Step 11: Essay Review
Now that you have finished the first draft of your final essay, it's important to review it before passing it in. A thorough essay review will catch any major mistakes and issues that you have. Whether you are an experienced essay writer or a novice, it's a good idea to review your essay. It's a standard practice for any major publications that other authors or editors examine the entire document before it's really complete.
It is very important to seek the assistance of others when the time comes to review your essay. A big mistake that a lot of writers make, particularly when they are inexperienced, is to rely on their own judgment concerning the quality of their work. It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, you worked hard writing your essay. You put a lot of time and thought into your work. You think you did your best and if you’re a good and conscientious writer, you probably did. However, it is good to remember that everyone is a human being, even writers. Even the best writers can make small grammatical errors, or structure a sentence in a way that is awkward for the reader. Plus, just because you’re a good writer doesn’t mean you’re a good typist. The content of your essay can be brilliant and still contain typographical errors.
Be an Empathetic Writer
What does it mean to be an empathetic writer? Empathy means putting yourself in someone else’s position and looking at things from their perspective. An empathetic writer places themselves in the reader’s position. When reviewing your essay, ask yourself how what you have written would come across to a reader who is encountering your essay for the first time. Does your essay flow well? Is your writing pleasant and accessible to the reader? If the purpose of your essay is to make an argument, are your thesis and your main points clear to the reader? Remember that while you know what it is you’re trying to say, the person reading your essay can’t read your mind.
Try Reading Your Essay Aloud
Many writers find that reading their essays aloud is a very helpful tool when reviewing their essays for submission and correcting any mistakes they may have made. An important lesson for beginning writers to learn is that merely reading your essay silently to yourself is not an effective way of proofreading and correcting your work. The reason why has to do with psychology. As the author of your essay, you know what you wanted to write and what you intended to say. And that’s the problem. When you are proofreading your own paper, you are reading it from the perspective of what you think it should say or what you wanted to say when you were writing. In other words, writers are not objective proofreaders of their own work. They bring their pre-existing expectations to the proofreading process, and lack the objectivity of someone who is encountering their essay for the first time with a fresh pair of eyes.
Reading your essay aloud allows you as the writer to hear your work as it would be heard in the mind of the reader. If your writing is awkward and lacks fluidity, this will stand out as you listen to yourself. You will hear your grammatical errors, missed words, and improper syntax. At times you will think to yourself, “That doesn’t quite sound right.” Imagine hearing your essay being recited aloud in the form of a speech. How would it sound to the listening audience? If your writing is awkward or confusing to a listener, it will have the same effect on the reader.
Grammatical errors are easy enough to make. After all, not everyone has the skills of an English teacher. Even highly skilled writers occasionally make run of the mill mistakes concerning grammar. It is good for writers to be aware of the most common grammatical errors. Reading your essay aloud can help detect errors in grammar. As previously mentioned, sometimes you may read aloud something that you have written and think, “That just doesn’t sound right.” A good rule of thumb for writers to follow is that if it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t right. One of the wonderful things about life in the modern world is that we have computer programs that will detect our human errors concerning grammar, spelling, punctuation and other aspects of writing properly for us. However, relying on your computer to correct your work for you is no substitute for actually being a skilled writer and proofreader. Be aware of and avoid the most frequent errors in grammar that writers make. These include:
Incomplete or fragmented sentences
Know what constitutes a complete sentence and what doesn’t. A complete sentence includes a subject and verb that match one another and form a primary clause which expresses a complete thought. Here are examples of an incomplete sentence and a complete sentence:
Incomplete: Ancient Rome mighty empire thousands of years.
Complete: Ancient Rome was a mighty empire that existed for thousands of years
A related problem involves the improper use of syntax, or the construction of sentences in a way that is linguistically inappropriate. Here’s an example of improper syntax:
Principle contributions Charles Darwin evolutionary biology was natural selection theory.
Now here is an example of how the same idea as above might be stated using proper syntax:
The principle contribution of Charles Darwin to evolutionary biology was the theory of natural selection.
Notice the above sentence not only flows well, but clearly conveys the thought it is trying to express. Remember the rule of thumb stated above: “If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t right.”
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Learn to use commas appropriately. A major complaint of many teachers and professors is that students often seem to think the purpose of commas is to decorate their essay. But there are proper and improper ways to use a comma.
Improper: Cancer is a deadly disease, it claims the lives of thousands of people each year.
The above statement is an example of comma splicing. A comma is used where a period should be inserted, and a new sentence with a capital letter should follow. Another appropriate way would be for the comma to be followed by a conjunction.
Proper: Cancer is a deadly disease. It claims the lives of thousands of people each year.
Proper: Cancer is a deadly disease, and it claims the lives of thousands of people each year.
A good writer doesn’t have to be capable of winning a spelling bee. However, a good writer does need to be able to identify and correct their spelling errors. Thankfully, tools such as spellchecker are available to help the writer. Ask your grandmother if you want to find out what it was like to try to write and correct an essay in the good old days before such conveniences became available. Yet machines can only do what human beings program them to do. Don’t merely rely on spellchecker to correct your spelling errors. Be mindful of mistakes you might make as you are writing your paper. If a particular word just doesn’t look like it’s spelled correctly while you are typing or proofreading, then it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to consult an age old tool that can be of tremendous help: a dictionary. Many excellent dictionaries are available online, so there is really no excuse for misspellings when such helpful tools are readily available.
Improper use of words
No matter how extensive a writer’s vocabulary may be, it is still possible to get particular words confused or to have an incorrect understanding of the meaning of a word. For example, sometimes writers confuse the words “imply” and “infer.” Here is an illustration:
The professor apologized to Sarah, and stated that he did not mean to infer that she was a poor student.
The word “infer” (which means to reach a conclusion based on available facts) is being used inappropriately in the above sentence.
The professor apologized to Sarah, and stated that he did not mean to imply that she was a poor student.
The word “imply” (which means to suggest without explicitly stating) is clearly the more appropriate word given the context of the thought that is being expressed in the sentence.
Yet another common error that writers make is to use run-on sentences. Simply put, a run-on sentence is a sentence that is much longer than what is necessary or appropriate. Here’s an example:
The Civil War in the United States, which began in 1861, involved a bloody conflict between the North and South over contentious issues such as slavery and states’ rights, and the issues over which the war was fought were crucial to the future of the nation, and indeed to how the American people would subsequently define themselves during the generations to follow.
The purported “sentence” above is nearly a paragraph long. The thoughts in the above statement need to be broken up into multiple sentences. Here is what a proper statement of the same ideas might look like:
The Civil War in the United States began in 1861. The war involved a bloody conflict between the North and South over contentious issues. The most important of these were slavery and states’ rights. The issues over which the war was fought were crucial to the future of the nation. The outcome of the war would decide how the American people would subsequently define themselves during the generations to follow.
Notice how the above statement includes the same information and ideas, but in a way that avoids the use of lengthy and awkward sentences.
Be aware of the standards and guidelines for academic writing
One of the most important things to remember when writing an academic essay is that the standards are different from those normally used for popular or casual writing. The standards are higher and the guidelines are more precise. Within the context of academic writing, it is always inappropriate to use slang words or contractions even though these might be acceptable in a less formal context. Instead, academic essays should be written in a formal style. Not only should the use of slang and contractions be avoided, but the writer of an academic essay should also avoid the use of clichés, popular phrases (“colloquialisms”), and abbreviations. The writer should also begin and end paragraphs with smooth transitional sentences and avoid repetition. Normally, a university or particular professor will require that an academic paper be written in a specific style for formatting and citing sources. Examples of academic styles include APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, AMA, and Harvard. Many publishers also maintain similar requirements. It is a good idea for aspiring writers to familiarize themselves with these styles of academic writing and to know how to apply them when necessary.