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How to write a graduate-level essay

Step-by-step guidance and resources for planning, researching, and writing essays as a graduate student.

Revise the draft

Red pen on top of pages that have been edited with the pen                   Once you’ve completed the first draft of a work, it can be tempting to consider it done and move on to the next project; however, first drafts almost always need revising and editing before they’re ready to be considered a final version. Revising work involves checking the structure, arguments, logic, flow, and content of the work and can involve (but is not limited to) adding, deleting, or rewording selections of text. When revising, consider the following:

  1. Does your work achieve the outcomes of the assignment? Review the assignment description to ensure you’ve addressed all the requirements. If you're concerned about the content matter, please check with your instructor to clarify your understanding. It's unlikely that you'll be able to send your draft to the instructor for his/her review; however, you should feel comfortable approaching the instructor with any questions regarding the content of the paper. If you are writing your thesis, major research paper, or capstone project, your academic supervisor will be able to give you a second opinion on your work.
  2. Major revisions, such as needing to add, delete, move, or rework large chunks of text, are usually a result of an unclear line of argument throughout the text. Make sure that you have a detailed plan for your document (see Planning the Paper), and then follow that plan while writing. If you didn’t use a plan while writing, try using a planning template (e.g., Finalize Your Document Plan) when you’re evaluating your draft to assess what you’ve already written and identify what’s missing. For example, by comparing your draft to a template, you could discover that your work is missing a thesis statement, or realize that while you have topic sentences and supporting evidence in each body paragraph, the paragraphs are missing the analysis that explains why the evidence is important (see Writing an Academic Paragraph and Body Paragraph Checklist for more information).
  3. To check if paragraphs are in a logical order, write your thesis statement at the top of a page, and then list the topic sentence of every paragraph that follows. Does the list reflect your plan for the document? Have you added or left out paragraphs that could affect the discussion, either by providing a distraction or by omitting information? Does the direction of the discussion make sense? Is there a logical progression from the introduction, through the body paragraphs, and into the conclusion? Will your audience understand the order of the paragraphs?  
  4. Does your work rely heavily on direct quotations? If so, to improve the flow of the text and demonstrate your understanding of the material, could you instead paraphrase some of the material? For tips on paraphrasing, please see Summarizing and Paraphrasing.
  5. If possible, ask someone who isn’t familiar with your topic or assignment to read your work and indicate where they struggled to understand the meaning of the text. You’re not looking for that person to edit your work; rather, you need to know if your text is easy to read and makes sense.
  6. For more questions to assist with revising, please see the “Thesis”, “Purpose”, “Audience”, “Organization”, and “Development” sections of the Self Editing Check List (provided with permission from Laurie Waye, Centre for Academic Communication, University of Victoria).
  7. For more suggestions, see Revising and Editing (Margaret Proctor, Writing Support, University of Toronto).

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