Editing skills

November 1, 2011

Today in class we discussed the difference between proofreading and substantive editing, both of which are essential steps  in the life cycle of a research essay. Before you run your spell check, think through the implications of your argument. Imagine a hostile reader who disagrees with your thesis statement, who wonders ‘so what’ and ‘who cares’, and frame your essay as an argument intended to convince that person. Assuming that you have written an outline and conducted appropriate research (using only academic sources, with the sole exception of published newspaper reviews in the case of performance history), the editing phase should not be very onerous but could boost your mark considerably. Editing does not replace effective research, analysis, and writing, but it does allow these to shine brightly. The editing checklist, which I provided in the syllabus, identifies the elements that we will be checking when we mark the research essays (which are due on November 8th). I’ve added a few comments to the information in that handout, in response to student questions.


Is the thesis statement:

1) debatable (not self-evident);

2) focused (not general);

3) an adequate response to one of the assigned essay topics?

Comment: I am more than happy to receive thesis statements by e-mail or to look at them during my office hours. The biggest problem I am seeing here is that students are coming up with very obvious, self-evident thesis statements that do not require research or analysis (eg Michael Frayn condenses history to fit the time span of a normal play). Try to refine / polish / deepen your thesis statement in light of your research and analysis.


Does the introduction:

1) situate that thesis statement within whatever context is absolutely necessary to understand it;

2) omit general information irrelevant to the argument;

3) make it clear what you are going to be arguing;

4) explain why this is an important topic?

Comment: Your topic does not need to be of earth-shattering importance for the world at large, but it should be something worth investigating over the space of five pages or I will wonder why you have bothered to do so, won’t I?


Does each paragraph:

1) begin with a topic sentence that explicitly states what the paragraph will argue;

2) contribute to the argument in a way that is evident to your reader;

3) use synthesized, sufficient, and logically organized examples to support the topic sentence;

4) flow smoothly into the next with a transition that furthers the argument?


Is the conclusion:

1) the logical outcome of the argument developed in the essay;

2) related directly to the thesis statement;

3) not simply a restatement of the introduction in different words;

4) a clear statement of what your evidence implies?

Comment: If you can’t find your way to a conclusion, consider whether you need to think more deeply about your argument. Where has your argument taken you? If you are still at the same place you started you need to do some more work to push that argument somehow. Avoid simply restating the introduction in different words.


Overall, is the argument:

1) complete (including whether it is the specified length);

2) concise, without any irrelevant material;

3) logical, avoiding the fallacies of:

hasty generalization (especially “in society today…” and variations thereof)

post hoc ergo propter hoc (literally “after therefore because of”)

circular argument (e.g. Henry is an effective communicator because he speaks well)

false either / or (presenting only two options when there are more than two possibilities)

red herring (using evidence to support a claim that it cannot support)?



Are your sources:

1) adequate (cite at least FOUR SCHOLARLY sources for this assignment, each quoted or paraphrased at least once and no more than twice);

2) appropriate (scholarly);

3) applicable (relevant to this essay topic);

4) effectively used to provide supporting evidence for your own argument;

5) cited whenever they are used for quotations and paraphrases?

If you take credit for an idea not your own even once, you will receive a 0 and will be referred to the Faculty of Arts for a plagiarism investigation.

Comment: The play DOES NOT count as a source. You may cite it, and if you do you should include it in your bibliography. If you are using Frayn’s postscript you can use it as a source and must  therefore quote/paraphrase  it at least once and no more than twice.



Is your argument

1) fully developed, with no missing or extraneous components;

2) based on sufficient, and sufficiently synthesized, examples for inductive reasoning (using several examples to prove the point articulated in a paragraph’s topic sentence);

3) based on a tenable proposition for deductive reasoning (using a generally true proposition to analyze one example — review the logical fallacies to test your proposition);

4) justified if you are comparing and contrasting (why compare these productions or sources)?

Comment: Be certain that you are asking those probing questions like ‘so what’ and ‘who cares,’ and that you are making a tenable and convincing argument.


Does each topic sentence

1)  introduce the analytical point that is then developed using examples;

2) further the overall argument?



Are all paragraphs:

1) sufficiently long to indicate a complete analysis;

2) not so long that they indicate a failure to synthesize examples?


Are all sentences

1) grammatically correct and complete, with no sentence fragments or run-on sentences;

2) clear and direct;

3) properly punctuated?


Are all words:

1) grammatically correct;

2) used correctly;

3) appropriate to an academic paper (tone)?


Presentation (check this separately at the final proofreading stage)

Are all parenthetical references and works cited:

1) in MLA format (refer to the new MLA 2009 guidelines at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/)

2) included in all instances?


Are there any editorial errors including:

1) typos and spelling mistakes;

2) wrong font (Times New Roman);

3) wrong margins (1”) or spacing (double);

3) other flaws in the appearance of the document?