The Revision Process
Revising is the most important part of the writing process. Although you may feel that you’re done when you finish your draft—a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment—you still need to go back to your draft with “fresh eyes,” after you have set it aside for a short time. Revision actually means “re-seeing.” As a result of re-seeing, you may find that you need to tweak and rewrite portions of your essay draft, to make sure that what you have written is well developed, logically ordered, and clearly expressed. It’s usual to have multiple drafts of an essay, as a result of moving back and forth between writing and revising.
The act of revision asks you to go back and and analyze your draft from a reader’s instead of a writer’s perspective. Revising involves asking questions such as these: Is the thesis clearly identifiable? Does each unit of support have a topic sentence? Are the units of support logically organized, appropriate to the thesis, purpose, and audience? Are paragraphs and units of support fully developed with details, examples, and support? Is language use and sentence structure clear, varied, and correct? However, you don’t—and can’t—consider all of these questions at once. Revision is a process that’s best done in different stages, moving from “big” to “small.”
Bigger concerns tend to interrupt a reader’s understanding of the writing, and that’s why they need to be addressed first. Mid-level concerns tend to interrupt a reader’s full comprehension of ideas. Smaller concerns make the road smooth, so that your readers, like the driver, can concentrate on the content of the journey, and not the bumps in the road.
Revising Stage 1: Seeing the Big Picture
When you first begin your revision process, focus on on your essay at a global level. Analyze the overall idea structure of the essay and whether the essay’s ideas are developed enough overall to make sense to a reader. The following questions will guide you:
- Do you have a clear thesis? Do you know what idea or perspective you want your reader to understand upon reading your essay?
- Is your essay clearly organized, so that one topic sentence and unit of support leads logically into the next? Or do the topic sentences and units of support need a different order? Do parts need to be moved?
- Is each paragraph a building block in your essay—does each explain or support its topic sentence as well as the essay’s thesis?
- Are all topic sentence ideas fully explained and illustrated with examples and details?
- Does your introduction grab the reader’s interest?
- Does your conclusion leave the reader understanding your point of view and understanding the importance of that point of view?
- Does the essay actually say what you intended to say?
- What is the strength of your essay? What is its weakness?
Another method of approach:
Apply critical reading strategies to your essay draft. One good strategy to use is a reverse outline, in which you extract your essay’s ideas and jot them in the margins. Considering your idea structure via a reverse outline can help you see if ideas are in an appropriate order, and see if there are any idea gaps that need to be filled in. You can also evaluate your draft for content and point of view, as well as for logic, so you can identify and eliminate any inadvertent logical fallacies.
Revising Stage 2: Mid-View
The second stage of the revision process requires that you look closely at your content at the paragraph level. At this stage, you’re examining the amount and specificity of information in the paragraphs that make up each unit of support. The following questions will guide you through the mid-view revision stage:
- Does each paragraph within each unit of support contain solid, specific information, vivid description, or examples that illustrate the point you are making in the paragraph?
- Are there are other facts, quotations, examples, or descriptions to add that can more clearly illustrate or provide evidence for the points you are making?
- Are there sentences, words, descriptions or information that you can delete because they don’t add to the points you are making or may confuse the reader?
- Are the paragraphs in the right order within their units of support?
- Does each paragraph explore one main idea? Are any paragraphs or parts of paragraphs redundant and need to be deleted?
- Are there paragraphs that are overly long, or too brief?
- Do you use clear transitions within and between paragraphs and units of support so the reader can follow your thinking? (See more information on transitions below.)
Transitions – because they’re important and often overlooked
Transitions are linking words that show the direction of thought in writing. Transitions can show:
- more of the same type of thought (e.g., another, also, and, in addition)
- a change in thought (e.g., however, but, in contrast)
- sequence (e.g., first, second, next, simultaneously, finally)
- cause and effect (e.g., because, since, therefore, consequently, as a result)
- similarities and differences (e.g., like, unlike)
- examples (e.g., to illustrate, for example, for instance)
- and more…
Consider transitions in the mid-stage of the revision process; they are the link between your essay’s big idea structure and its words, as they are bridges that bind ideas together, directional signs that help a reader follow the sequence of ideas in your essay. Traditional places for transition words and phrases in an essay include the following:
- at the start and/or end of each unit of support
- as you move from paragraph to paragraph within a unit of support
- as you move from supporting point to supporting point within a paragraph
- as you move into your conclusion
Revising Stage 3: Editing Up Close
Once you feel confident in your idea structure and content, it’s time to focus on language, style, tone, punctuation—the smallest (but still important) items in your essay.
The following questions will guide you through your editing:
- Is the grammar and spelling correct? Realize that spell-checks, even though their useful, do not always replace a close reading for errors. (The error in the previous sentence is intentional, to prove the point. Can you find it?)
- Are your words as accurate and precise as possible?
- Have you accurately and effectively used punctuation?
- Do you define any technical or unusual terms you use?
- Are there extra words or cliches in your sentences that you can delete?
- Do you vary your sentence structure?
- When using sources and presenting information from other texts, have you accurately presented that information in summaries and/or paraphrases? Have you copied quotations precisely? Have you documented all of the sources’ ideas and information using a standard documentation style?
Finalizing your Text
Once you have revised your draft into more final form, finish formatting your essay. Although format is the least important aspect of revising, it’s still important that your essay be readable and use certain conventions. For essays written for college assignments:
- Make sure to include the essay’s title.
- Include your name, the title of the assignment, and the date of submission in a top corner.
- If the assignment asked for a certain number of pages, it’s usually double-spaced pages (but check with your instructor) in a simple, easy-to-read font (Calibri, Arial, or other sans serif font), 10-12 point.
- If you used sources at any point in your essay, make sure that you have cited those sources 1) within the text of your essay, and 2) at the end of your essay, using the citation format assigned. If no format is assigned, use a standard citation format such as MLA (Modern Language Association – often used for writing and humanities) or APA (American Psychological Association – often used for sociology and business).