Editing is a fundamental part of writing. Good prose does not simply reel off as if by revelation; it is, rather, the result of judicious excisions and revisions. Writing to a high standard, in academia as in other fields, requires hewing away excess verbiage until the most effective composition is achieved. With scholarly writing word-counts are usually limited, meaning that one cannot afford superfluity. To achieve top marks, one needs to use every word to maximum effect. The formula is simple: the more information you can convey, the richer you work will be; the richer the work, the greater chance of good grades. The most difficult part of editing is deciding what to cut. Often this involves a certain necessary ruthlessness toward one’s own prose. “Murder one’s darlings” is a phrase often used in this connection, where “darlings” connote verbal flourishes, pretty turns of phrase, cherished by the writer, but not strictly speaking germane. Basically, anything that is not precisely to the point needs to be omitted. Wasting words on ornamentation is not the business of scholarly prose. This is not to say that verbal elegance has no place in scholarship, only that substance must be first and foremost.
Editing is akin to housekeeping. One is looking to ensure that everything is in order, rightly placed, and tidily presented. Thus, when editing, we are concerned with the formal properties of the text, seeking to establish harmony between structure and style. Here, we re-work clunky or inefficient phraseology; we make the prose lucid. The most essential objective is to convey meaning clearly. Ambiguity is the enemy of good critical writing. If the reader does not understand your point, your argument will likewise be opaque. This will make it difficult to grade highly. You need to keep editing until your sense is unmistakable. Ask friends to read your essay and flag any unclear points. If a sentence is muddled, try breaking it down to two or three simpler sentences. If this does not work, cut the sentence and start from scratch. Do not be lazy in editing; take the time to do it thoroughly. This is the stage where first-class essays are made. Another important issue is not to labour a point. Almost every scholarly composition, even those of established writers, could do with a few less words. A good rule here is to review your work and see if any words or sentences could be omitted without altering the meaning of the paragraph. If so, then that phrase or word is not needed. Use those words instead to add some fresh insight, gaining a few extra marks perhaps. Such small changes make the difference between a first-class and second-class grade. If you repeat this process through two or more drafts you will eventually get to a stage where no one part of the work can be removed without altering another part. When this is the case you know have finished. Your work will be concise, on point, and in good standing for top grades.
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