Skip to McMaster Navigation Skip to Site Navigation Skip to main content
McMaster logo

Graduate Studies

Edit slow: Advanced principles to consider when editing your work

1. Choose active over passive voice

Writing in active voice makes the important character or actor in your story the subject of the verb. We do not tend to think that things simply happen on their own without someone or something instigating them. Writing in active voice encourages us to name that actor, making our writing clearer and more believable.

2. Use fewer words

As you read through your draft, check each word and phrase, removing those that do not contribute to your concept building. For example, consider the phrase “It is important…”– the importance of what you are about to say should really go without saying, because if it were not important, you would not be saying it. Consider removing words and phrases like this that are redundant or otherwise do no work.

3. Eliminate repetition

Do not repeat words when you can achieve the same results without the repetition. Play around with how you phrase your ideas, attempting to create the most concise, interesting sentences possible.

4. Structure should mirror content

The syntax (or organization) of each paragraph and sentence in your writing can actually reinforce and contribute to strengthening the arguments you are making.At the very least, a paragraph’s syntax should not undermine its content. For example, if a concept or subject is of less prominence, it should be placed in a less prominent part of the sentence. If subordinate thoughts are mistakenly put in places of importance, then the reader will erroneously assume they are more important. Strengthen your writing by using syntax to accurately communicate the nature of the relationship between your ideas.

5. Work in concrete, as opposed to abstract, terms

Good writing uses concrete and specific terms, as opposed to using abstractions: placeholders which do not say anything in and of themselves. Consider, for example, what someone might actually mean when writing abstractly that: “a complex relationship exists…” or “there is a lot to it…” Vagueness veils meaning; say directly and specifically what you intend to say.

6. Use metaphors with intent

A useful tool at times, metaphors actually detract from your writing if they are vague, overused and/or used without clear development and intent. If you are going to use a metaphor, be sure it actually illuminates and brings to life the inner workings of the idea/concept it stands for. Examples of stale, vague and casually used metaphors to avoid include: “the cutting edge,” “covering terrain,” or “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Metaphors like these have been overused and no longer powerfully contribute fresh insight.

– Katie Steeves, School of Graduate Studies Grad Writing Consultant

Content Adapted from: Becker, Howard. 2007. Writing For Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish your Thesis,Book or Article (2nd ed). The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.