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Revising, editing and proofreading

Revising and editing your work

Writing is an iterative process and it is unlikely that your first draft will be perfect. It is important therefore that you leave time to edit, revise and proofread your own work.

Download our Revise, edit and proofread (PDF) mind maps, to see the different skills and techniques for revising, editing and proofreading your work.

Why edit?

It is useful to think about writing and editing as two separate activities.

When you write your first draft you need to free yourself up to explore, develop and try out new ideas and approaches. Your work will grow naturally and will be less structured and more expansive. Worrying too much about editing at this stage may slow your progress and restrict your thinking. You can refine and perfect later on.

Editing is about checking for sense, accuracy and structure. It is a positive rather than a destructive process, as you are perfecting what you have already written.

What am I looking for?

When you edit your work you should ask yourself:

  • Is it clear and readable?
  • Is there a coherent and logical argument?
  • Does it respond to the question or task?
  • Does it stay on topic?
  • Is it structured to help guide the reader smoothly through your argument?
  • Does it stay within any word counts?

Stick to the question

Before you start looking at the detail, make sure you set aside time to read your work from start to finish. Your work needs to work as a whole, and you need to have a clear picture of where you introduce, develop and conclude the central argument.

A read through will also highlight any areas where you are repetitive, unclear, or wander off topic.

Keep referring back to the question or task. Make sure your work stays focussed and that the structure helps guide the reader through your argument logically.

If it is difficult to follow your argument, look for how you structure your paragraphs and insert signposts or linking words or phrases to move the argument along.

Editing tips

To make it easier for you to edit, we suggest that you:

  • build the editing into your overall plan and timings
  • leave a day between edits so you can look again at the content with fresh eyes
  • Read it from your audience's point of view. Giving yourself time away from the material will help as you won't feel as close to it.

The University of Leicester’s guide The art of editing gives advice on editing longer pieces of work, such as dissertations and theses.