For sixteen years, I have been offering professional editing and proofreading for university essays. In many cases, students find it useful to not only get corrections, but to talk about mistakes and understand why the corrections were made. This can be done through face-to-face or online meetings.
I do not have a fixed charge per word or page edited. (That is because - obviously - some essays require more editing work than others.) Instead, I charge a flat rate of $20 per hour. It is the same rate that I charged ten years ago, and it is low by today's standards.
Please feel free to contact me with your needs, and I will be glad to take a look at your writing.
Below are some tips for academic writing (and most other writing...):
David's Writing Tips
What is good writing? I am afraid the answer to this question is somewhat subjective, even though many teachers like to assert that one way of writing (their way) is the best.
Writing has many purposes, and arguably how good it is depends on how well it serves its purpose. The purpose of writing (or, more generally, the purpose of language) may be to entertain (e.g., in fiction), to evoke emotion (e.g., in poetry), to confuse (e.g., in politics, law, or advertising), or to communicate information.
The last purpose – communication information – is arguably the main purpose of language, and it should definitely be the main purpose in academic writing. If the purpose of academic writing is to communicate information, then good writing is writing which communicates information effectively and efficiently. To communicate information well, you must make sure that the reader can understand it. If the reader can easily misunderstand the information, or if the reader is left confused, or if it takes the reader a long time to understand, then the writing is not very good. Good writing should be easily understandable: clear and concise. It takes years of practice to become good at writing clearly and concisely. Don’t worry; you will improve with practice. The following guidelines should help you to think critically, and, as a result, to write more clearly and concisely.
When you write something, ask yourself the following basic questions about each sentence:
>>> These five critical thinking questions are very useful - not only when write, but also when you read. <<<
Just as you can string together letters to create a meaningless word, you can also string together words to create a meaningless statement. Beware of statements which sound like they mean something but really do not have a clear meaning. Consider, for example, the statement "Equality is good". What does this mean? Does it mean it is good if all people are equally tall, smart, or wealthy? Probably not. Does it mean it is good if all people are treated equally? If so, does it mean that babies should be treated like adults, or that criminals should be treated like innocent people? If it doesn't mean any of these things, maybe it means that some people should be treated the same. But who? Furthermore, what does it mean to say something is good? What makes it true that something is good, and how do we determine if something is good? One could think for hours about the meaning of "Equality is good" without having an idea what it means. (If you think you know what it means, think again.) Certain statements might be only slightly unclear – the statement “Grass is green”, for example. Does it mean that all grass is green, or that grass is usually green? The difference might seem trivial to you, but often small differences are not trivial at all. Whether you are the reader or the writer of a statement, the first thing to ask yourself is if you really understand the meaning. People make countless statements that are unclear, ambiguous, or completely meaningless. Sometimes statements are intentionally meaningless. This happens in advertising ("Cleaning your kitchen with ZAP is as easy as one-two-three") and in politics. Advertisers and politicians have often mastered the art of saying meaningless things - using many, many words to say absolutely nothing. As a critical thinker you must be able to recognize this. In addition to completely meaningless statements, there are statements that are vague (lacking adequate precision), and statements that are ambiguous (having two different possible interpretations). Below are some exercises to help you practice your skills in identifying ambiguous and meaningless statements.
QUESTION 2: IS IT TRUE?
Note that questions (1) and (2) are in logical order: To know if a sentence is true, you must first know what it means. Only after you know what it means can you even begin to think about whether it is true.
A statement is true if it describes the world the way the world really is. (This, in philosophy, is called the correspondence theory of truth, and it is common sense to most people.) So, for instance the statement that the earth goes around the sun is true because it is an actual fact that the earth goes around the sun. This fact is independent of our belief.
Belief (even popular or universal belief does not make a statement true, nor is it good evidence that the statement is true. Here, it may be important to remember that throughout history a large proportion of our beliefs have not been true. The list of popular beliefs which turned out to be untrue is almost endless:
“The Earth is flat”
“The sun revolves around the Earth”
“Lightning is the anger of the gods”
“Black people are inferior”
“Masturbation is bad for one’s health”
“Heavy things fall faster than light things”
“AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality”
“People’s blood types determine their race”
“Columbus discovered America”
“Marijuana is physically addictive”
“The US acts to promote human rights in foreign countries”
“Human beings are not related to the other animals”
“Colds are caused simply by exposure to cold temperatures or drafts”
“The Earth is only a few thousand years old”
“The Morning Star and the Evening Star are different objects”
“Thinking happens in the heart”
“World War I will end all wars”
“Lead and mercury are beneficial to our health”
“Atoms are indivisible”
Truth is different from belief that something is true. In thinking about whether a statement is really true, you must look at reasons for accepting the statement and learn to distinguish between good reasons and bad reasons for thinking that something is true. Distinguishing between good and bad reasons for something is always not an easy task – it eventually leads to deep philosophical and logical issues and can, in some cases, require a whole lifetime of thinking. It is thus beyond the scope of this handout. (However, as just noted, the fact that many people believe something is not a good reason.) The point to keep in mind is that deciding whether something is true or false requires independent thinking. Needless to say, if you discover that your statement is not true, you should change it. If you are not sure if it is true, you should probably not make the statement.
QUESTIONS 3 & 4: IS THERE A BETTER WAY TO SAY THIS? IS IT NECESSARY TO SAY THIS?
As a critical writer, it is good to always ask yourself if there is a better way to say something. Good writing communicates information efficiently – so it is concise, not wordy. I often tell students to imagine that they have to pay money for every word they use, and then ask if there is a more economical way to say the same thing. If you have a choice between saying “at this point in time” or “now”, say “now”.
Here are some examples of wordy expressions, and better, concise expressions:
a large number of -- many
within the realm of possibility – possible
at that point in time - then
in some cases - sometimes
within the realm of possibility - possible
in view of the fact that – because
due to the fact that -- because
in my own personal opinion -- I believe…
it would be advisable to -- you should
subsequent to – after
in close proximity to -- near
in the event – if
has the ability to -- can
with reference to the fact that -- concerning
Some more phrases that are redundant and can be shortened:
Redundant adverbs and verbs
completely finish, tentatively suggest, connected together, prove conclusively
finish, suggest, connected, prove
Redundant adverbs and adjectives
totally unique, completely finished, thoroughly complete, bothersomely annoying, productively useful
unique, complete, annoying, useful
complete and total failure, by a slender, a narrow margin
complete failure, almost
completely and totally fail, carefully and methodically working
fail, carefully working
Redundant adjectives and nouns
transportation vehicle, tactful diplomacy, successful victory, twenty-four-hour day, time schedule, alternative choices, component part
vehicle, diplomacy, victory, day, schedule, choices, part
parts and components, means and methods, ways and means, use and implementation, source and origin
parts, methods, ways, use, source
behave and conduct oneself; scheming and planning; discusses and explains
behave, scheming, discusses
There is a misconception among some people, often uneducated people who want to appear important, that wordy writing is good. In fact, the more concise your writing is, the better. Your readers (and your graders in university) are interested in your ideas, not your ability to make them unnecessarily complicated. First drafts of essays are often not at concise as they could be. Try to go through it and reduce the word count - un-inflate, de-bloat, cut, and slash any unnecessary words.
Wordy: He carries a briefcase made out of leather.
Better: He carries a leather briefcase.
Wordy: Mr. Stevens, who was my former neighbor, won his lawsuit.
Better: Mr. Stevens, my former neighbor, won his lawsuit.
Wordy: There are many students who like reading as an activity.
Better: Many students like reading.
Wordy: The amendment was passed through the cooperation of the president and Congress.
Better: The president and Congress cooperated to pass the amendment.
Wordy: The invention of writing toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C. is credited to the Sumerians.
Better: Sumerians invented writing toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C.
Wordy: It is the opinion of our professor that we have failed to meet his expectations.
Better: We have failed to meet our professor's expectations.
Reducing wordiness does not mean omitting facts or details. It means expressing the same facts more simply. Of course, complicated information is often part of academic writing. But this too should be as simple as possible. Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
QUESTION 5 - DOES IT FIT?
Finally, it is time to think about coherence and cohesion. A piece of writing is coherent if (taken as a set of statements) it contains no contradictions. Writing is cohesive if the sentences are in an order which makes sense and are well linked together. This means that transition words, if used, should be used correctly. Be careful with phrases such as "for example", "on the other hand", and "therefore". Too often I see these expressions used when they are not appropriate. The result may be a logical mistake. I especially urge students to hink very carefully when using logical connectives such as “so" or “therefore”: You need to think about whether a reason for believing something is really a reason. Note that a statement following the words "so" or "therefore" might well be true, but not entailed or supported by the preceding statement(s). The fact that a statement is true fools many students into thinking that it is actually supported. Consider a few examples of logical mistakes involving "so" and "therefore":
1. We’ll go on a picnic tomorrow only if the weather is nice.
2. The weather will be nice.
3. Therefore we will go on a picnic. (X)
1. All my pets are dogs.
2 So all my dogs are pets. (X)
1. Some professors are not teachers
2. Therefore some teachers are not professors. (X)
1. If you study very hard, you’ll get an A.
2. So you won’t get an A unless you study. (X)
1. If the test is positive, you have cancer.
2. But the test isn’t positive.
3. So you don’t have cancer. (X)
1. Either she took the bus, or she took the train.
2. We know that she took the bus.
3. So she didn’t take the train. (X)
The (X) in each case indicates a conclusion that is not entailed by the reasons given for it – that is, a logical mistake. After marking logic exams for four years, I have seen plenty of such mistakes. They look similar to logically valid patterns of reasoning (e.g. Modus Ponens, Modus Tollens, Disjunctive Syllogism, etc.), but all are well-known mistakes. Often what makes these mistakes so seductive is the fact that the conclusion of the reasoning seems true. This makes students blind to the fact that the reasoning itself is bad.
Just like "so" and "therefore" can be used incorrectly, other connectives such as "because", "but", "however", "that is", and "for example" can be used in ways that make no sense. A statement following "but" may not be a contrast; a statement following "that is" may not be a restatement of what preceded it, and a statement following "for example" may actually not be an example of the preceding.
As you can see by now, cohesive writing must be logical and must have statements that are relevant to each other. Even if true, a statement may not be relevant, and may be out of place. What does it mean for a statement to be relevant? Here is a simple definition: "A statement A is relevant to a statement B if A makes it more likely, or less likely, that B is true." (If A makes B more likely, A is said to be "positively relevant", and if A makes B less likely, A is said to be "negatively relevant".)
Very often students mistakenly think that something is relevant when it actually has no bearing on the truth of another statement. A good writer should carefully avoid making irrelevant statements.