When revising your draft, it can be helpful to focus on specific points. When you consider each point in turn, you will be able to break down the revision process into manageable steps. When you have examined each point, you can be confident that you have avoided many possible areas for errors. Specific revision requires attention to the following:
Let’s examine these characteristics one by one.
One key part of the revision process is checking your facts. Did you know that news organizations and magazines employ professional fact-checkers? These workers are responsible for examining every article before it gets published and consulting original sources to make sure the information in the article is accurate. This can involve making phone calls to the people who were interviewed for the article—for example, “Mr. Diaz, our report states that you are thirty-nine years old. Our article will be published on the fifteenth. Will that be your correct age on that date?” Fact checking also involves looking facts up in encyclopedias, directories, atlases, and other standard reference works; and, increasingly, in online sources.
While you can’t be expected to have the skills of a professional fact-checker, you do need to reread your writing with a critical eye to the information in it. Inaccurate content can expose you to liability and cause problems later on. So, when you revise a document, ask yourself the following:
- Does my writing contain any statistics or references that need to be verified?
- Where can I get reliable information to verify it?
It is often useful to do independent verification—that is, look up the fact in a different source from the one where you first got it. For example, you will likely make reference to specific experts and officials related to your subject. It is important, then, to make sure you’ve spelled their names correctly and accurately identified their credentials. Or maybe you’ve used some surprising or revelatory statistics to prove an argument. It may be good to find another source that can confirm you got that statistic right.
Correct spelling is another element essential for your credibility, and errors will be glaringly obvious to many readers. The negative impact on your reputation as a writer, and its perception that you lack attention to detail or do not value your work, will be hard to overcome. In addition to the negative personal consequences, spelling errors can become factual errors and destroy the value of content.
This may lead you to click the “spell check” button in your word processing program, but computer spell-checking is not enough. Spell checkers have improved in the years since they were first invented, but they are not infallible. They can and do make mistakes. If it fails to figure out what word you were trying to spell, it may not give you the correct spelling of the word you intend. As you use such a tool, you need to carefully assess whether the spelling options the spellchecker offers are the words you actually mean. Use a dictionary to help you confirm this if you are not absolutely sure. In other cases, you may have unintentionally spelled a different word, which a spellchecker will assume is correct. For example, suppose you wrote, “The major will attend the meeting” when you meant to write “The mayor will attend the meeting.” The program would miss this error because “major” is a word, but your meaning would be twisted beyond recognition. This means that you must also read every sentence of your draft carefully, looking for words you may have misspelled as different words. If you need it, you can even have someone else read your draft to look for problems like this.
Punctuation marks are the traffic signals, signs, and indications that allow us to navigate the written word. They serve to warn us in advance when a transition is coming or the complete thought has come to an end. A period indicates the thought is complete, while a comma signals that additional elements or modifiers are coming. Correct signals will help your reader follow the thoughts through sentences and paragraphs, and enable you to communicate with maximum efficiency while reducing the probability of error.
The table below lists twelve punctuation marks that are commonly used in English, along with an explanation of its most common uses, and an example of each.
|Apostrophe||’||To indicate ownership or relationship of one thing by another thing or person.||Michele’s report is due tomorrow.
The toddlers’ lunches are in the fridge.
|Colon||:||To indicate that a list of items or steps immediately after a complete sentence.||This is what I think: you need to revise your paper and submit it again.|
|Comma||,||To separate items in a list; to set off a subordinate clause or phrase that is placed at the beginning of a complete sentence; to set off a non-essential phrase or subordinate clause in the middle of a sentence; to set off a conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, so, however, etc.) used to connect to complete sentences.||The report advised us when to sell, what to sell, and where to find buyers.
In the future, please use the back door, and ring the bell if you need help.
|Dash||—||To give a subordinate clause or modifier more emphasis within a sentence (sometimes used instead of a comma or parentheses).||This is more difficult than it seems—buyers are scarce when credit is tight.|
|Ellipsis||…||To cut out irrelevant or unnecessary words from the middle of a quotation.||Lincoln spoke of “a new nation…dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”|
|Exclamation Point||!||To suggest excitement or surprise in a sentence.||How exciting!|
|Hyphen||–||To connect two or more words together in indicate one compound word or phrase.||The question is a many-faceted one.|
|Parentheses||( )||To add an an explanation or example to a sentence that is not essential to understanding the sentence itself;to add an in-text citation.||To answer it (or at least to begin addressing it) we will need more information.
According to one source, the accusations were false (Jenkins 8).
|Period||.||To end a complete sentence.||The answer is no. Period. Full stop.|
|Question Mark||?||To indicate that a complete sentence or phrase is a question.||Can I talk you into changing your mind?|
|Quotation Marks||“ ”||To set off words spoken in dialogue; to indicate that a sentence or passage was borrowed word-for-word from a source.||The manager told him, “I will make sure Renée is available to help you.”|
|Semicolon||;||To connect two complete sentences (often instead of using a conjunction or period); to separate items in a complex list of items or phrases.||Theresa was late to the meeting; her computer had frozen and she was stuck at her desk until a tech rep came to fix it.
Contemporary poets adhere to a few essential rules: never use more words when as much can be said in fewer; use concrete imagery, rather than abstract words, exclusively; and make the rhythm of each phrase sound as natural as possible when spoken.
It may be daunting to realize that the number of possible punctuation errors is as extensive as the number of symbols and constructions available to the author. Software program may catch many punctuation errors, but again it is the committed writer that makes the difference. Here we will provide details on how to avoid mistakes with three of the most commonly used punctuation marks: the comma, the semicolon, and the apostrophe.
The comma is probably the most versatile and confusing of all punctuation marks. Often, a writer can use their judgment as to whether they need a comma or not. But the errors possible errors involving commas are many. Commas are necessary some of the time, but careless writers often place a comma in a sentence where it is simply not needed.
Commas are used to separate two independent clauses (or complete sentences) joined by a conjunction like “but,” “and,” “or,” “so,” “for,” “however,” etc.
|The advertising department is effective, but don’t expect miracles in this business climate.|
Commas alone are not used to join two independent clauses. This is known as the comma splice error, and the way to correct it is to insert a conjunction after the comma.
|Incorrect: The advertising department is effective, the sales department needs to produce more results.|
|Correct: The advertising department is effective, but the sales department needs to produce more results.|
Commas are used for introductory phrases and to offset clauses that are not essential to the sentence. If the meaning and grammar of the sentence would remain intact without the phrase, it is considered nonessential.
|The sales department celebrated their stellar sales success this year.|
|After the summary of this year’s sales, the sales department had good reason to celebrate.|
|The sales department, last year’s winner of the most productive award, celebrated their stellar sales success this year.|
Commas are used to offset certain transitional words, such as ‘however’ or ‘though,’ used in the middle of a sentence.
|The sales department discovered, however, that the forecast for next year is challenging.|
|The darkening clouds, though, promised to cast their gloom across the land.|
Commas are used to separate items in a list.
|The sales department discovered their office supply inventory lacked pens, register paper, and staples.|
Commas are used to separate addresses, dates, and educational degrees; they are also used in dialogue sequences.
|The weather moving in Austin, Texas, looks ominous.|
|Katy was born on August 2, 2002, while her twin brother was born on August 1.|
|Mackenzie McLean, Ph.D., also collects vinyl record album covers.|
|Lisa said, “When writing, omit needless words.”|
Semicolons have two uses. First, they indicate relationships among groups of items in a series when individual items are separated by commas. Second, a semicolon can be used to join two independent clauses; this is another way of avoiding the comma splice error mentioned above. Using a semicolon this way is often effective if the meaning of the two independent clauses is linked in some way, such as a cause-effect relationship.
|Merchandise on order includes women’s wear such as sweaters, skirts, and blouses; men’s wear such as shirts, jackets, and slacks; and outwear such as coats, parkas, and hats.|
|The sales campaign was successful; without its contributions our bottom line would have been dismal indeed.|
The apostrophe, like the semicolon, has two uses: it replaces letters omitted in a contraction, and it often indicates the possessive.
Because contractions are associated with an informal style, they may not be appropriate for some professional writing. A writer —as always—needs to evaluate the expectations and audience of the given assignment.
|It’s great news that sales were up. It is also good news that we’ve managed to reduce our advertising costs.|
When you indicate possession, pay attention to the placement of the apostrophe. Nouns commonly receive “ ’s ” when they are made possessive. But plurals that end in “s” already receive a hanging apostrophe when they are made possessive, and the word “it” forms the possessive (“its”) with no apostrophe at all.
|Mackenzie’s sheep are ready to be sheared.|
|The parents’ meeting is scheduled for Thursday.|
|We are willing to adopt a dog that has already had its shots.|
Grammar involves the order (also called syntax) of words in a sentence as well as the conjugation of those words based on how they are used in the sentence. There are many more-or-less fixed “rules” of grammar, but there are also plenty of exceptions to those rules. Thus, learning to use standard English grammar is more of a skill to practice and get better at than a simple matter of correctness, involving customs that have evolved and adapted over time. Because grammar is always evolving, none of us can sit back and rest assured that we “know” how to write with “proper” grammar. Instead, it is important to write and revise with close attention to grammar, keeping in mind that grammatical errors can undermine your credibility, reflect poorly on your employer, and cause misunderstandings.
Here are a list of common errors in grammar to watch out for in particular. In each case, the error is marked with an asterisk (*) and the correct form is italicized.
The subject and verb should agree on the number under consideration. In faulty writing, a singular subject is sometimes mismatched with a plural verb form, or vice versa.
|Sales have not been consistent, and they *doesn’t reflect your hard work and effort.|
|Sales have not been consistent, and they do not reflect your hard work and effort.|
|The president appreciates your hard work and *wish to thank you.|
|The president appreciates your hard work and wishes to thank you.|
Verb tense refers to the point in time where action occurs. The most common tenses are past, present, and future. There is nothing wrong with mixing tenses in a sentence if the action is intended to take place at different times. In faulty or careless writing, however, they are often mismatched illogically.
|Sharon was under pressure to finish the report, so she *uses a shortcut to paste in the sales figures.|
|Sharon was under pressure to finish the report, so she used a shortcut to paste in the sales figures.|
|The sales department holds a status meeting every week, and last week’s meeting *will be at the Garden Inn.|
|The sales department holds a status meeting every week, and last week’s meeting was at the Garden Inn.|
A double negative uses two negatives to communicate a single idea, duplicating the negation. In some languages, such as Spanish, when the main action in the sentence is negative, it is correct to express the other elements in the sentence negatively as well. Even in some dialects of English, this is customary. but in standard, professional English, it is usually considered to be incorrect.
|John doesn’t need *no assistance with his sales presentation.|
|John doesn’t need any assistance with his sales presentation.|
|He said didn’t want *nothing for Christmas.|
|He didn’t want anything for Christmas|
Most verbs represent the past with the addition of the suffix “ed.” For instance, “ask” becomes “asked.” Irregular verbs change a vowel or convert to another word when representing the past tense. Consider the irregular verb “to go”; the past tense is “went,” not “goed.”
|The need *arised to seek additional funding.|
|The need arose to seek additional funding.|
Modifiers describe a subject in a sentence or indicate how or when the subject carried out the action. If the subject is omitted, the modifier intended for the subject is left dangling or hanging out on its own without a clear relationship to the sentence.
|Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, * celebrations were in order.|
|Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we decided that celebrations were in order.|
Modifiers that are misplaced are not lost, they are simply in the wrong place. Their unfortunate location is often far from the word or words they describe, making it easy for readers to misinterpret the sentence.
|Eagerly awaiting her birthday, * Mary’s presents were all picked up and admired by Mary many times throughout the course of the day.|
|Eagerly awaiting her birthday, Mary picked up and admired her presents many times throughout the day.|
Format and Citations
Formatting and citations are also important to revising and proofreading.
Format involves the design expectations of author and audience. It is about making sure all the elements of your composition are in the the right place and that the appearance of your composition is professional and orderly. If a letter format normally designates a date at the top, or the sender’s address on the left side of the page before the salutation, the information should be in the correct location. Formatting that is messy, inconsistent, or fails to conform to the style expected will reflect poorly on you before the reader even starts to read it. By presenting a draft that is properly formatted according to the expectations of your your readers, you will start off making a good impression.
Likewise, it is important to make sure both in-text citations and source citations in your bibliography are accurate and correct. Not only do incorrect or inaccurate citations make a composition look unprofessional but in can also make it difficult or impossible for readers to track and identify the sources from which you obtained the information you use in your draft.
Various professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association, have come up with formatting and citation rules to use in publishing and in student work. Often, other professions or academic fields will adopt these style rules. Check with your instructor about which formatting style you should use.