Revising gives you the chance to preview your work on behalf of the eventual reader. Revision is much more than proofreading, though in the final editing stage it involves some checking of details. Good revision and editing can transform a mediocre first draft into an excellent final paper. It’s more work, but leads to real satisfaction when you find you’ve said what you wanted.
Here are some steps to follow on your own. Writing centres can give you further guidance.
Start Large, End Small
Revision may mean changing the shape and reasoning in your paper. It often means adding or deleting sentences and paragraphs, shifting them around, and reshaping them as you go. Before dealing with details of style and language (editing), be sure you have presented ideas that are clear and forceful. Make notes as you go through these questions, and stop after each section to make the desired revisions.
First check whether you have fulfilled the intention of the assignment. Look again at the instruction sheet, and revise your work to be sure you can say yes to these questions:
- Have you performed the kind of thinking the assignment sheet asked for (e.g., analyse, argue, compare, explore)
- Have you written the genre of document called for (e.g., book review, critique, personal response, field notes, research report, lab report, essay)?
- Have you used concepts and methods of reasoning discussed in the course? Don’t be shy of using theoretical terms from the course. Also beware of just retelling stories or listing information. Looking at your topic sentences in sequence will show what kinds of ideas you have emphasized. (See our handout on Developing Coherent Paragraphs.)
- Have you given adequate evidence for your argument or interpretation? Be sure that the reader knows why and how your ideas are important. A quick way of checking is to note where your paragraphs go after their topic sentences. Watch out for repetitions of general ideas-look for progression into detailed reasoning, usually including source referencing.
Then look at overall organization. It’s worthwhile to print out everything so that you can view the entire document. Then consider these questions, and revise to get the answers you want:
- Does your introduction make clear where the rest of the paper is headed? If the paper is argument-based, you will likely use a thesis statement. Research papers often start with a statement of the research question. (Ask a clear-headed roommate or other friend to give you a prediction of what he or she expects after reading only the first few paragraphs of your paper. Don’t accept a vague answer.)
- Is each section in the right place to fulfil your purpose? (It might help to make a reverse outline: take the key idea from each paragraph or section and set it down in a list so you can see the logical structure of what you’ve written. Does it hang together? Is it all necessary? What’s missing? Revise to fill in gaps and take out irrelevant material.)
- Have you drawn connections between the sections? (Look again at your topic sentences to see if they link back to what has just been said as well as looking forward to the next point. Find ways to draw ideas together explicitly. Use logical statements, not just a sprinkling of connecting words.)
- Would a person reading your conclusion know what question you had asked and how you had arrived at your answer? (Again, ask for a real paraphrase.)
Now polish and edit your style by moving to smaller matters such as word choice, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may already have passages that you know need further work. This is where you can use computer programs (with care) and reference material such as handbooks and handouts. Here are some tips
- Read passages aloud to see if you have achieved the emphasis you want. Look for places to use short sentences to draw attention to key ideas, questions, or argumentative statements. If you can’t read a sentence all the way through with expression, try cutting it into two or more.
- Be sure to use spell check. It will help you catch most typos and many wrongly spelled words. But don’t let it replace anything automatically, or you’ll end up with nonsense words. You will still have to read through your piece and use a print dictionary or writer’s handbook to look up words that you suspect are not right.
- Don’t depend on a thesaurus. It will supply you with lists of words in the same general category as the one you have tried-but most of them won’t make sense. Use plain clear words instead. Use a print dictionary and look up synonyms given as part of definitions. Always look at the samples of usage too.
- Don’t depend on a grammar checker. The best ones still miss many errors, and they give a lot of bad advice. If you know that you overuse slang or the passive voice, you may find some of the “hits” useful, but be sure to make your own choice of replacement phrases. A few of the explanations may be useful. But nothing can substitute for your own judgement.
A Note on Appearance:
Looks do count. Give your instructor the pleasure of handling a handsome document-or at least of not getting annoyed or inconvenienced. These are the basic expectations for any type of assignment
- Include a cover page giving the title of your paper, the name of the course, your name, the date, and the instructor’s name. Don’t bother with coloured paper, fancy print, or decorations.
- Number your pages in the top right-hand corner. Omit the number for the first page of your paper (since it will be headed by the title), starting in with 2 on the second page.
- Double-space your text, including indented quotations, footnotes, and reference lists. Leave margins of one inch (2.5 cm) on all sides of the page.
- Use a standard font in twelve-point size. For easier reading, don’t right-justify your lines.
- Put the reference list or bibliography on a separate page at the end. (See the handout on Standard Documentation Format: choose your format, then use the examples as guides.)
- Staple your pages; don’t use a bulky binding or cover.
While many job applications have the word “optional” next to the field that asks for a cover letter, it shouldn’t be overlooked. After all, a cover letter is intended to show you off and captivate a hiring manager, kind of like a movie trailer. It’s meant to tease and entice the recruiter or hiring manager to keep reading and be so interested in you that they simply cannot put down your resume. Think: personable and professional.
Some of the best cover letters tell interesting stories about the candidate and help them to be seen as a good culture fit for a company. “Recruiters always remember the personal side of cover letters—this is when you become more than just another applicant,” says career expert Heather Huhman. “They connect your experiences with your name because you’re giving them another dimension of you, sharing what makes you unique.”
Given the importance of a cover letter, you cannot afford to blow it. Once you’ve got a working draft, it’s time to grab your red pen. Here are 15 words and phrases that are simply dragging your cover letter down. Cut ‘em! Take the expert advice below to craft the best cover letter possible and let your personality, not robotic prose, shine through.
1. “To Whom It May Concern”
Generic salutations, while professional, can be a bit sterile. Do a little digging to find the name of the hiring manager or the recruiter. “Let’s say you discover an opening for an electrical engineer position at an engineering organization’s website. The position description indicates the employee will report to the lead electrical engineer. You decide (initially) to bypass the company’s automated application system so you can customize your communications,” advises Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, master resume writer. “You sail over to LinkedIn and begin researching. Use the advanced search feature and type in ‘name of company’ for the company name, ‘lead electrical engineer’ for keywords and ‘64152’ for a zip code for greater Kansas City (where the company headquarters and this position are located) and click enter. Your results will appear.”
2. “Thinking outside of the box”
Recruiters read thousands of cover letters and resumes. It’s their job. So try hard to make reading your cover letter a treat. Career coach Angela Copeland says, “more specifically, stay away from phrases that are known to annoy hiring managers, such as ‘heavy lifting’ or ‘think outside the box’ or ‘game-changer.’” Be creative instead of being trendy.
3. “I’m not sure if you know”
“When it comes to today’s job search process, another thing to remember is your online footprint,” says Copeland. Phrases like this one underestimate a recruiter’s ability to Google and may come across as naive. HR professionals and recruiters do their due diligence on you. Trust us, they know. “In a way, your Google search results are a lot like the modern day cover letter. After an employer reads your cover letter, they will also Google you. Beat them to the punch and Google yourself. Be sure you’re comfortable with the information that shows up on the first two pages of the Google search results. Look through social media, photos, and any other websites that show up when you search for yourself.”
4. Insider Jargon
“Job seekers should try to minimize phrases that are very industry-specific, especially if they’re switching industries,” advises Copeland. “Although these phrases may sound impressive within one industry, they will most likely confuse your hiring manager in the new industry you want to switch to.”
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5. Claims Without Evidence
Instead of simply saying you’re good at what you do, Huhman advises providing a valuable anecdote. “Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing director position. Among other aspects in the description, the job requires several years of marketing experience, a deep knowledge of lead generation, and strong communication skills. Describe how, in your previous role as a marketing manager, you ran several campaigns for your clients and exceeded their expectations of lead generation (with specific numbers, if possible), and how you also trained and mentored new associates on how to manage their own accounts, which improved client retention rates.” In other words, show how effective you have been in the past. “Your anecdote is accomplishing a lot at once—it’s demonstrating one of your top hard skills, lead nurturing, and showcasing how you can collaborate with trainees, communicate effectively, and educate new employees on processes and client relations,” says Huhman. “You’re proving that you can meet the communication standards and marketing knowledge they’re seeking.”
Cut the millennial speak. “You shouldn’t just say that you want the job or that you love your industry. You have to show your passion,” says Huhman. “Share why your career path best suits you and how your love for your work drives and motivates you. For example, answer some questions about what made you want to enter the field, how your personality helps you succeed, and what past experiences influenced your career decisions.”
“Embellishing in a cover letter is one way to set yourself up for letting down your future employer once you’ve been hired,” warns Huhman. Steer clear of touting skills you don’t really possess or overselling your impact on a key project at your current employer. “The best case scenario is that lying on a cover letter creates uncomfortable situations. Worst case scenario? [You’ll lose the] job because [you are] not the candidate they were looking for.”
“When you’re looking for a job, do your best to bring your authentic self to the table. As the old saying goes, people hire people. Often, you’re hired because the hiring manager likes you – not just because you can do the work,” says Copeland. “Nobody likes insincere flattery. It leaves an impression that you aren’t authentic and therefore can’t be trusted. In business, especially in an employee/employer relationship, trust is paramount. Avoid being insincere, and focus on building a true relationship with your future hiring manager.”
9. “Please feel free”
Ending your cover letter with a clear call-to-action is key, but instead of being gentle, be direct. Show your confidence and prove to the recruiter that you know you wrote a compelling cover letter by wrapping up with a more self-assured request for an in-person interview or phone screen.
“Get away from stuffing cover letters full of clichéd phrases and think clear, honest, and impactful. Think in terms of telling a story,” says resume expert Anish Majumdar. “You’re not a dynamic, agile leader who can deliver rapid marketing and biz dev ROI in rapidly-changing environments.” Instead, you are someone who thrives on helping companies “more fully realize their vision, and have some amazing successes on the marketing and business development front that you’d like to discuss.”
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Instead of tiptoeing around the impact you’ve had at your current company with words like “significant,” “measurable,” or “huge,” get specific. Nicole Cox, Chief Recruitment Officer at national recruiting firm Decision Toolbox, advises job seekers to, “substantiate your accomplishments with numbers. Some recruiters prefer to see actual numbers (such as ‘cut manufacturing costs by $500,000’), while others prefer percentages (‘cut manufacturing costs by 15 percent’). Either way, provide enough context to show the impact. If your objective was to cut manufacturing costs by 10 percent, make it clear that you exceeded the goal.”
12. “Really, truly, deeply”
Flowery language and excessive adverbs can come off as insincere. “Don’t get me wrong, you need to share your accomplishments in your cover letter. Nobody else will do it for you. But, you want to come across as confident, not arrogant,” says Copeland. “Fluffy jargon will risk turning off the hiring manager.”
13. Cut, Copy & Paste
Resist the temptation to write a cover letter that regurgitates what you’ve outlined in your resume. Instead, recognize the opportunity that a cover letter presents. “Use the cover letter as an opportunity to highlight the parts of your resume that align to the job,” says Copeland. “And, add things you don’t normally include in your resume that are relevant to the work. For example, I once coached a job seeker who was a university administrator. He was interested to work for a large hotel chain. Although he didn’t have direct hotel experience, his hobbies included both real estate investing and managing a fitness franchise location. This information was critical to him landing a job with the large hotel company.”
14. “Self-Starter,” “Detail-Oriented,” and “Forward-Thinker”
These are what’s known as “frequent offenders” amongst cover letter and resume experts. They are overused and carry little weight these days. “Treat a cover letter as a chance to make a human connection, not a formality,” says Majumdar. “What gets you excited about this job? What have you been up to recently that they’d find interesting? What should they know about you that they couldn’t discern by reading your resume? All great points to touch on in this letter.”
15. Synonyms Out of A Thesaurus
While it may be tempting to head to thesaurus.com to add a few high-brow words and smart-sounding phrases, resist the temptation. Be yourself. Be honest. “This is a prime opportunity to showcase skills,” says Majumdar. Words like “change,” “execute,” “communicates,” and “relationship building” will all get the job done effectively when paired with strong anecdotes and authenticity.