Being Your Own Critic

Practically speaking, it is a challenge for a writer to be a good editor or proofreader of his or her own writing, but these are useful skills to learn. When you move from writing to editing, you have to approach your manuscript with a fresh eye and an objective interest. Proofreading, which you will do many times, calls for you to compare your original text with the corrected text to catch any changes you missed or made incorrectly. Editing requires that you perform a more complex check of your work, evaluating its content, organization, and style. Editing requires analysis and judgment to help you make decisions about organization and style. In editing, you systematically review certain features of your writing:

  • Content: Is your information complete and appropriate?

  • Organization: Did you develop and order your information logically? Did you provide signals and transitions indicating that order?

  • Style: Are the style and tone consistent? Do the sentences flow effectively? Did you use accurate vocabulary and appropriate diction? Are the mechanics correct?

To begin editing, print a double- or triple-spaced copy of your paper. Take a top-down approach and review the general organization and content of your writing. Don’t focus on sentence-level editing yet. If you have to rearrange the paragraphs and sections, this is the time to do so. To get a clearer look at how your document is organized, write down your headings or use your word processor’s document-map feature to view them. If your paper doesn’t have headings, use your topic sentences. You can easily make a list of topic sentences by using your word processor’s blocking function to copy them to a blank page. Check to see whether these sentences are directly related to your thesis statement and controlling idea. You can add, delete, and move text around to suit your ideas about content and organization.

You will need more than one pass through your paper. Once you have the organization and content the way you want it, you can pay closer attention to the style. Polish your sentences so they flow logically with your ideas. Check for clear transitions between ideas and paragraphs. Be sure your paragraphs and sentences are consistent and correct and your vocabulary and diction appropriate. Ensure that the mechanics are clean—no punctuation, spelling, or style convention errors.

A good way to improve your chances of being a good self-critic is to follow a personalized checklist each time you review your own work. You can write it to reflect what you already know about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, or you can develop a checklist that will work generally for your writing.

Checklist for Personal Revision
  Does this paper have any grammatical errors?
  Do subjects and verbs agree?
  Are pronouns and antecedents clear and in agreement?
  Are there any sentence fragments, comma splices, or run‑on sentences?
  Are my list items and sentences parallel?
  Are verb tenses consistent?
  Does this paper meet assignment requirements?
  Does the paper have a clear controlling idea?
  Does it make sense?
  Is there enough information and evidence?
  Is there too much information? Are some places too wordy?
  Is this paper ready to be submitted?
  Is the presentation clean, accessible, and attractive?
  Did I cover all the major areas I wanted to cover?
  What grade am I likely to receive for this paper?

Print Checklist

On the checklist, include fundamentals as well as reminders to check the substance of what you are saying and whether you followed the instructions. If you do not remember what some of the items on this checklist mean, refer to a grammar handbook or other writer’s reference.

  • Self-feedback can come in the form of proofreading, which has the goal of correcting typos, errors in grammar, missing or doubled words, and similar errors.

  • Self-feedback can come in the form of editing, which evaluates the content, organization, and style of the writing.

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