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How to Revise Your Writing

By Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Though it is essential to take your time and write well from the get-go, many good writers will tell you that they spend far more time editing and revising their work than they do actually writing it; even the smallest writing projects should be read over and revised, even if the revisions are minor. Similarly, even the best writers aren’t perfect and need a good second pair of eyes.

First Revision: Structure and Clarity

Read relatively quickly over your document to look for logical fallacies, parts of the text that you need to clarify, places where you should include additional information, and organizational and other broad structural changes that need to be made. Don’t worry too much about spelling, punctuation, and similar errors right now. There’s no sense in spending a lot of time fixing capitalization and grammar, for example, if you’re going to end up deleting the whole paragraph or section anyway because you decide it’s unnecessary or it doesn’t really fit. Instead, think about the overall content of your paper. Determine whether or not the information really suits the scope and purpose of your document, and if so, where it belongs. Though you ideally wrote an outline before you began writing, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes to the organization of your paper if you need to in order to make it more clear or logical or to make it flow better.

As you read, look for passages that could be made more coherent

parts that could be reworded to be more original, creative, or artistic; or information that is repetitious or unnecessary that should be deleted. Also as you are reviewing your document, revise as needed to make it more cohesive by adding or improving transitions and by tying in new information with old information. Moreover, think about where you might add examples or visual aids (if appropriate), such as charts or graphs, to make your document more interesting or easier to understand.

Finally, look for information that needs to be cited

(That is, that needs to have the reference information included, such as original author’s name, work title, and the publication information). As you do so, be on the watch for citations or parts of your own writing that weaken, rather than strengthen, your arguments or your thesis, and evaluate them. Decide whether to simply remove such information or whether you want to refute it in your document by adding counter information. If the contrary information is strong enough, you may even decide to reverse your thesis and argue the other side, or you may determine that you need to choose another aspect of the topic, or another topic altogether.

Second Revision: Mechanics

After you have made any necessary changes to improve structure, organization, coherence, clarity, logic, redundancy, and so forth, then go back and read over your document more closely. As you read, be on the lookout for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammatical errors, and fix them as needed.

Peer Revision

It is essential to read over your work yourself, but don’t stop there; have others read over it as well. Just because something sounds clear to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be clear for other readers. Oftentimes they won’t be as familiar with the subject as you are, so what seems obvious or logical to you might not be to them. For that reason, if you are writing for a broad audience (and not just for individuals within a specific field), it is a good idea to have someone read your document who is new to or not as familiar with the subject so that he or she can give you input from a novice’s or less familiar reader’s point of view.

Vocal Revision

After you do the major revising of your document, it is a good idea to read it out loud. This is an excellent way to notice awkward or less aesthetic passages that you wouldn’t necessarily notice from just reading silently. As you read, when you come across something that sounds awkward or stilted or when you stumble over a word or phrase, revise it.

Final Revision

After the substantive and then the mechanical revising, your peer review, and reading the document aloud to yourself, you should read over your document one more time, looking for any spelling, punctuation, or other errors that may have been introduced or overlooked in the revision process. And, if you notice any major problems in organization or logic that you somehow missed in previous readings, rework your document, if possible. Even if it means asking for more time, it’s probably the better option. Your boss or client will undoubtedly prefer the much better results, despite the extended deadline. If you’re a student, your professor or instructor may understand and give you an extension if you explain that in your final read you saw an important logical fallacy, structural problem, or gap in information.

Conclusion

Though revising your writing admittedly can take a fair amount of time and effort, the far better results are well worth the effort. If you’ve ever hurriedly submitted something and then later noticed a glaring (or even embarrassing) mistake or omission, you know what I mean. That’s why revision is an essential part of the writing process.

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