length?

Key Takeaways

  • Edit and proofread your work since it is easy to make mistakes between your mind and your typing fingers, as well as when you are moving around parts of your essay.
  • Trading a nearly final version of a draft with peers is a valuable exercise since others can often more easily see your mistakes than you can. When you edit and proofread for a peer, you use the same process as when you edit and proofread for yourself.
  • As you are editing and proofreading, you will encounter some issues that are either right or wrong and you simply have to correct them when they are wrong. Other more stylistic issues, such as using adequate transitions, ample descriptive words, and enough variety in sentence formats, are subjective. Besides dealing with matters of correctness, you will have to make choices about subjective and stylistic issues while you proofread.

More Editing Tips

  • Work with a clean printed copy, double-spaced to allow room to mark corrections.
  • Read your essay backwards.
  • Use spell-check and Grammarly, but be aware of each change you are making (they are not always accurate).
  • Read your essay out loud.

Exercise 1

1. Write a one-page piece about how you decided which college to attend. Give a copy of your file (or a hard copy) to three different peers to edit and proofread. Then edit and proofread your page yourself. Finally, compare your editing and proofreading results to those of your three peers. Categorize the suggested revisions and corrections as objective standards of correctness or subjective matters of style.

2. Create a “personal editing and proofreading guide” that includes an overview of both objective and subjective issues covered in this book that are common problems for you in your writing. In your guide, include tips from this book and self-questions that can help you with your problem writing areas.

The following checklist shows examples of the types of things that you might look for as you make a final pass (or final passes) through your paper. It often works best to make a separate pass for each issue because you are less likely to miss an issue and you will probably be able to make multiple, single-issue passes more quickly than you can make one multiple-issue pass.

  • All subheadings are placed correctly (such as in the center or at the beginning of a page).
  • All the text is the same size and font throughout.
  • The page numbers are all formatted and appearing as intended.
  • All image and picture captions are appearing correctly.
  • All spellings of proper nouns have been corrected.
  • The words “there” and “their” and “they’re” are spelled correctly. (Or you can insert your top recurring error here.)
  • References are all included in the citation list.
  • Within the citation list, references are all in a single, required format (no moving back and forth between Modern Language Association [MLA] and American Psychological Association [APA], for instance).
  • All the formatting conventions for the final manuscript follow the style sheet assigned by the instructor (e.g., MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style [CMS], or other).

This isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive checklist. Rather, it simply gives you an idea of the types of things for which you might look as you conduct your final check. You should develop your unique list that might or might not include these same items.

Key Takeaways

  • Often a good way to make sure you do not miss any details you want to change is to make a separate pass through your essay for each area of concern. You can conduct passes by flipping through hard copies, clicking through pages on a computer, or using the “find” feature on a computer.
  • You should conduct a final overview with isolated checks after you are finished editing and proofreading the final draft.
  • As you are writing, make a checklist of recurring isolated issues that you notice in your work. Use this list to conduct isolated checks on the final draft of your paper.

Exercise 2

Complete each sentence to create a logical item for a list to use for a final isolated check. Do not use any of the examples given in the text.

1. All the subheadings are…

2. The spacing between paragraphs…

3. Each page includes…

4. I have correctly spelled…

5. The photos are all placed…

6. The words in the flow charts and diagrams…


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Editing Strategies Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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