What do you do after you write the first draft of your essay?

You should feel proud because you just finished the hard work of taking ideas and information and writing the first draft.  It’s the hardest obstacle to overcome. But you still need to revise and shape it into a great final essay.  I created an essay revision checklist to guide you through the entire revising process.

Revision is key the to great writing.  Author E.B. White stated, “The best writing is rewriting.”  So, get excited about revising because you’re taking your writing and making it your best writing.

The Essay Revision Process

When you finish a first draft take a break.  Wait a few hours or if possible a day.  You will come back to your writing with a fresh pair of eyes.   Then go back to your essay and launch into revising it.

In this post, I show you a three-phase revision process that has some overlap with editing.   But, I focus on revising because it includes deeper changes to ideas and information in your essay.

The essay revision checklist here has three sections:  content, organization, and clarity.  Go through each section separately.  Move on from one section to the next when you’ve completed everything in a section.

The Essay Revision Checklist

Revising the Content of an Essay

Content is the substance of your essay.  It’s the topic, main ideas and supporting reasons that connect back to your thesis statement.   If you don’t have strong content your essay is a group of fluffy words.

Checklist for Good Essay Content

  • Content reveals the purpose of your essay or paper.
  • There is a complex and supportable thesis statement.
  • The main ideas support the thesis statement.
  • There are supporting details for each of the main ideas.
  • There is evidence to support the main ideas and thesis statement.

Keep revising the essay until you can check off each of these elements.

Revising the Organization of an Essay

Essays are organized into 3 basic parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction has a hook, overview of the topic or description of the situation, and the thesis statement. The body contains the ideas and details that support the thesis statement.  It’s the heart of your essay content.   The conclusion summarizes the thesis statement and describes the significance of it.

Checklist for Good Essay Organization

  • The introduction starts with a hook.  A hook is a sentence or a few sentences that capture your reader’s interest.  Read, “7 Sensational Types of Essays Hooks”  https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/7-sensational-types-of-essay-hooks/ and see different hooks you can use in your writing.
  • The introduction has an overview of the topic that leads to the thesis statement.
  • The body of the essay is organized so that the main ideas follow the sequence of things stated in your thesis.  For example, if your thesis statement lists three causes of something: Cause A, Cause B, and Cause C.  The first part of your essay examines Cause A.  The second part examines Cause B etc.
  • The conclusion reviews the thesis statement and points out something significant about it. It shows some importance to your field, to people in general, to life, history, etc. Why does your thesis matter?

Revising Your Essay for Clarity

Clarity means that your ideas, sentences, and words are easy to understand.  Clarity is the window through which the reader sees your meaning.  If your essay is unclear, the content of your essay is confusing.

When you revise your essay for clarity analyze the ideas, sentences, and words in your writing.  I’ve included in this checklist the common problems I see in essays.

Checklist for Essay Clarity

  • There is subject-verb agreement throughout the essay.  A singular subject has a singular verb tense. Plural subjects have plural verb tenses.  An example of a singular subject and singular verb tense is: He drinks hot coffee.  A plural subject with a plural verb tense is: They drink ice tea.
  • There is good sentence flow. Fix any run-ons, incomplete sentences, short choppy sentences or just very long sentences. Make sure you have sentence variety in your essay.  Not all your sentences are short, and not all sentences are long.  Mix it up.
  • There are no unclear or confusing words or phrases.  Don’t overuse academic vocabulary or the thesaurus.  Use words and phrases you understand.
  • The Point of View (POV) (1st person, 2nd person or 3rd person) is consistent and appropriate for the essay.  Most academic essays are written from the 3rd person (he, she, they, it,) POV.  Usually, narrative essays and descriptive essays use the 1st person (I, me, we, us,) POV.   Rarely is an essay written from the 2nd person (you, your) POV.
  • The pronouns agree in number and person.  For information on pronoun agreement, see Purdue OWL, “Using Pronouns Clearly.” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/595/01/
  • The punctuation is correct.

After the Revision Process

When you’re done with the checklist, get another person to read your essay.  Ask that person for suggestions.  This could be a classmate, a peer tutor, or a private tutor (in-person or online).

Your professor might offer to help you during office hours. Professors are busy, so check to see if they offer that kind of assistance.  Writing professors usually do.  Professors of other subjects will tell you to go to a tutor.

Next, edit and proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes.   Don’t just use a spell checker/ grammar checker or Grammarly.  Read your essay aloud and listen for mistakes.  When you read aloud you read slower and see more punctuation problems.  You also notice missing words.

Another great tip is to read your paper from the last sentence all the way back to the first sentence.  This way you’re not focusing on the content and how things fit together.  You see each sentence individually.  It’s easier to find grammar mistakes when you focus on one sentence at a time.


I teach students this 3-part revision process because it highlights the key elements of an academic essay.  It helps you analyze content, organize content, and make your essay clear to the reader.   This essay revision checklist will help you change your first draft into a strong piece of academic writing.

Are you revising an academic paper? Then download your free copy of The Roadmap to Revising Academic Writing and Handing in a Great Final Paper! Each section has a list of questions that will help you revise the content, organization, and clarity of an academic paper.    Sign-up at the form above and get your free guide now!

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash