7.1: Revising and Editing
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Revising and editing are two tasks you must undertake to significantly improve your essay. Both are very important elements of the writing process. You may think that a completed first draft means only a little improvement is needed. However, even experienced writers improve on their drafts and rely on peers during revising and editing. You know that athletes miss catches, fumble balls, or overshoot goals. Dancers forget steps, turn too slowly, or miss beats. Web designers seek better images, a more clever design, or a more appealing background for their web pages. For athletes, dancers, designers...the more they practice, the stronger their performance. Writing similarly needs constant revision and editing to become as close to perfect as one can get it.
Understanding the Purpose of Revising and Editing
Revising and editing allow you to examine two important aspects of your writing, separately. So, you can give each task your undivided attention.
- When you revise, you take a second look at your ideas. You might add, cut, move, or change information in order to make your ideas clearer, more accurate, more interesting, or more convincing.
- When you edit, you take a second look at how you expressed your ideas. You add or change words; fix problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure; and improve your writing style. And that will make your essay into a polished, mature piece of writing--the end product of your best efforts.
How do you get the best out of your revisions and editing? Here are some strategies that writers have developed to ensure they look at their first drafts from a fresh perspective. Try them over the course of this semester; then keep using the ones that bring results.
- Take a break. You are proud of what you wrote, but you might be too close to it to make changes. Set aside your writing for a few hours or even a day until you can look at it objectively.
- Ask someone you trust for feedback and constructive criticism.
- Pretend you are one of your readers. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Why?
- Use the resources that your college provides. Find out where your school’s writing lab is located and ask about the assistance they provide online and in person.
Many people hear the words critic, critical, and criticism and pick up only negative vibes which provoke feelings that make them blush, grumble, or shout. However, as a writer and a thinker, you need to learn to be critical of yourself in a positive way (constructively) and have high expectations for your work. Train your eye and trust your ability to fix what needs fixing. For this, you need to teach yourself where to look.
What is Revision?
Revising is looking for ways to make your ideas clearer, stronger, and more convincing. When revising, you might add, cut, move, or change whole sentences or paragraphs. Revising is far more than just editing because, editing is correcting grammar, style, usage, and punctuation. Revising is really a re-vision of your entire essay: ideas, organization, development, grammar, and mechanics. You can follow the steps outlined below while revising.
So, how do you revise? There’s one main thing to keep in mind when revising: revise from “big” to “small.” There are three main parts to revision which we will be covering in this section which follow the illustration below:
Directions: Print out a clean copy of the essay you plan to revise. Follow the steps below, marking your revision notes on this clean copy. Your instructor may want you to turn in this draft with revision notes.
Part I: Global Revisions
- Revise for unity: When you revise for unity, you are revising to make sure all of your points are related to your main point—they unite to support your main point. Sometimes it is easy to drift away from your main point, so you want to check each paragraph closely to make sure it is working to prove your thesis. Look for topic sentences that support your thesis. Then examine each paragraph, making sure every single sentence in the paragraph is working to support the topic sentence.
- Revise for support, detail, and analysis: Your support is your primary evidence, your quotes. Your detail is usually included in your explanation portion of your PIE paragraph that helps clarify the relationship of the support to the topic sentence, and your analysis is where you have explained the quote to make it clear to the reader how it supports your point. When revising, you want to make sure you have enough support, detail, and analysis to fully develop your point. Remember that you want to assume your reader is educated, but not necessarily abreast of the topics you are discussing. Mark on your page where you can include more support or better support. Identify how the two quotes relate to each other.
- Revise for coherence: When revising for coherence, you are checking to make sure that all of the support connects to make a clear, well-developed argument. Coherence is the glue that connects all of the parts together and allows the reader to easily follow the argument. The best way to improve coherence is to add transitions. Transitions are words, phrases, and sentences that connect ideas so that writing moves smoothly from one point to another. Transitions can be used to connect sentences within a paragraph, as well as to connect one paragraph to another.
Part II: Local Revisions—Sentences structure, grammar, syntax, and word choice
Directions: After you have complete all of the global revisions, follow these steps to revise for local issues in your writing.
1. Once you have marked all the grammar errors in your sentences, read through your essay again. This time look for places where you can combine sentences so that your sentence lengths are varied.
2. Read through your essay again, looking for places where you can make the sentence clearer or more concise by using more descriptive language. (Sometimes, if you find the right word, you can say something in one word that originally took you four words.)
3. Now you want to check all of your quotes. Check to make sure you have quoted the text exactly, that you have cited your sources properly, and that you have punctuated your citation correctly.
4. Start with the last sentence of your essay. Read through your entire essay from bottom to top out loud, looking at the sentence structure, grammar, and language.
5. If there is a particular grammar issue that you know you struggle with, read through your entire essay once just looking for that one error in your sentences. (Try not to get distracted. Staying focused on one error will really help you catch that particular error.) If you struggle with multiple errors, give each error one full read through from bottom to top.
6. Check your formatting one more time. Have you followed MLA style: 1” margins, double-spaced (even on the first page where you have your name block), page numbers with last name starting on the first page.
Creating Unity and Coherence
Follow your outline closely. That gives a reasonable guarantee that your writing will stay on purpose and not drift away from the controlling idea. Sometimes, when writers are rushed, are tired, or cannot find the right words, their writing may suffer. Their writing may no longer be clear and concise, and they may be adding information that is not needed to develop the main idea.
When a piece of writing has unity, all the ideas in each paragraph and in the entire essay clearly belong and are arranged in an order that makes logical sense; When the writing has coherence, the ideas flow smoothly. The wording clearly indicates how one idea leads to another within a paragraph and from paragraph to paragraph.
Reading your writing aloud will often help you find problems with unity and coherence. Listen for the clarity and flow of your ideas. Identify places where you find yourself confused, and write a note to yourself about possible fixes. (This is also a good time to give your draft to another person to see if they are confused anywhere.)
Many writers make their revisions on a printed copy and then transfer them to the version on-screen. They conventionally use a small arrow called a caret (^) to show where to insert an addition or correction.
Below is an example of a page of Andi's edited essay. They chose to make the changes on paper so they could get a good view of how the whole paper flows together. It is easier to do this on a printed paper than on the computer screen.
Answer the following questions about Andi’s revised paragraph.
A. 1. Do you agree with the transitions and other changes that Mariah made to the paragraph? Which would you keep and which were unnecessary? Explain.
2. What transition words or phrases did Andi add to her paragraph? Why did she choose each one?
3. What effect does adding additional sentences have on the coherence of the paragraph? Explain. When you read both versions aloud, which version has a more logical flow of ideas? Explain.
B. Now return to the first draft of the essay you wrote and revise it for coherence. Add transition words and phrases where they are needed, and make any other changes that are needed to improve the flow and connection between ideas.
Being Clear and Concise
Some writers are very methodical and painstaking when they write a first draft. Other writers unleash a lot of words in order to get out all that they feel they need to say. Do either of these composing styles match your style? Or is your composing style somewhere in between? No matter which description best fits you, the first draft of almost every piece of writing, no matter its author, can be made clearer and more concise.
If you have a tendency to write too much, you will need to look out for unnecessary words. If you have a tendency to be vague or imprecise in your wording, you will need to find specific words to replace any overly general language. More information about style and word choice can also be found in Chapter 11, "Clarity, Conciseness, and Style."
Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will appeal more to their audience and better fit their purpose. Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for in your draft. Eliminating wordiness helps all readers, because it makes your ideas clear, direct, and straightforward.
- Wordy: There are two major experiments that the Biology Department sponsors.
Revised: The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.
- Wordy: Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke eloquently in favor of the proposed important legislation.
Revised: Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.
- Sentences with deadwood phrases that add little to the meaning. Be judicious when you use phrases such as in terms of, with a mind to, on the subject of, as to whether or not, more or less, as far as…is concerned, and similar expressions. You can usually find a more straightforward way to state your point.
Wordy: As a world leader in the field of green technology, the company plans to focus its efforts in the area of geothermal energy.
A report as to whether or not to use geysers as an energy source is in the process of preparation.
Revised: As a world leader in green technology, the company plans to focus on geothermal energy.
A report about using geysers as an energy source is in preparation.
- Sentences in the passive voice or with forms of the verb to be: Sentences with passive-voice verbs often create confusion, because the subject of the sentence does not perform an action. Sentences are clearer when the subject of the sentence performs the action and is followed by a strong verb. Use strong active-voice verbs in place of forms of to be, which can lead to wordiness. Avoid passive voice when you can. See also "Clarity, Conciseness, and Style."
Wordy: It might perhaps be said that using a GPS device is something that is a benefit to drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
Revised: Using a GPS device benefits drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
- Wordy: The e-book reader, which is a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.
My over-sixty uncle bought an e-book reader, and his wife bought an e-book reader, too.
Revised: The e-book reader, a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.
My over-sixty uncle and his wife both bought e-book readers.
Now return once more to the first draft of the essay you have been revising. Check it for unnecessary words. Try making your sentences as concise as they can be.
Choosing Specific, Appropriate Words
Most college essays should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation. Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate. For more information about word choice and academic style, see Chapter 11.
- Avoid slang. Find alternatives to bummer, kewl, and rad.
- Avoid language that is overly casual. Write about “people” rather than “guys” unless you are trying to create a specific effect. A formal tone calls for formal language.
- Avoid contractions. Use do not in place of don’t, I am in place of I’m, have not in place of haven’t, and so on. Contractions are considered casual speech. Avoiding using contractions will also help you find proofreading mistakes.
- Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as green with envy, face the music, better late than never, and similar expressions are empty of meaning and may not appeal to your audience.
- Be careful when you use words that sound alike but have different meanings. Some examples are allusion/illusion, complement/compliment, council/counsel, concurrent/consecutive, founder/flounder, and historic/historical. When in doubt, check a dictionary.
- Choose words with the connotations you want. Choosing a word for its connotations is as important in formal essay writing as it is in all kinds of writing. Compare the positive connotations of the word proud and the negative connotations of arrogant and conceited.
- Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for thing, people, nice, good, bad, interesting, stuff, and other vague words. Or use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.
Now read the revisions Andi made to make her third paragraph clearer and more concise. They had already incorporated the changes for improving unity and coherence.
1. Answer the following questions about Andi's revised paragraph:
A. 1. Read the unrevised and the revised paragraphs aloud. Explain in your own words how changes in word choice have affected Andi’s writing.
2. Do you agree with the changes that Andi made to her paragraph? Which changes would you keep and which were unnecessary? Explain. What other changes would you have made?
3. What effect does removing contractions and the pronoun you have on the tone of the paragraph? How would you characterize the tone now? Why?
B. Now return once more to your essay in progress. Read carefully for problems with word choice. Be sure that your draft is written in formal language and that your word choice is specific and appropriate.
Completing a Peer Review
After working so closely with a piece of writing, writers often need to step back and ask for a more objective reader. What writers most need is feedback from readers who can respond only to the words on the page. When they are ready, writers show their draft to someone they respect and who can give an honest response about its strengths and weaknesses.
You, too, can ask a peer to read your draft when it is ready. After evaluating the feedback and assessing what is most helpful, the reader’s feedback will help you when you revise your draft. This process is called peer review.
Reading Your Own Drafts
Writers tend to read over their own papers pretty quickly, with the knowledge of what they are trying to argue already in their minds. Reading in this way can cause you to skip over gaps in your written argument because the gap-filler is in your head. A problem occurs when your reader falls into these gaps. Your reader wants you to make the necessary connections from one thought or sentence to the next. When you don’t, the reader can become confused or frustrated. Think about when you read something and you struggle to find the most important points or what the writer is trying to say. Isn’t that annoying? Doesn’t it make you want to quit reading and surf the web or call a friend?
If you go to a tutoring session, you will probably hear the tutor say, “We always read papers out loud—would you like to read yours, or would you like to hear me read it?” Reading aloud has many benefits. Most people have far more experience listening to and speaking English than they do reading and editing it on the printed page. When reading your draft out loud or listening to someone else read it, your brain gets the information in a new way, and you may notice things that you didn’t see before.
As listeners, we need the order of ideas in a paper to make sense. We can’t flip back and forth from page to page to try to figure out what is going on or find information we need. When you hear your paper read out loud, you may recognize that you need to re-order the information in it or realize that there are gaps in your explanation. Listeners also need transitions to help us get from one main idea to the next. When you hear your paper, you may recognize places where you have moved from one topic to another too abruptly.
You may also hear errors in your sentences. Sometimes we leave out a word, mess things up as we copy and paste text, or make a grammatical mistake. These kinds of errors can be hard to see on the page, but sentences that contain them are very likely to sound wrong. For native speakers of English (and some non-native speakers, too), reading out loud is one of the most powerful proofreading techniques around.
Sometimes sentences aren’t grammatically incorrect, but they are still awkward in some way—too long, too convoluted, too repetitive. Problems like these are often easily heard. Hearing your paper can also help you get a sense of whether the tone is right. Does it sound too formal? Too chatty or casual? What kind of impression will your voice in this paper make on a reader? Sometimes hearing your words helps you get a more objective sense of the impression you are creating—listening puts in you in something more like the position your reader will be in as he/she moves through your text.
Work with a partner in your class and identify specific ways to strengthen each other’s essays. Although sharing your writing may feel uncomfortable at first, remember that each writer is working towards the same goal: a final draft that fits the audience and the purpose. Maintaining a positive attitude when providing feedback will put you and your partner at ease. The box that follows provides a useful framework for a peer review session.
This feels a little silly.
Reading aloud (or listening to your writing being read) takes some getting used to, but give it a try. You may be surprised at how much it can speed up your revision process!
Three-step revision process. Authored by: pattheprofessor. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.
Peer Review Comments
Once you have a draft, get a person you trust to read your rough draft, and then ask them to talk to you about what they did and didn’t understand. (Now is not the time to talk about proofreading stuff, so make sure they ignore those issues for the time being). You will likely get one of the following responses or a combination of them:
If your listener/reader has tons of questions about what you are saying, then you probably need to explain more. Let’s say you are writing a paper on piranhas, and your reader says, “What’s a piranha? Why do I need to know about them? How would I identify one?” Those are vital questions that you clearly need to answer in your paper. You need more detail and elaboration.
If your reader seems confused, you probably need to explain more clearly. So if he says, “Are there piranhas in the lakes around here?” you may not need to give more examples, but rather focus on making sure your examples and points are clear.
If your reader looks bored and can repeat back to you more details than she needs to know to get your point, you probably explained too much. Excessive detail can also be confusing, because it can bog the reader down and keep her from focusing on your main points. You want your reader to say, “So it seems like your paper is saying that piranhas are misunderstood creatures that are essential to South American ecosystems,” not, “Uh… piranhas are important?” or, “Well, I know you said piranhas don’t usually attack people, and they’re usually around 10 inches long, and some people keep them in aquariums as pets, and dolphins are one of their predators, and…a bunch of other stuff, I guess?”
Sometimes it’s not the amount of explanation that matters, but the word choice and tone you adopt. Your word choice and tone need to match your audience’s expectations. For example, imagine you are researching piranhas; you find an article in National Geographic and another one in an academic journal for scientists. How would you expect the two articles to sound? National Geographic is written for a popular audience; you might expect it to have sentences like “The piranha generally lives in shallow rivers and streams in South America.” The scientific journal, on the other hand, might use much more technical language because it’s written for an audience of specialists. A sentence like “Serrasalmus piraya lives in fresh and brackish intercoastal and proto-arboreal sub-tropical regions between the 45th and 38th parallels” might not be out of place in the journal. Generally, you want your reader to know enough material to understand the points you are making. It’s like the old forest/trees metaphor. If you give the reader nothing but trees, she won’t see the forest (your thesis, the reason for your paper). If you give her a big forest and no trees, she won’t know how you got to the forest (she might say, “Your point is fine, but you haven’t proven it to me”). You want the reader to say, “Nice forest, and those trees really help me to see it.”
Questions for Peer Review
Title of essay: ____________________________________________
Writer’s name: ____________________________________________
Peer reviewer’s name: _________________________________________
- This essay is about____________________________________________.
- Your main points in this essay are____________________________________________.
- What I most liked about this essay is____________________________________________.
- These three points struck me as your strongest:
a. Point: ____________________________________________
b. Point: ____________________________________________
c. Point: ____________________________________________
- These places in your essay are not clear to me:
a. Where: ____________________________________________
Needs improvement because__________________________________________
b. Where: ____________________________________________
Needs improvement because ____________________________________________
c. Where: ____________________________________________
Needs improvement because ____________________________________________
- The one additional change you could make that would improve this essay significantly is ____________________________________________.
Here is an additional, more specific peer review resource that you may use.
Writing at Work
One of the reasons why word-processing programs build in a 'reviewing' feature is that workgroups have become a common feature in many businesses. Writing is often collaborative, and the members of a workgroup and their supervisors often critique group members’ work and offer feedback that will lead to a better final product.
Exchange essays with a classmate and complete a peer review of each other’s draft in progress. Remember to give positive feedback as well as constructive criticism and to be courteous and polite in your responses. Focus on providing one positive comment and one question for more information to the author.
Using Feedback Objectively
The purpose of peer feedback is to receive constructive criticism of your essay.The peer reviewer is your first real audience, and you have the opportunity to learn what confuses and delights a reader so that you can improve your work before sharing the final draft with a wider audience (or your intended audience).
It may not be necessary to incorporate every recommendation your peer reviewer makes. However, if you start to observe a pattern in the responses you receive from peer reviewers, you might want to take that feedback into consideration in future assignments. For example, if you read consistent comments about a need for more research, then you may want to consider including more research in future assignments.
Using Feedback from Multiple Sources
You might receive feedback from more than one reader. In this situation, you may receive feedback from some readers who do not understand the assignment or who lack your involvement with and enthusiasm for it.
You need to evaluate the responses you receive according to two important criteria:
- Determine if the feedback supports the purpose of the assignment.
- Determine if the suggested revisions are appropriate to the audience.
Then, using these standards, accept or reject revision feedback.
Work with two partners. Go back to Exercises 3 in this lesson and compare your responses to Activity A, about Andi’s paragraph, with your partners’. Recall Andi’s purpose for writing, and their audience. Then, working individually, discuss where you agree and where you disagree about revision needs.
Proofreading, Editing, and Presentation
In Peer Review, the focus is on the larger content and structural issues, but when you have revised those parts of your paper, it is also important to edit and proofread for sentence structure, grammar, and formatting.
Do all of your sentences make sense?
Are they connected with coordinators (FANBOYS) and subordinators to clarify meaning?
Have you used additional transition words to help the reader understand how your sentences relate to each other?
Have you made sure you implemented what the class has practiced, and what you need to work on?
Have you used some of the words (especially verbs) you have learned?
Are they used correctly?
Have you formatted your paper according to MLA rules?
Is the essay in a folder?
Have you turned in everything your instructor has asked you to turn in? Typically, this may include (from top to bottom
- The final draft
- Feedback Sheet
- Peer Review sheet
- Rough draft
Remember to use the proper format when creating your finished assignment. Sometimes an instructor, a department, or a college, will require students to follow specific instructions on titles, margins, page numbers, or the location of the writer’s name. These requirements may be more detailed and rigid for research projects and term papers, which often observe the Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) style guides.
To ensure the format is correct, follow any specific instructions, and make a final check before you submit an assignment.
Use this list to think about the question: What went well while writing your essay and what gave you trouble?
HOCs (Higher Order Concerns)
- Understanding the reading
- Summarizing the issue (for the introduction)
- Coming up with the thesis
- Sorting and organizing the information
- Deciding on the topics of the body paragraphs
- Organizing the body paragraphs
- Writing the topic sentences
- Including information (details)
- Incorporating quotations
- Explaining or interpreting those details
- Summing up (concluding) the paragraphs
- Writing the conclusion
LOCs (Later Order Concerns)
- Writing clear sentences
- Using subordinators and coordinators (FANBOYS)
- Using transitions to connect ideas
- Checking grammar _____________________
- Proofreading for spelling and typos
- Formatting (MLA)
Write 1.5 pages (using separate paragraphs) and answer the question at the top of the page.
Also, if something gave you trouble, how did you work on it? Or, what will you do to work on it next time?
The following video offers a quick overview of the revision process, moving from “big” concepts to “small” sentence and language items.
Reading Aloud -- UNC Writing Center. Authored by: UNC Writing Center. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.
- Adapted from Writing for Success. Provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0
- Adapted from Revision Overview in College Writing. Authored by: Susan Oaks. Provided by: Empire State College, SUNY OER Services. Project: College Writing. License: CC BY-NC:
- From Accelerated English. Authored by: Ashley Paul. Provided by: Libretext. License: CC-BY-SA
This page most recently updated on June 5, 2020.