Do List on Due Day: Editing Checklist


We’re coming to the end of another term, so this is the time students give a final spit and polish to their essay. Of course, by this time in the term, you have usually read your essay so many times your – I meant you’re – blind to any errors. Hopefully you’re done with the larger issues in the revision process and now can concentrate on the more detailed issues of line editing.

Instead of simply reading through and hoping to catch any and all errors or inconsistencies, it’s more productive to do a read-through for each section below. Even though you are reading through your essay a few times, you can read through faster when you are only concentrating on one aspect of editing.


Works Cited

1. The words, Works Cited, should be at the top of the page, not bolded, not italicized, and double spaced between the title and first entry.

2. Make sure all entries are closed with a period.

3. Make sure the entries are in alphabetical order.

4. Entire page double spaced.

5. Hanging indent, with the second line and subsequent lines of each entry indented.

6. Check multiple authors on the same entry. Only the first author’s name is inverted.

7. Multiple works by same author, use – – – (3 hyphens) instead of repeating name and list titles alphabetically.

8. For online articles or periodicals, if no author, list by title.

9. Make sure you’ve added “Print” or “Web” at the end of each citation.

10. Make sure Works Cited is paginated with essay (if essay is 10 pages long, Works Cited will be page 11).

In-text citations:

1. Make sure every citation is linked to an entry on the Works Cited page.

2. Make sure every direct quote has an attributive tag.

3. Check that all summaries and paraphrases are cited.

4. Make sure the punctuation is correct. The period goes AFTER the parentheses.

5. Make sure the quotation marks are in front of the parentheses. The citation is not part of the quote but it IS part of the sentence.

6. A quote by someone other than the author should have
(qtd. in …).

7. If you have a quote over 4 typed lines, it should be blocked (do not use this often). Blocked quotes have no quotation marks.

8. Move the period in FRONT of the parentheses on blocked quotes.

9. Blocked quotes are introduced with a complete sentence followed by a colon.

10. When the title is quite long, use an abbreviated version for the in-text citation (Ex: Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry = Glossary) followed by page number. (Note: you would NOT use Heraldry, as you must use the first word so it correlates to Works Cited entry.)

 Grammar & Punctuation

1.    Run spellcheck and correct any errors.

2.    Make sure all sentences are complete, checking for fragments or comma splices.

3.    Make sure you know why you are inserting commas.

4.    Make sure you use a comma after introductory phrases.

5.    If your sentence begins with “there is” or “there are,” revise to eliminate this weak phrasing.

6.    If you use “not only,” you MUST use “but also” along with it. That’s a rule; those are called correlative conjunctions.

7.    Check for overuse of “is” as a verb and see if you can replace it with a more concrete verb.

8.    Edit out “we, our, us, you,” unless your instructor has said it is okay to use pronouns.

9.    If you are referring to a person, use “who” in clause structures (not “that”).

10.  Run an “Edit” and “Find” on words you confuse, such as then and than or were and where, making sure you are using them in the correct context.

Of course, this is an abbreviated list. Your instructor might have his or her own checklist of their personal preferences. Taking time to spit and polish one last time before you hand your essay over might make the difference between an okay grade and a WOW! grade. Don’t rely on someone else, including the Writing Center staff, to edit your writing. Learn to read carefully and catch your own mistakes. It’s worth the extra effort.

End With a Flourish: How to compose a powerful final sentence

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

I’ve been reading a lot of student essays recently that introduce their topics well, provide great sources, consider their audience, but then fall flat at the end. It isn’t a problem with failing to offer a restatement of thesis or offering a call to action. It’s more a problem of last-line syntax.

Syntax refers to the arrangement of words in a sentence, or the grammatical structure of a sentence. A particular sentence might have a variety of ways one could order the words and still derive the same meaning. Beginning writers (and even some experienced) sometimes give little thought to word order, and in body of paragraphs, it might not make a great deal of difference for a reader. However, a concluding line needs punch.  The conclusion should not only leave a strong message for the audience, but also communicate that message in a way to create the most emotional impact right down to the final word.

Look at the similar sentences below:

1)    There is no more important issue than this.

2)    There is no more important or more urgent issue.

At first glance, both seem okay. Both say about the same thing. But the second is better. Why? Because the final words, “urgent issue” leaves the reader with a more vivid image than the first example, which ends with a vague phrase. In example 1, the concluding word, “this,” a pronoun, leaves no strong image for the reader. The phrase, “There is no more important issue. . .” is placed in the slightly weaker position at the beginning of the sentence, so it offers less impact. We remember best what we read last.

The second example also utilizes parallel structure, “more important or more urgent . . .,” which works to reinforce the writer’s message by the use of repetition.

In the classic style book, The Elements of Style, Strunk and White say that “The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words that the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end.” Let’s take a look at two examples:

1)    Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in many other ways.

2)    Since that time, humanity has advanced in many ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude.

The second example has a greater emotional impact by concluding with the words,   “advanced in fortitude.” These are considered emphatic words, or words that should require prominence in the sentence. The first example’s final phrase, “though it has advanced in many other ways,” is a bit vague, the words imprecise, which weaken the message. 

Also notice the cadence of each example. Cadence refers to the musicality of language, the rhythm imparted on language which is influenced by how words are arranged in a sentence. In the first example above, “Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in many other ways,” has a falling rhythm. The ending of the sentence has no emphatic punch. It just kind of trails off.

In the second example, the rhythm has built to a crescendo as we approach the end of the sentence; this is done by placing a short dependent clause in the beginning position (“Since that time”), followed by an independent clause (humanity has advanced in many ways), concluding with a flurry of repetitive, hard consonants, or alliteration, which creates a strong punchy conclusion. The rhythm of this syntax slows the reader down and places emphasis on the final words. Read the sentence again, but this time, read it aloud so you can hear:

Since that time, humanity has advanced in many ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude.

Do you hear the power at the end of the sentence? How does it sound different than the first example?

Readers read with their eyes, but we still hear what we read. That’s why all writers should read their work aloud. Even though we read in our head, we don’t get the full effect until we hear the words aloud.  

Tips and Tricks

When you are trying to create a powerful concluding line, some words are better left for positions in their respective sentence other than the end. Pronouns and prepositions often weaken a sentence when placed in the final position. One of the most common pronouns that has no place in the final or power position of a concluding line is “it” – probably the most overused pronoun in student papers.

Think about what idea or image you want to leave the reader with and structure the final sentence accordingly. It’s often simply a matter of putting more thought into your sentence structure. Play around with word order, and read our earlier post on absolute phrases, which explains the different ways phrases can be arranged in a sentence.

Below are some concluding lines from great literature. Consider why the authors made the choices they did, and how changing the word order might hurt – or enhance – the final lines.

All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.” –Voltaire, Candide

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” –Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by. –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
–Toni Morrison, Sula

He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance. –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.
–Willa Cather, My Ántonia


Graphic Outlines

Many instructors require outlines for their research essay assignments, and as discussed in a recent blog post here, alpha-numeric outlines can pose challenges for some of us who are visual learners. Visual learners think in pictures, and it’s easier for us to create an outline of our essay in a graphic format than in an alpha-numeric outline.

 What is a graphic outline?

A graphic outline is simply a spatially organized “chart” or graphic representation of our essay. For an argument essay, a simple list graphic outline might look like this:



Background Information
Definition of terms
Claim: Thesis Statement (the thesis statement may appear anywhere within the argument)

*Body Paragraphs Reasons and Evidence

Reason 1
Evidence  (to add more points of evidence, use the Add Note button)

Reason  2

Reason  3

*Emotional Appeals 

Need or Value 1

Need or Value 2

Need or Value 3

*Opposing Viewpoints

Opposing viewpoint 1
Acknowledgement, accommodation, or refutation

Opposing viewpoint 2
Acknowledgement, accommodation, or refutation


Restatement of claim
Final appeal to needs or values
Urge readers to take action

In this example, the outline components – the intro, body paragraphs, emotional appeals, opposing viewpoints, and conclusion – have an asterisk to identify them as different sections. You can also put a border around each section to visually identify paragraphs or sections.

Below, the same outline uses color to identify each section. I like to use colored markers so the breaks in subtopics or sections stand out:



Issue Background Information Definition of terms
Claim Thesis Statement (the thesis statement may appear anywhere within the argument)

Body Paragraphs Reasons and Evidence

Reason 1 Evidence  (to add more points of evidence, use the Add Note button)

Reason  2 Evidence 

Reason  3 Evidence 

Emotional Appeals

Need or Value 1

Need or Value 2

Need or Value 3

Opposing Viewpoints

Opposing viewpoint 1 Acknowledgement, accommodation, or refutation

Opposing viewpoint 2 Acknowledgement, accommodation, or refutation


Restatement of claim
Final appeal to needs or values
Urge readers to take action


In the next example of a graphic organizer for a five paragraph expository essay, the essay topic is placed in the center of the graphic; paragraph subtopics are placed in the ovals, with 3 supporting sentence boxes branching off from their respective paragraph:


You could easily change the graphic organizer above to a persuasive essay by placing the reasons or main ideas in the ovals and the supporting evidence in the squares.

Below is a type of graphic organizer called an idea map or cluster. The center oval includes the topic or in this case, the problem, and the secondary branches or clusters off the main oval are the supporting reasons for the problem; the smallest ovals or clusters are solutions to each “sub” problem:


If you find alpha-numeric outlines confusing, try filling in a graphic organizer first. For those who are visual learners, it sometimes helps to lay out your topic graphically first so you get a vision of your paper. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

More help with graphic outlines can be found at Bedford St. Martin’s website.


Attention! How to hook your reader with an attention-getter


Most essays don’t begin by stating the thesis in the first sentence. The reader needs to be warmed up first. You wouldn’t ask someone out on a date without introducing yourself first, right? Right. Likewise, you wouldn’t jump right to the thesis without an attention-getter and background information in the introduction.

An attention-getter is often referred to as the “hook” of the essay. A good hook makes the reader want to keep reading. It gets the reader interested in the topic. You can then set the stage with some background information on your topic. Once the reader is hooked, he or she will be warmed up for the thesis.

What makes a good attention-grabber? There are a variety of ways to grab the reader’s attention. Some include

Startling statistic
Story or anecdote
History on the subject
Quote (not from research; save those for the body)

Startling Statistic

The US prison population in 2000 was 6,331,400. In 2010, the prison population rose to 7,225,800, a whopping 14.13 percent increase, and rising much faster than the rate of the regular population. If we continue at this rate, the prison population in 2030 will be an astronomical 9,412,08. The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but it has almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Actually, there are several startling statistics in this paragraph, but each one is more startling than the previous, concluding with the most shocking. We obviously know where the writer is going with this, and the stats that open the essay immediately grab the reader’s interest. I want to know the writer’s proposed solution, don’t you?

Story or Anecdote

As Tammie Schnitzer came to a stop at the intersection near the synagogue in Billings, Montana, she noticed something on the stop sign. She got out of her car to take a closer look, and a shiver shot down her spine. A sticker showed a swastika over a Star of David and the words “Want more oil? Nuke Israel.” (from Not in Our Town! By Edwin Dobb)

Narrative stories paint vivid images for the reader, as this great attention grabber does. In this case, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and the writer has shown the reader a shocking scene, which immediately grabs the reader’s attention.


In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law legislation that would make it easier for states to track down fathers who fail to make their child support payments. As a result of this legislation, the paychecks of delinquent fathers can be garnisheed in order to recover child support payments. The problem of deadbeat dads is larger than most people suspect. (“Deadbeat Dads”)

Persuasive essays can benefit with historical background to educate the reader, offering them information they may not be familiar with. History can take the form of legal, social, medical or political background information. It’s often an effective way to lead into the thesis. In the example above, we immediately understand what the problem is, and our interest is piqued.


Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives….

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but has US race relations come any further than when Dr. King first uttered these words?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” and this is still true today.

Historical quotes (save research quotes for the body of your paper) are an effective way to draw the reader into your essay. Quotes are often familiar and emotional, and appeal to a reader’s pathos. Note that in the above examples, the quotes don’t merely stand alone, but the writer goes on to derive meaning from them. The writer’s ability to derive meaning from the quote and connect it to his or her argument is a great way to lead the reader on toward the thesis.


Is Tipper Gore overreacting? In her article, “Curbing the Sexploitation Industry,” Gore emphasizes the danger posed for our children by what she calls the sexploitation industry.

America is often labeled a “melting pot,” referring to a society where all elements “melt into” a harmonious whole with a common culture, but do our nation’s laws support this ideal, and should they?

Posing a provocative question to your audience that inspires interest and concern is a great way to get the reader thinking about your topic. Rhetorical questions arouse curiosity in readers by encouraging them to try to answer the question posed.

Final Thoughts

The purpose of the introduction is to inform the audience, make the reader understand the topic, and then to agree, or at least be receptive, to the thesis. Your topic will most likely guide you in choosing which type of hook works best in your introduction. Always consider who your audience is and choose the one that would best appeal to that group. Once you grab their attention, you’ll be on the way to a successful essay.

(some intro examples from Writer’s Resources: From Paragraph to Essay )