Law school exams are a lightning rod for stress and attention as the semester winds down. But many students also face juggling papers on top of their exams. When that happens, it’s easy to cut corners and submit a first draft of a paper to just get it done and out the door. But even the best first drafts need polishing to realize their full potential, and you don’t want to lose out on the grade you deserve for lack of a little editing TLC. Here are seven editing tricks to try to bring your paper to the next level.
1. Another Set of Eyes
If your professor and schools’ honor code allow for someone’s assistance in editing, take the time to ask someone to read your paper and discuss it with you.
Many universities have writing centers or writing tutors that you can take advantage of. Look into these resources as early in the semester as possible to secure an appointment if needed. But even if you can’t secure assistance from such a dedicated resource, talk to your friends and family – swapping papers with a study buddy (again, with the OK of the professor), can be hugely valuable.
When we write, we are so invested in the subject matter we often can’t see the leaps in logic we make, the things we forget to explain, what we over-promise in our thesis, and where we just get our ideas jumbled. An outside perspective can help you to identify these weaknesses and set you up to fix them in your next draft.
2. Time Between Drafts
When we are editing our own work, and especially where we are not able to take advantage of an outside reader, there are tricks we can use to help us act like an outside reader. The idea is that we are trying to put distance between ourselves as the writer and ourselves as the reader so that we can think about the paper as someone who isn’t as familiar with the topic.
One important way to do this is to give yourself time between drafts. It is ideal if you can give yourself days between drafts, but the pressures of the end of the semester often don’t allow for this. Do what you can. For example, finish your paper at night, go to sleep, and then edit it starting the next morning. If even this isn’t possible, finish your paper, get up, take a 10 minute walk outside, come back and start editing. The more you can give your mind a break, the more objective you will be able to be in identifying the weaknesses to correct in the next draft.
3. Change the Way you See your Paper
In addition to giving yourself time between writing and editing, you can do other things to “shake up” your brain and help it see your paper objectively:
- Edit your paper in hard copy.
- Change the font and color on the copy you edit.
- Change your environment from writing to editing.
- Change your physical position from writing to editing (for example, try editing standing up).
- Read your paper out loud to yourself.
4. Read once through to look out for Each of your known Weaknesses
Often we know our own weaknesses. Maybe topic sentences are yours. Or maybe it is weak transitions. Make a list of things you know you need to work on in your writing and read your paper through once for every item on the list, focusing on each individually. This is a great trick to help you get started on the editing process, help “shake up” your brain, and target your editing.
5. Focus on your thesis
A strong thesis that is carried throughout the paper is one of the most important elements of good academic writing. It is also the thing writers most often need to work on in the editing process. Dedicate at least one read-through to your thesis. Make sure that you can identify your thesis and that all parts of your paper clearly tie back to it.
Many writers find that they start with one thesis but actually write a paper with a different thesis. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad paper, but it does mean your thesis needs editing. Make sure your thesis and your paper match!
6. Check your Flow
A good paper will have a series of ideas that flow seamlessly from one to the next. Some ideas do this naturally, but others need some help along the way. If the connection between two paragraphs or points is not obvious (and often, even if it is), use transition words such as “therefore,” “although,” “however,” “on the other hand,” “nevertheless,” “first… second… third” and so on.
7. Still having Trouble Getting Started? Break it Down
Editing can sometimes be as daunting as writing, and just as hard to start. Break down the task by committing to one page or 15 minute increments at a time. Committing to editing for 15 minutes before you go to class, and then 15 more minutes after lunch (assuming you have time before your deadline) is much less daunting than sitting down to edit your entire paper. Try both time and length chunks to see what works best for you. You might find, once you get started, it’s easy to just keep going all of the way to the end.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Law School Toolbox Experts Share: Tips for Conquering Legal Writing
- Scrivener: The Ultimate Legal Writing Tool
- Tips & Resources for Visual Learners
- Countdown to Law School Exams
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