Checklists for Improving Your First Draft

A good first draft can almost always be improved by revision, editing, and rewriting. As you learn to evaluate your own writing more critically, you will be able to improve it. The following checklists will help guide you from a good first draft to an improved, refined final draft.

Purpose, audience, and tone

These elements deal with the overall effect of your essay and should guide you throughout your writing. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If I am writing in response to an assignment, does my essay fulfill all the required elements of the assignment?

  • Is my topic too broad or too general?

  • Do I state my thesis or main idea early in the paper? If I don't state a thesis or main idea, is it clearly implied so there can be no mistake about the purpose of my paper?

  • Is my thesis or main idea interesting and compelling? If this is an essay of argument, is my thesis statement fair? Do I address opposing viewpoints?

  • Is my tone appropriate to my audience and purpose? Does my audience have any special requirements?

  • Is my tone consistent throughout the essay?

Examples, evidence, and details

These are specific details in the writing process. When you read your essay, you can determine whether you have used these elements well by considering the following questions:

  • Have I adequately developed my thesis or main idea? Do I use specific details rather than generalities?

  • Are my examples and evidence accurate, relevant, and convincing?

  • Do I use quotations appropriately? Is too much of my paper quoted from other sources? Do I paraphrase carefully?

  • Do I correctly cite sources for the words and ideas of others?


Use an outline to determine the structure of your paper, but be aware that you may need to alter it as you write. Keep in mind the following points:

  • Do I have a principle of organization? Do I avoid repetition and digression?

  • Is the organization of my writing appropriate to my topic and thesis?

  • Does my introduction catch the reader's attention; does my conclusion summarize and tie up the loose ends of my paper?

  • Are my paragraphs well developed, unified, and coherent?

  • Does one paragraph flow into the next? Do I use transitions between paragraphs?

  • Are my examples, evidence, and details in the best order? Do I save the strongest point for last?

Language and style

Use a dictionary and thesaurus or your computer's word‐processing tools to help with language and style. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I chosen my words carefully? Am I sure of meanings?

  • Is my language appropriate to my purpose, tone, and audience?

  • Have I avoided wordy expressions, slang, and clichés?

  • Have I avoided jargon and pretentious language?

  • Have I used idioms correctly?

  • Have I followed the guidelines of current English usage?

  • Have I avoided sexism in the use of nouns and pronouns?

  • Have I chosen the active over the passive voice in sentence structure?

Sentence construction

Use your editing and revision skills to make sure your sentences are well constructed. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Are my sentences correct? Have I avoided fragments and run‐ons?

  • Are my modifiers in the right place? Do I have any dangling modifiers?

  • Do my subjects and predicates agree in number?

  • Do I keep constructions parallel?

  • Have I avoided short, choppy sentences?

  • Do I combine sentences effectively?

  • Do I avoid monotony by varying my sentences in length and structure?


Use this book to augment your grammar skills and keep in mind the following points:

  1. Have I checked

  • spelling (including correct plural forms, hyphenation)

  • capitalization

  • correct use and consistency of verb tenses

  • agreement (nouns, verbs, pronouns)

  • pronoun cases

  • pronoun antecedents

  • use of adjectives with linking verbs

  • comparative degrees of adjectives and adverbs

   2.  Does my punctuation make my meaning clear? Have I followed punctuation rules?

  • Commas with nonrestrictive elements; no commas with restrictive elements

  • Commas with interrupting elements; with introductory phrases and clauses when necessary; between series items; between independent clauses

  • Correct use of periods and question marks

  • Correct use (and not overuse) of exclamation marks

  • Correct use of semicolons and colons

  • Correct use (and not overuse) of dashes and parentheses

  • Correct use (and not overuse) of quotation marks

  • Correct use of other punctuation with quotation marks