When you have written enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment or you've said all you ought to say about a given topic, it is time to put your paper through the rewriting process. If you are one of those students who compose on a word processor, you're a step ahead of the game; if not, use the process of going from handwritten text to typewritten (word-processed) text as one of the steps of rewriting. As you go along, some spellcheckers will underline words or otherwise alert you with beeps and whistles that words are misspelled or duplicated and you can fix those on the fly. Otherwise, don't bother with spelling here; you can catch misspellings later. But do watch for clumsy phrases in your writing and gaps in your thinking.

Once your paper is in the word-processor, safely saved (on both hard drive and floppy disc), run the spellchecker. Some spellcheckers are better than others, but virtually all spellcheckers will allow some misused homophones to slip through. Depending on how much experience you've had as a writer, you probably know the words you have trouble with — affect/effect, their/there, its/it's, your/you're. There are dozens of such words, and you can review them in the Notorious Confusables section. You can do a search for words that give you special trouble and make sure you've used them correctly. Some spellcheckers will catch your typing of duplicate words, but most won't, so you'll have to look out for that, too. It's usually the the little words that slip by as duplicates, something that your fingers do when your brain slips into idle.

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.

__ Robert Cormier

Pay special attention to words that end in s. Some will be possessives, but you might have forgotten the apostrophe, and some will be plurals, which can present their own kind of difficulty in spelling.

Grammar checkers are available on many word processors. They are far less reliable than spellcheckers, but they are becoming quite sophisticated. Some grammar checkers are quite good at pointing out potential problems and even suggesting possible solutions. Don't be bullied by your grammar checker, though. The computer can easily catch extra long sentences and alert you to the fact that a particular sentence is really long. It's quite possible, though, that you need a really long sentence at that point, and if the sentence is well built (i.e., not a run-on sentence), let it stand. If there are several sentences that the computer judges to be extra long, however, that's probably an indication of a serious problem and some of those sentences might be better off broken into smaller units of thought.

Grammar checkers are also very good at picking up on passive verb constructions. Frequently, a sentence will be improved and your meaning will be more clear, more forceful, if you replace passive constructions with active verbs. But not always. Review the section on passive verbs to see those uses of the passive that are appropriate. If you've used the passive construction in an appropriate way, leave it alone, no matter what your grammar checker says.

Go through the essay with an eye for proper punctuation, especially for errant commas. Again, whether you tend to leave out commas where they belong or use commas where you don't really need them is a personal matter that requires your personal attention. It wouldn't be a bad idea to print out the section on Comma Usage to have it on hand when you proofread your paper. Being careful about commas forces you to be thoughtful about the way your sentences are put together.

Whether you have a grammar checker or not, it is a good idea to know the problems that bother you most as a writer and do your best to eliminate those difficulties as you go from assignment to assignment. Try to grow as a writer with each assignment, eliminating the little glitches that your instructor caught last time and trying different methods of expression. Stretch your vocabulary a bit, try for an interesting effect in parallel style. Mostly, look for patterns of errors so you can predict the kind of thing that gives you trouble — fragments, run-ons, comma-splices, parallel form. Never throw out an old writing assignment. Whether its grade made you happy or not, there is always something to be learned from it.

If your Grammar Checker does not check for expletive constructions (sentences beginning with "there is" or "there are" or "here is"), you can do a simple search for the word there in the initial position and try to change clauses with those weak beginnings. Usually it's a matter of eliminating the expletive construction and then saying something useful about the real subject of the sentence.

You can also do a simple search for apostrophes, checking to make sure that your possessive forms are built correctly and that any contractions in your text are appropriate. (Some instructors feel that contractions are signs of lax writing or inappropriate informality and thus should be avoided in academic prose. See Tone.)

How much rewriting you do on the computer screen before you print out the paper for the next step in revision is going to depend on how comfortable you are reading text on the computer screen. Most writers find it too easy to skip over problems on the monitor and they need to have copy in hand, literally, to catch all their errors. Other writers, however, have become so comfortable in their use of the computer that the keyboard and screen have become an extension of their mind — even more so than a pencil or ballpoint pen can be — and on-the-screen manipulation of text becomes second nature. It is probably a matter of practice, but some writers will always want to move quickly to the next step of working with paper copy.

Once the written assignment on the computer screen looks the way you want it, it's time to print it out and put it through some additional steps of the rewriting process. Make sure the paper is double-spaced (or even triple-spaced at this point) and you've given yourself some marginal space for scribbling notes. Again, look for the problems that have given you grief before and try looking at your paper as if you were your own instructor, looking for the same old stuff. Review the section on Confusion: Sources and Remedies while you're in the middle of rewriting your paper. Word-processing makes fixing things later on easy, even fun, so don't hesitate to do some serious scribbling, re-ordering of paragraphs, etc. If, when you go back to the computer, you're unfamiliar with the techniques of highlighting and moving blocks of text, consult the software manual or ask a computer lab assistant to help you out.

Share your paper with a friendly editor, someone who has your interests at heart and who has the time to review your paper carefully and who is willing to ask questions and to challenge what you said and how you said it. This person should be a friend, but not too much of a friend. After all, you're hoping for useful criticism here. Girlfriends, boyfriends, and parents make notoriously bad editors; they think whatever you write is wonderful, not to be improved. This is no time for coddling on their part or defensiveness on yours. This person is not to rewrite your paper for you, but you can hope he or she will catch an occasional glitch in punctuation or lapse in reasoning. The main purpose of this "outside editor," though, is to challenge your argument. Does the paper really make sense, is the argument sound? After all, you know what a sentence or paragraph meant and that means you are less apt to catch a confusing phrase or momentary lapse in the argument than someone else would be. If possible, watch your editor's face for confused looks or glazed eyes as he or she goes through your paper. It might mean that clarification is called for, that you skipped over something in your development, or that you've gone too far. Before he or she goes over your paper, it might be helpful to this outside editor to have a list of the kinds of things that have given you trouble in the past — or the things that your instructor is apt to look for. Share a copy of the Deadly Sins with your outside editor or use the more extensive Checklist provided below.

If you don't have a friend who can go through this editing process with you, try reading your paper into a tape recorder and then play it back to yourself, slowly. It's important to hear your paper as well as to see it on the page. Your ears will catch clumsy phrasing and botched sentences before your eyes will. If your outside editor and you can apply both ear and eye to your paper, that's four separate faculties being brought to bear on the matter. Your chances of catching problems before they make their way into final text have just improved remarkably.

There is a fine line between letting someone else rewrite your paper and asking someone to collaborate with you in the editing process. Most tutors become expert at this after a while. The trick is to let you, the writer, keep the pen in hand — or your fingers on the keyboard. Probably every professional writer in the world — whether he or she is penning a novel or a letter to the editor — will share a draft with a colleague before sending his or her text to the publisher. And probably more than one colleague, more than one time, will be involved. Nothing is more important in this process, however, than your personal involvement and improvement as a writer.

Some instructors will provide an opportunity for peer editing, a process by which students make suggestions about their classmates' work. Sometimes, in fact, a student's effort in peer editing is an important part of the grade. Melanie Dawson, of the University of Richmond, has written an excellent description of this process along with a checklist of things to look for in someone else's paper and suggestions about how to mark a classmate's work: "Peer Editing Guide."

Most writers try to prepare a draft of their paper in plenty of time to let the paper sit a day or so before they go through the rewriting process. You will do a better job of rewriting your work if you come to it a bit "cold." You can be a bit more objective about the paper's grammar and argument. Your mind will be less apt to provide missing links and gloss over errors in style if you can pretend that this is something you just happened to pick up, something written by someone else.

Before you return to the computer to fix up your text, it might be helpful to run through a checklist of things to look out for in the rewriting process. Based on your own experience, you probably know best where your essay is apt to be weak. Concentrate on those points, but don't leave anything out. The table below is conveniently hyperlinked to explanations of the various issues. Click HERE for a one-page duplicate of this table that will be easier to print.

Editing Checklist

Can you point to a Thesis Statement in the essay? Is it clearly stated? Does the text carry out the purpose of the thesis statement? If not, does the body of the paper need some paring down or elaboration or does the thesis statement need to be refined to reflect an improved text?
Are the ideas in the essay clearly ordered? If the reader had to, could he or she devise an Outline that would reveal the order of development in your argument? Is there any part of the essay that could be left out to good effect? (If so, could a revised organization "save" that part?)
Are there any serious fallacies in the Logic of your argument?
Are paragraphs adequately developed and is there a clear Transition from one idea to the next?
Is the Introduction clear and adequately developed? Does the Conclusion do what you want it to? Does the conclusion remind us of what the Thesis Statement told us (but not too simplistically).
Is the Tone consistent and appropriate for the audience you want to reach and the subject you're treating? Have you avoided slang and being overly casual; at the other extreme, have you avoided sounding pretentious and stuffy?
Personal Grammatical Issues:
Circle those elements below that might be something you need to pay special attention to in your own writing.
Comma Usage
Other Punctuation Marks
Plurals and Possessives
Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement

Modifier Misplacement
Subject/Verb Agreement
Tense Sequence
Italics and Underlining
Using Numbers

If, in the course of editing and rewriting your paper, you have occasion to use proofreading symbols or need to know what those symbols mean, a handy Guide to Proofreading Symbols is available as part of this guide.

When you've finished with the checklist, go through the essay a couple of more times on the computer screen and run the spellchecker again — just in case you changed something and created a new misspelling where one didn't exist before. With word-processing, it is almost never too late to make changes. A word of caution, however: don't be one of those students who show up late for class, tearfully protesting that the printers in the computer lab broke down or ate the paper five minutes before class. Leave time for such emergencies. They don't happen often, really, but they always happen at the worst time imaginable.