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4.2: Overview of Revising

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  • “Rewriting is when writing really gets to be fun…. In baseball you only get three swings and you’re out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you'll hit the ball.” —Neil Simon

    Successful writers understand that revising is an integral part of the writing process. It is important for authors to spend the majority of their time revising their texts. That revising is a time-consuming and practiced skill surprises many beginning writers because they often describe revision as changing particular words in a sentence or scanning a text for misspelled words or grammatical errors. Such changes correspond more appropriately to the term proofreading. To revise, however, is to significantly alter a piece of writing.

    Revising and editing are two separate processes. Revising requires a significant alteration in a piece of writing, such as enriching the content or giving the piece clarity. Although editing can be a part of this process, revising generally involves changes that concern bigger issues, such as content and organization. While revising, a writer might notice that one idea needs to be developed more thoroughly and another idea omitted. The writer might decide that rearranging paragraphs will provide clarity and support for the essay, strengthening the paper as a whole. Granted, writers should also change grammar and punctuation while revising, but if that is all they are doing, then they are simply editing.

    A Change for the Better

    “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of sh*t. I try to put the sh*t in the wastebasket.” —Ernest Hemingway

    Writing is an intellectually challenging, and draining, activity—writing well, that is. Putting ideas on paper is a good start, but revising those ideas so that they are persuasive, cogent, and form a solid argument is the real work of writing. As you review what you have written, you will undoubtedly see holes in your logic, sentences that confuse rather than clarify, and sentences and paragraphs out of place. Below are some helpful hints to consider as you analyze and transform your paper.

    • Take a break. Looking at your paper later will help you see it from the point of view of the audience. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least a day before revising. Often, writers look at their prose a day later and recognize significant flaws they would not have noticed had they written their paper in one night.
    • Be your own critic. You are obviously your own best critic. When writing, most people do not (and should not) turn in their first drafts. So take advantage of your first, second, and third drafts to write your opinions in the margins. Highlight the things you really like, and circle the things you would like to change.
    • Read and re-read your paper. In the first read-through consider the clarity of both the focus and the purpose of the paper. Does every supporting statement agree with the thesis? In the second read-through analyze organization, logical development, and correctness. Often, reading your text aloud reveals awkward phrasing, missing information, weak points, and illogical reasoning.
    • Put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Look at your work through their eyes. Keep in mind that while you may know something about a topic and write about it with supported research, your audience may be new to the topic. Being specific in your writing helps clarify your message to audiences. Do not assume that your audience already knows what you know.
    • Understand that revising your paper should not be the last thing you do—revision should be ongoing throughout the creation of a document.
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