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Editing Your Essay: sub-module 2 of 3 of revising your essay

When you begin to edit, you are moving from focusing on your ideas and essay structure to focusing on the sentences and words of your essay. Now is the time to pay attention to sentence structure and grammar.

Tips

  • Keep a record of the major errors you have made in past papers.Review those error types to ensure that you understand the problems and how to correct them. Apply your knowledge to your current paper.
  • Work with your sentences until they sound right.If a sentence doesn’t sound right to you, look at the elements of the sentence to find where it can be improved.
  • Work with a writing coach or tutor at your college.Tutors won’t go through your paper line-by-line, but they will answer specific questions and teach you how to correct your own mistakes.

Study Tools

What to Consider When Editing Your Writing

Higher-Order and Lower-Order Concerns

Watch this video to learn about the Higher-Order and Lower-Order concerns for revising your essay. The video explains what you should be looking for as you revise, edit, and proofread what you have written. You can also download the Higher-Order and Lower-Order concerns video transcript.


There are three stages to revising your writing: Revision, Editing, and Proofreading. Often these stages can be referred to as Higher-Order and Lower-Order concerns. The Editing stage addresses Lower-Order concerns.

During the Editing stage you should review the structure and grammar of the essay. 

Editing Checklist

  • Have I read a hard copy of my essay?
  • Have I identified my thesis statement?
  • Have I evaluated my thesis statement? (Does it have a point? Is it opinionated? Is it referred to and proven in the essay? Can you tell what the essay is about from the thesis statement?)
  • Does each main paragraph have a topic sentence?
  • Is the essay coherent?
  • Is there an introduction and a conclusion?
  • Am I within the length requirements for the essay?
  • Do I primarily use active voice?
  • Have I edited out repetition?
  • Have I answered the question that was posed in my assignment?
  • Has someone else read my essay?

The type of punctuation mark you use will depend on the sentence you are writing. Use the guidelines below to help you determine when you should use a comma, a semi-colon, or a colon.

Use a comma:

An independent clause is a group of words with at least one subject and one verb that can stand alone as its own sentence. A coordinating conjunction is a word (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that joins two independent clauses. When you are joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, use a comma, followed by the coordinating conjunction.

Examples:

  • I wanted to go, but I couldn’t afford to buy a ticket.
  • You should pay your bills on time, or you will have to pay interest.

Memory tip for coordinating conjunctions: To help you remember all the coordinating conjunctions, use the mnemonic FANBOYS which stands for for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

Do not use a comma as a period (comma splice)

When there are two sentences, a comma alone cannot be used to connect the two sentences, for this would be a comma splice. One can instead use one of the following three options: 1) a period; 2) a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction; 3) a semicolon (if the two sentences/independent clauses are related in meaning).

When three or more items are listed in a series, a comma is placed between the items. Examples:

  • We purchased pork, rice, and broccoli at the grocery store.
  • Mary wrote a letter of complaint to the clerk, to the manager, and to the CEO.

Remember, for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so are the coordinating conjunctions.

When two or more adjectives are used to describe a noun, put a comma between the adjectives.

  • E.g. He drives an old, beat-up car.

Caution: Sometimes, using a comma to separate listed adjectives is not necessary. In order to find out if it is necessary, you should apply these two tests:

  1. If you were to switch the order of the adjectives, would the sentence still be complete and clear?
    • E.g. He drives a beat-up, old car.
  2. If you were to add ‘and’ between the adjectives, would the sentence still be complete and clear?
    • E.g. He drives an old and beat-up car.

If these two tests prove to be successful, use a comma to separate the two adjectives.

Any material that can be left out of the sentence without changing the main idea is nonessential. This information is known as a non-restrictive adjective clause.

There are two ways to separate this non-essential material from the rest of the sentence:

When the non-restrictive adjective clause is in the middle of a sentence, commas should be placed before and after.

  • E.g. Sandy Smith, who went to Seneca College, is the CEO.

If you were to remove ‘who went to Seneca College’, the sentence would still be complete and clear.

  • E.g. Sandy Smith is the CEO.

When the non-restrictive adjective clause is at the end of a sentence, it should be preceded by a comma and followed by a period.

  • E.g. The bottle is in my coat, which you can find in the closet.

If you were to remove ‘which you can find in the closet’, the sentence would still be complete and clear.

  • E.g. The water bottle is in my coat.

Transitions are words or phrases that connect the ideas of one sentence to another or one paragraph to another.

When a transitional word (therefore, however, thus, first, second, etc.) or phrase is used, a comma is placed after it.

  • E.g. First, I took out my keys, and then, I unlocked the door.

You can use commas to separate a word or group of words that interrupt the flow of the sentence. Examples:

  • The fact is, Phil, that I feel quite unhappy about it.
  • Bagels, for example, are delicious with cream cheese.

Some expressions that are generally set off with commas include: however, in fact, at any rate, of course I think, therefore, by the way, finally.

When a direct quotation is used, a comma is placed after the word that declares the direct quotation.

  • E.g. Her sister said, “I think I’m in love.”

When a direct quotation is before the declaring word, a comma is placed at the end of the quotation within the quotation marks.

  • E.g. “I’m playing with my Barbies,” replied Susie.

A dependent clause is a phrase that cannot stand alone – it needs an independent clause to make sense. Dependent clauses often contain words that indicate time (e.g. From, After, While, When, etc.).

For example:

  • Unclear: From the beginning the end of the film was obvious.
  • Clear: From the beginning, the end of the film was obvious.

When you write out a date, use a comma to separate the day from the month, and to separate the date from the year.

  • E.g. Saturday, September 12, 1959.

When you write out an address, use a comma between the street address and the city, and between the city and the province or territory.

  • E.g. 100 Hilda Ave., Willowdale, Ontario.

Use a semi-colon:

The semicolon marks the dividing point in a compound sentence (a sentence made up of two independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction).

Examples:

  • The policeman parked at the corner; he was hoping to stop speeders.
  • The manager had a good sense of humour; nevertheless, he was strict.

The semicolon is useful in punctuating major sentence elements which themselves contain commas.

  • E.g. We visited several schools, colleges, and universities; many churches, offices, and factories; and a number of public buildings.

Use a colon:

The colon is principally used to introduce a list in conjunction with such words as following or as follows. The colon may only be used after an independent clause.

Examples:

  • Several Canadian authors attended the conference: Robertson Davies, Sheila Watson, Timothy Findlay, John Marlyn, and Joy Kogawa.
  • The sports I enjoy are as follows: hockey, soccer, badminton, and swimming.

Learn About Prepositions and How to Use Them

Learn about prepositions in the activity or in the text below.

Using Prepositions Activity Accessible PDF Version

A preposition connects a noun or a pronoun with other parts of a sentence. It usually indicates direction, location or time.

  • E.g. The girl on the horse raced by. — "on" (the preposition) connects the girl and the horse.

Common prepositions

about, before, down, of, toward, above, below, during, off, under, across, beneath, for, on, until, after, beside, from, onto, up, against, between, in, over, upon, along, beyond, inside, since, with, among, by, into, through, within, around, concerning, like, throughout, without, at, despite, near, to

Prepositions that contain more than one word

according to, by way of, in spite of, ahead of, contrary to, in view of, apart from, due to, instead of, as for, in addition to, by means of, as well as, in case of, out of, because of, in place of

Prepositions of time

  1. One point in time
    • on (use with days, but it can sometime be left out in informal writing)
    • at (use with noon, night, midnight, or with the time of day)
    • in (use with other parts of the day, with months, with years, with seasons)
  2. Extended time
    • since, for (sometimes left out in informal writing when there’s a definite quantity), by, from...to, from...until, during, (with)in.

A prepositional phrase occurs when a preposition is followed by a noun, with or without an article or a possessive pronoun in between. Prepositional phrases can have three functions: adjectival, adverbial, nominal.

Adjectival Prepositional Phrases

An adjectival prepositional phrase functions as an adjective. It appears after the noun it modifies.

  • E.g. The most beautiful building on our campus has lots of natural light.

Adverbial Prepositional Phrases

An adverbial propositional phrase functions as an adverb. It has three possible positions in a sentence:

  1. Initial: In spite of her handicap, the blind girl did well in school.
  2. Middle: The blind girl, in spite of her handicap, did well in school.
  3. Final: The blind girl did well in school in spite of her handicap.

Nominal Prepositional Phrases

A nominal prepositional phrase functions as a noun. Like a noun, it can be the subject of a sentence (1), the object of the verb (2), or the subject complement (3). Nominal phrases can appear on either side of a verb.

For example:

  1. Subject of a sentence: His failure to commit cost him the loss of a great relationship.
  2. The object of the verb: His failure to commit cost him the loss of a great relationship.
  3. The subject complement: She is the top student in the course.

Learn How to Use Articles Correctly

Articles are words that appear before nouns and give us information about the noun that they appear with, such as whether the noun is specific or non-specific. There are three articles that you can choose from: ‘the’, ‘an’, and ‘a’. Most nouns will be accompanied by one of these articles, although some types of nouns do not have an article.

Use the boxes below to determine which article you should use in various situations. You can also download the Tip sheet for Article Use opens in new window for future reference. 

  • Use ‘the’ before proper nouns that are plural and that don’t express a nationality or membership.

    For example:

    • The Calgary Flames won the game.
    • The Snowbirds are impressive.
  • Use ‘the’ before the name of a river, ocean, or historical period.

    For example:

    • The Nile is long.
    • The Sixties were wild.
  • Use ‘the’ before proper nouns that express a nationality or membership and that are specific.

    For example:

    • The British are coming.
    • The Canadian brought tourtière.
  • Do not use an article before proper nouns that don’t express a nationality or membership, that are singular, and that are not the name of a river, ocean, or historical period.

    For example:

    • I am in Canada.
    • Bob works here.
  • Do not use an article before proper nouns that express a nationality or membership, and that are plural and nonspecific.

    For example:

    • Canadians vote.
    • Australians do well in swimming events.

Learn About The Parallelism Principle and How to Use It

Learn about the parallelism principle in the activity or in the text below.

The Parallelism Principle Activity Accessible PDF Version

When writing items in a series, you must be sure that all of the items are parallel; that is, the items must be written in the same grammatical form. For example, if the first two verbs in a sentence end in '–ing', the third verb should also end in '–ing'.

Example:

  • Correct: "I like camping, fishing, and hiking." is correct because all three verbs end in '–ing'.
  • Correct: "I like to camp, to fish, and to hike." is correct because all three verbs are in the inflictive form of the verb.
  • Incorrect: "I like camping, fishing, and to hike." is incorrect because two of the verbs end in '–ing', but the last verb (to hike) is the infinitive form of the verb.

Rule: Correct faulty parallelism by giving the same grammatical form to all of the items in a series.

One way to determine whether all the items in a list are parallel is to picture (or actually write) the items in list form, one below the other. That way, you can make sure that all the elements are in the same grammatical form – they are all words, or phrases, or clauses.

Note: Sentences that are not in parallel form sound awkward, and sometimes the meaning is unclear. By making sure that your sentences are in parallel form, your writing will flow better, and your ideas will be clearer.

Example:

Consider the following sentence: “Sharon is kind, considerate, and likes to help.” Write the items in list form:

Sharon is:

  1. Kind
  2. Considerate
  3. Likes to help

The last item is not in the same grammatical form as the first two items; therefore, the sentence is not parallel.

Hint: If you read the third item in place of the first item, it does not work – “Sharon is likes to help” is not grammatically correct. However, you can reword the sentence: “Sharon is kind, considerate, and helpful.”

Write the items in list form:

Sharon is:

  1. Kind
  2. Considerate
  3. Helpful

All three items are in the same grammatical form; therefore, the sentence is parallel.

Not ParallelParallel
I support myself by tending bar, playing piano, and shoot pool.I support myself by tending bar, playing piano, and shooting pool.
Her upbringing made her neat, polite, and an obnoxious person.Her upbringing made her neat, polite, and obnoxious.
Gordon tried to do what is right, different things, and make a profit.Gordon tries to do what is right, what is different, and what is profitable.
With his mind sharp, by having the boss as his uncle, and few enemies, he’ll go far.With his sharp mind, the boss as his uncle, and few enemies, he’ll go far.
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