How to

Part 5: How to Finalise and Polish Your Essay


Don’t forget that you can also learn how to finalise and polish your essay by watching our video. The entire series on how to write an essay is available on our YouTube channel.

Before handing in any assignment, you must take the time to carefully edit and proofread it. This includes checking that:

  • you have answered the question in full, without going off topic
  • all guidelines provided have been followed
  • your essay contains all the necessary components (introduction, conclusion, topic sentences for each paragraph, a reference list or bibliography)
  • your ideas are sound, and are supported by evidence
  • your ideas are clearly expressed, with no room for misinterpretation or confusion
  • the grammar and punctuation are correct
  • everything that should be referenced is referenced
  • the referencing is correct and complete.

Below, these pre-submission checks are explained in more detail.

Have you answered the question?

Look again at the notes you wrote when you analysed the essay question (see ‘How to Begin’), as well as the final essay plan (see ‘How to Finalise Your Essay Plan’). Now, compare these to the essay you have written. Does your thesis statement correctly answer the question? Have you followed your final essay plan? If not, why not? Is every point made in your essay directly relevant to the essay question? Does each section link back to your answer to the essay question?

Have you followed the guidelines?

Is your essay within the word limit? If your tutor or lecturer provided a checklist of elements to include in your essay, or an essay marking rubric, does your essay meet all requirements? Did you read and refer to all the required readings? Does your essay use the required referencing style? Does it contain a sufficient number of references?

Is the overall structure satisfactory?

Does your essay have a clear introduction and conclusion? Have you followed the rules for what your introduction and conclusion should contain, as outlined in ‘How to Begin’? Does each paragraph have a clear topic sentence, linking each point to the thesis statement and ensuring that your essay is well structured? Do the ideas in your essay build on one another, so that your argument gains strength with each paragraph? Do you correctly use words and phrases to emphasise connections throughout your essay (e.g. ‘in addition to’, ‘similar findings’ and ‘conversely’)?

Is your essay well structured at the paragraph level?

Looking at your body paragraphs, does each paragraph develop only one main idea? Are the body paragraphs ordered in a logical way (e.g. most to least important)? Does each begin with a topic sentence that clearly states the point you will be making in that paragraph? Do the other sentences in the paragraph directly relate to that topic, supporting it with literature-based evidence, explanation, elaboration or examples?

Are your individual sentences complete and correct?

Are all your sentences complete? That is, does each make sense by itself, express one clear idea, and contain a subject and at least one verb? Are your sentences of various lengths, but with none too short or too long? Is each sentence grammatically correct? For example, have you used verb tense consistently; have you used singular/plural verbs with singular/plural subjects; and have you checked your article usage with singular nouns? Have you carefully checked your punctuation?

Is your overall language use appropriate for an academic essay?

Have you used formal language, as appropriate for academic writing? Have you avoided using colloquial language, idioms and contractions (which are features of spoken and informal language)? If you read your text aloud, does it sound smooth and elegant, or are there ‘clunky’-sounding parts? Have you used inclusive language? (You must not use sexist or racist language or gender-specific terms, for example, ‘spokesman’ rather than ‘spokesperson’.)

Are there any words or phrases that appear a lot in your text that you could try to vary by using synonyms? Have you used conjunctions (e.g. ‘however’, ‘although’ and ‘further’) correctly, and is it necessary for your meaning to use a conjunction? (Sometimes novice writers think they must start every sentence with a conjunction, but they should only be used when helpful for conveying your meaning.)

Have you performed a spell and grammar check and carefully checked your work for typing mistakes or missed or misused words?

Have you referenced correctly and consistently?

Have you included an in-text citation every time you have used the ideas or words of another source (e.g. by quoting, paraphrasing or summarising)? Is there a corresponding reference list entry for each of your in-text citations? Have you correctly and consistently followed the referencing guidelines recommended by your department (or selected by you)? Is your reference list or bibliography ordered correctly following the guidelines?

Finally, ensure that you have:

  • neatly formatted your essay, following all guidelines provided by your university
  • numbered the pages of your essay
  • attached the requested cover sheet with all information completed and correct
  • saved a copy of the final version of your assignment to a dedicated folder on your computer or an external hard-drive, so that you will not accidentally delete it. Saving a backup copy in the cloud or printing a hard copy is also recommended. You should keep copies of all of your assignments for the duration of your degree.

If you have followed the steps outlined in all five articles in this series, you should now have a well-structured, fully researched and polished essay that is ready for submission. If you did not do so while working through these articles, we also recommend reading our articles ‘Simplicity in Academic Writing’ and ‘How, When and Why to Reference’.

If you need any further assistance, Capstone Editing is always here to help.

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