Editing is the process through which you can review, revise and reformulate your assignments to make your writing more academic. Academic writing is characterised by several elements: precision, clarity, formality, structure, balance, critique, and literality. The editing process referred to in this guide is directed by these principles but is by no means an absolute guide to editing your assignments.

Structural flow

Overall structure

When a document flows, the writer’s argument, logic and line of reasoning are clear (Billingham, 2002). When editing document flow, you are reviewing the position of a particular piece of information in relation to other information and considering whether the positioning is effective. This is measured through links between preceding and subsequent paragraphs and signposting.


Each paragraph must act as a container for a specific set of related thoughts, evidence and evaluation, and must reflect what is required by the assignment brief and include your main point being made, the evidence you have acquired to support or refute it, and your critical evaluation or your voice.

Try editing between a paper copy and an electronic copy, or if you prefer to work electronically all the time, then save your versions as separate documents, and compare them side by side, so you can view your paragraph development.

Linguistic flow

According to Billingham (2002):

Each word needs to fall into the most natural place in the sentence so that you can read the text aloud without it sounding clumsy or artificial… It is acceptable to start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’, to split infinitives, or to end a sentence with a preposition if that is the best way to make the sense clear. Readers should be able to concentrate on what they are reading, not how it is written (p. 48).

Writing with precision and clarity is a challenge many students face, especially if they are used to descriptive writing. Academic writing needs to be specific and clear throughout, so that your argument can be accessed by the greatest number of people, from all backgrounds and cultures. Remember, academic work should spread knowledge and transcend geographical borders, so your editing process will need to consider sentence constructions and word choices.

Sentence constructions

If you are prone to including long sentences in your academic work, then this should be in your editing crosshairs. Although a sentence might make sense to you, there is a high possibility that your audience will find it tiresome and difficult to derive meaning. Here are some tips to help you identify sentences that might be problematic:


A recent report shows that the top dog food manufacturers are growing concerned by the falling sales of their wet and dry foods, laying the blame for decreased sales on Millennials who are opting for niche brands, and spending more money on dog food than ever before, but this might be attributed to the better level of care Millennials are giving their pets.


A recent report shows that top dog food manufacturers are concerned by the fall in sales, who lay this blame on Millennial dog owners. Millennials are reportedly spending more on niche brands of dog food, which might be attributed to the higher level of care this generation provides for their pets.

A sentence should contain no more than two commas – if you have more than two, then your sentence needs to be broken down into smaller ones. Look for linking words such as but, and, or and use these as sentence break markers:

Keep the subject of your sentence as close to the verb as possible, to make clear who is doing what. More distance between the subject and the finite verb means additional difficulty for your reader’s comprehension (Day, 2018).


Dog owners need to be aware that the two most important contributing factors to their physical, psychological and social well-being, are exercise and a healthy diet.


Dog owners need to be aware that exercise and a healthy diet are the two most important contributors to physical, psychological and social well-being.


Designer dog brands are increasing in popularity due to the growing amount of celebrities advertising ownership and promoting luxury dog products.


Designer dog brands have increased in popularity due to the growth of celebrity advertisements in dog ownership and luxury dog products.

Consider your use of –ing verbs (present participles) as they can be used to extend a sentence unnecessarily.

 Further reading: ‘Chapter 4: The well-crafted sentence’ in Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2012).  in Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2012). The student’s guide to writing: Spelling, punctuation and grammar. (3rd ed.). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave. 

Word choice

Academic writing is literal and precise. In your editing process, look out for words where their meaning is unclear. Don’t opt for the bigger word to create an academic tone as you might end up ‘belaboring the obvious’ (Williams, 1990, p. 119). Heed Billingham’s advice: “Try thinking about longer words as high-calorie snacks… use too many long words and the text becomes stodgy and difficult to digest. Remember to watch your reader’s diet” (2002, p. 81). However, specialist vocabulary is necessary and encouraged, and informal language shouldn’t be used in your assignments. The key is balance.

Additionally, be on the lookout for words and phrases which might be redundant and can therefore be deleted. Redundant words in academic writing are typically modifiers (words that modify another word to change or qualify the meaning). Redundant phrases are a string of words that can be replaced with a single word, or in some cases, a string of words is used where the similarity is so strong, there is no needs for all of them. The grid below demonstrates some common constructions used in writing that could be edited:

Simple over complex constructions

One word can replace a phrase





at the same time







a great many







the reason for







despite the fact







it is vital/crucial







is able/in order







a chance that








past memories

summarise briefly



small in size

revert back



completely finished

surrounded on all sides



evolve over time

consensus of opinion


Further reading:

‘Chapter 5: ‘Waffle’: improving readability by managing your extra words’ in Mewburn, I., Firth, K. & Lehmann, S. (2019). How to fix your academic writing trouble: A practical guide. New York, NY: Open University Press.

‘Chapter 7: Concision’ in Williams, J. M. (1990). Style: Towards clarity and grace. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

‘Phrases you can Omit’ in Alonquin College (2019). Pruning the redundant. Retrieved from http://plato.algonquincollege.com/applications/guideToGrammar/?page_id=3411#phr

Sometimes writing an essay can be difficult, especially when you keep on using the same words repeatedly. The editing process can help you identify words that have been overused, and find suitable replacements, without worrying whether you have included the correct content.

  • If you are using Microsoft Word, right-click on your overused word and click Synonyms. This will give you a list of words with a similar meaning to use. We recommend checking the definition, to make sure you have the right word for the job.
  • You can use The Academic Phrasebank (The University of Manchester, 2019) to vary your signposts in your essay.
  • Read your essay aloud; it’s easier to identify repetitions when reading aloud.
  • Use the strikethrough tool on your word processor to show repeated constructions in need of deletion for quick identification.

Help: I've overshot the word count!

Help: I’ve overshot the word count!

Here are some quick editing tips for reducing the word count:

  • Turn passives into actives: Use Ctrl + F in your word processor and look for every instance of by in your work (see The Paramedic Method from Purdue University, 2019).
  • Strip out parts of your text and put them in a different document, or “an ideas graveyard where unwanted text can rest in peace, but without being deleted permanently” (Mewburn, Firth & Lehmann, 2019, p.100).
  • Carefully consider adjectives and adverbs that might be unnecessary.
  • Swap phrasal verbs for single words, for example, talks about à discusses or go up à increase (George Mason University, 2019).
  • Use Ctrl + F and look at your use of for, to and of and amend them so the preposition is no longer needed, for example, research for science à scientific research; highlight of the day à the day’s highlight; in order to investigate à to investigate.
  • Know what is included in your word count. You can find out in your module handbook or asking your lecturer.

Check your evidence

Check your evidence

The editing process is a great time to transform direct quotes in paraphrases. Remember, direct quotes need to be used sparingly in your assignments, as paraphrases demonstrate to your reader that you understand the material read and that you can present it in a way that is in keeping with the rest of your argument. You should check your citations, even if you have used a referencing generator or Mendeley, in case there is any incomplete information.

See more:

Quoting, Paraphrasing & Summarising 

Official Marjon APA Guidance



Poor presentation of work will create a poor impression on your reader; even if your content is excellent. Make a good first impression on your reader by presenting your assignments consistently, clearly and in line with any departmental guidelines you need to follow. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do I need to upload my assignment in a specific file format?
  • Have I included relevant details such as module information, student number and date of submission?
  • Have I used the appropriate font, text size and style as indicated in module handbooks?
  • Have I used the appropriate line spacing?
  • Have I started paragraphs on a new line each time?
  • Have I included page numbers?
  • Have I included the word count directly before the reference list?
  • Is the reference list organised in alphabetical order, with a hanging indent?