You may be able to move directly from your revised first draft to a final draft, but careful writers often prepare several drafts before they are satisfied with a piece. As you rewrite, you may continue to discover wordy constructions, poor connections, awkward sentences, and other issues.
While you can quickly handwrite research notes or an outline for your paper, you may want to use a computer to produce a first draft that's legible and easy to edit. You can do much of your editing directly on the screen. If you think of a better way to say what you've just said, make the change immediately and move on. For more global editing, however, many writers like to print out sections or complete drafts, mark them up by hand, and then go back to the computer to input the changes. This method has advantages. Working on the screen limits you to a small section of text. Scrolling up and down in a long, complex document can be confusing. Another advantage of printing out your essay is that it forces you to slow down and read carefully. Because most of us can type quickly on a computer, our fingers may get ahead of our thoughts. Remember that good writing requires deliberation, evaluation, and judgment.
Spell-check, grammar-check, and search-and-replace functions
A spell‐check function is useful for catching misspelled words, typos, and accidental repetitions ( the the). But the spell‐checker won't flag a word that is actually a word, even if it isn't the one you intended —for example, if you inadvertently type form for from. Spell‐checking also doesn't distinguish between words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings ( it's/its, here/hear, their/they're/there). Use the spell‐checker as an aid, not as a replacement for your own careful proofreading.
Grammar‐ or style‐checkers require even more caution, because grammar and style are less clear‐cut than spelling. Many writers don't use these functions at all, and unless you already have a good grasp of grammar, these functions can be misleading. For example, grammar‐checkers may catch pronoun agreement and reference errors, but not dangling participles or faulty parallelism. Some grammar‐checkers flag possible usage problems and passive constructions, but they also flag every sentence beginning with a conjunction ( for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). The checker may also flag contractions and every sentence ending with a preposition —“errors” that current usage permits. If you use your computer's grammar‐check function, do so critically.
A search‐and‐replace function lets you correct a particular error throughout your paper automatically. However, use caution with the Replace All command, or you could replace one error with another. It's a good idea to evaluate every instance of a misspelled word rather than using the automatic, Replace All command.
Final draft and layout
You can use your computer's word‐processing and layout functions to produce a professional‐looking final draft. If you are doing an assignment for a course, be sure to check with the instructor regarding the format requirements for your paper. For example, your instructor may require the following format: Times New Roman 12‐point type, double‐spaced text, 1‐inch margins, a title page, inserted page numbers, and running heads. The computer's page‐layout functions can help you create a properly formatted paper that meets specific requirements—MLA and APA style, for example.
If it's appropriate, you can present some information in tables, charts, or graphs, and you can import graphics. Be careful not to overdo graphics, varied type fonts, colors, design elements, and formatting. Don't confuse a good‐looking paper with a well‐written one. Although some readers may be initially impressed with a document that looks nice, special formatting and design features can't compensate for poorly expressed ideas. Many readers are distracted by too much formatting—boldface, italic type, bullets, and similar elements.