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Revising An Essay Definition Literature

Many students tell us that they don't know what to check for once they have finished their essay. They usually know to check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but other details are often seen as less important because of the high emphasis placed on these problems in their early education.

Writing experts generally agree, however, that while details such as grammar and punctuation are important, they are far less important than solid organization,  fresh writing, and creative content.

The following guidelines are designed to give students a  checklist to use, whether they are revising individually or as part of a peer review team.


  • Is there a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Does the introduction provide sufficient background for the reader? Are the "who," "where," "why," "what," and "how" questions addressed?
  • Is there a thesis sentence? Is the purpose of the essay clear?
  • Does the essay move from general to specific?
  • Are there sufficient transitions between related ideas?
  • Is the overall organization murky or clean? In other words, does the writer avoid introducing new material in the conclusion or switching subjects in the middle of a paragraph in the body?
  • Does every paragraph address the subject matter of the thesis in some way?

Content and Style

  • Does the essay show that the writer has a knowledge of the audience?
  • Is the length appropriate and adequate?
  • Has the writer used sufficient examples and detail to make his or her points clearly?
  • Has the assignment been addressed?
  • Is the tone of the essay appropriate?
  • Has the writer avoided insulting the reader?
  • Is the tone of the essay professional and appropriate?
  • Is the language convincing, clear, and concise?
  • Has the writer used fresh language and a creative approach?

Research and Sources

  • Are all sources credible?
  • Is the research accurate, unbiased, and complete?
  • Has the writer fully interpreted the findings?
  • Has the writer commented on each source used?
  • Is the analysis based on hard evidence?
  • Is the analysis free of faulty reasoning?
  • Is the documentation in the Works Cited page and body of the essay correct?
  • Have all quotations been checked against the original?
  • Are all quotations introduced? Is the flow of the essay seamless?
  • If material was paraphrased, are the sources still mentioned?
  • If necessary, are limitations clearly spelled out?
  • If included, are recommendations based on accurate interpretations?
  • Have all facts been checked for accuracy?
  • Have any potentially libelous statements been eliminated?


  • Has the writer checked grammar and punctuation?
  • Has the writer spell checked the essay?
  • Has the writer checked for his or her particular pattern of error?
  • Are the page numbers correct?
  • Is the title capitalized correctly?
  • Has the writer used the correct margin and font?

TIP Sheet

It can be helpful to use the Writing Center in the initial stages of writing a paper, such as for generation of ideas (brainstorming), research guidance, and overall organization. After your first draft is complete, then begin the process of revising and editing. Your very last step is proofreading (See TIP Sheet: Proofreading).


During revising, the rough draft is evaluated for the larger issues of general content, organization, and tone, by adding, deleting, and organizing information as necessary. The Writing Center can be an excellent resource at this stage. When revising, it can be helpful to answer the questions which follow.

  • Who is your audience?
  • Why are you writing to them?
  • What will they be looking for?
  • How do you come across?
  • Will your audience be able to understand what you've written?
  • Are you objective enough?
  • Have you included enough information?
  • Do you have more information than you need?


During editing, the paper is fine-tuned for specific content, as well as organization and style at the paragraph and sentence level. To edit, it can be helpful to answer the following questions:

Content editing

  • Have you done everything the assignment requires?
  • Are all of your claims consistent?
  • Have you supported each point with adequate evidence?
  • Is all of the information in your paper relevant to the assignment and/or your overall writing goal?

Paragraph editing

  • Does your paper have an appropriate introduction and conclusion?
  • Is your thesis clearly stated in your introduction?
  • Is it clear how each paragraph in the body of your paper is related to your thesis?
  • Are the paragraphs arranged in a logical sequence?
  • Have you made clear transitions between paragraphs?
  • Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence?
  • Do all the sentences in each paragraph stick to one main idea?

Tip: One way to edit at the paragraph level is to make an outline of the paper after you have written the first draft.

Sentence editing

  • Have you defined any important terms that might be unclear to your reader?
  • Is the meaning of each sentence clear?
  • Is the tense of verbs consistent throughout the paper?
  • Have you chosen the proper words to express your ideas?
  • Are you wordy, repetitive, or inconsistent?
  • Do you have any incomplete thoughts?

Tip: One way to edit at the sentence level is to read your paper one sentence at a time, starting at the end and working backwards, so that you will not unconsciously fill in content from previous sentences

Style editing

  • Have you used an appropriate tone (formal, informal, persuasive, etc.)?
  • Have you varied the length and structure of your sentences?
  • Do you use active voice whenever possible?
  • Do you use a variety of verbs and adjectives?


  • Have you appropriately cited quotes, paraphrases, and ideas from outside sources?
  • Are your citations in the correct format

Try to keep the editing and proofreading processes separate. If you're worrying about the spelling of a word or the placement of a comma during the revision and editing stages, you're not focusing on the more important development and connection of ideas that make a paper clear and convincing.

PROOFREADING is the last step to writing a paper.

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process when the paper is evaluated for mechanical correctness, such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, omitted words, repeated words, spacing and format, and typographical errors. You should proofread only after you have finished all of your other revisions and editing.

For proofreading tips, please go to TIP Sheet: Proofreading.

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