The final stage in the process of writing an essay is editing the final draft and this stage is a significant one. Despite this, many students skip this stage due to time pressures. Thorough editing not only helps to minimise embarrassing spelling mistakes and awkward grammar, it also provides you with an opportunity to identify any breakdown in logic in your argument. Most importantly, you can confirm if you have really fulfilled the requirements of the essay question and answered all parts of the question.
University tutors expect student assignments to be of a certain standard. In terms of presentation, this means the assignment should be neatly presented, largely free of surface errors such as spelling or punctuation mistakes, include a cover sheet with the assignment title, and have a reference list at the end. Careless errors distract your tutor from the ideas you are presenting in your essay. They can also cost you marks. In a survey on lecturers’ perceptions of students’ literacy nearly half of the responding lecturers stated that they deducted marks if the meaning was obscured by errors, and over a third of respondents replied that they definitely took writing errors into account when allocating marks (Woodward-Kron & Van der Wal, 1997).
While editing is mainly a form of ‘quality control’: it can also be used to make sure you have eliminated any errors of logic or reasoning in your work. Ideally you will have ironed out any major problems in the redrafting stage of writing, and made sure that you have answered the question. However, it is still worth checking in the editing stage that your argument is logically structured. Sometimes, minor adjustments or changes to expression can greatly improve the flow of your argument, or make your ideas clearer. Attention to content as well as surface errors in the editing stage is an integral part of editing your work, just as editing is an integral part of the essay writing process.
It is always advisable to seek out any faculty or departmental guidelines on essay writing and referencing conventions. If these are available, check that your assignment is written in accordance with the criteria specified in the guidelines. If no guidelines are available, a good editing plan of attack is to check your essay thoroughly for a particular aspect, then check thoroughly for another aspect. This means in your haste to complete your assignment, you won’t neglect editing for different features!