6 Strategies for ESL Students Editing Their Own Papers

By Freddie Tubbs

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There’s more than one way to edit your own paper. You can start by looking over your paper for common errors, use the POWER strategy, use the top down strategy, access online editing tools, use the bottom up strategy, and learn to identify and target your common errors. Use these six strategies for ESL students editing their own papers.

Check for basic common mistakes

Start by checking your paper over for common errors, things people generally seem to have trouble with. Incorrect word form is a common mistake people make, typically in a noun – adverb scenario. An example is saying diligence student instead of diligent student. Another common mistake is subject verb agreement. An example is He think she will win the contest, rather than He thinks she will win the contest. Other common mistakes include using the incorrect verb form and improper use of modals. Check for these common problems first, you may find they make up the bulk of your mistakes.

Use the POWER strategy

POWER stands for pre-write, organize, write, edit, revise. Pre-writing involves brainstorming ideas. Next, figure out an outline and organize those ideas. Once the paper is written it’s time to edit and revise. These two steps go together and may be done multiple times for best results. Revision focuses on content, flow, and organization, while editing is concerned with more technical aspects like punctuation, formatting, grammar, and spelling. Some people complete both these steps at the same time, but more often writers do them separately.

Top down strategy

The top down method is a very straightforward revision strategy. Start at the beginning of your paper and work your way down, checking for errors as you go. Keep some things in mind as you read. Does your paper have a clear beginning, middle, and end? Are you making a clear argument? Do you support your arguments with ample evidence? Do I need to rephrase any of my sentences for better clarity? It’s a good idea to have a peer read over your paper once you have done your revision; they will often find mistakes you have missed.

Use online editing tools

There are lots of helpful editing tools available online. Here are a few resources to get you started:

LetsGoandLearn – this is a helpful editing guide to help you with your paper.
MyWritingWay and Grammarix – These are helpful online writing and proofreading tools you can use to improve your paper’s flow, structure, and grammar. You can also have your paper proofread here.

Bottom up strategy

Sometimes when editing, we read what we think we have written rather than what we actually wrote. Use bottom up editing to avoid this trap. Start at the end of your paper and read one sentence at a time. This method takes time but it is a great way to get outside your own ideas and really see what you have written. You will become much more aware of your errors when you get outside the flow of your paper.

Identify and target your common errors

Every writer forms their own bad habits and tends towards certain types of mistakes. Common errors include incorrect gender usage, conjugation, incorrect word order, and punctuation. Do you know what your most common errors are? “If you don’t, consider starting an errors log, where you write down and categorize your errors into 1) errors that interfere with meaning and 2) errors that do not interfere with meaning. Find your three most common mistakes that interfere with meaning. Go through your paper and circle all the places where you made your most common error. You’ll feel less overwhelmed if you concentrate on one kind of error at a time. Repeat this step for your second and third most common errors”, – explains Brandon Lawson, a Senior editor at Academized.


There are quite a few different ways for an ESL student to edit their own paper, using more than one can be very effective. The important thing is to figure out which ones work the best for you. You can look over your paper for common errors, use the POWER strategy, use the top down strategy, access online editing resources, use the bottom up strategy, and identify and target your common errors. Use these six strategies for ESL students editing their own papers to produce well written and edited papers.

About the author: Freddie Tubbs is a language tutor at UkwritingsFreddie also contributes expert articles to such online magazines as the Atlantic, Boomessays, Essayroo.


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