Revision Stage 3: Sentences, Words, Format

decorative imageThe third and final stage of revision deals with sentence structure, grammar, word choice, spelling, and all aspects of language use and format. Although many beginning writers equate the concept of revision wholly with language use, know that revising for idea structure and development should be the final stage in revision, after you have reviewed and verified your thesis, topic sentences, and idea order and development.

Revision stage 3 is often called proofreading which, again, should be the very last step in revising an essay.  Once you move to the proofreading stage, it’s time to consider lower-order concerns related to sentence structure, punctuation, and language use (as opposed to the higher-order concerns in the first two stages which are more global issues that affect how a reader understands the entire essay).  Lower-order concerns are issues that don’t necessarily interrupt understanding of the writing by themselves.

Higher-Order Concerns

Revision Stages 1 & 2

Lower-Order Concerns

Revision Stage 3

Audience Grammar
Thesis Sentence Sentence Structure
Topic Sentences Punctuation
Organization of Ideas Spelling
Development of Ideas (& citation as needed) Citation Format

Are Higher-Order Concerns More Important than Lower-Order Concerns?

No, not necessarily. Higher-order concerns tend to interrupt a reader’s understanding of the writing, and that’s why they need to be addressed first. However, if a lower-order concern becomes a major obstacle, then it naturally becomes a higher priority.  For example, consider an essay that uses semi-colons incorrectly, each and every time, where there should be commas.  Consider how many times in writing you actually use commas (a lot!).  Your reader may start to focus on the error more than the content of your ideas, in the way that a driver and her passengers start to count the potholes they hit on a stretch of road desperately in need of repair.  The purpose of proofreading to find and correct lower-order concerns in order to 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.

To address lower-order concerns, consider individual sentences in terms of grammar, mechanics, and punctuation. Also consider conventions of citation format, if you have used sources. Ask and answer the following questions:

  • Are the sentences grammatically correct?
  • Is the sentence structure clear and varied?
  • Is language used clearly, in a way appropriate to your reading audience?
  • Is the punctuation correct?
  • Is the documentation format correct, if the essay uses sources?

Many language items can be revised by isolating and examining different elements of your written text. Read the text sentence by sentence, looking for grammatical and punctuation errors to correct and asking yourself if your sentence structure and word choice are as clear as possible. Remember, a sentence may be grammatically correct and still confuse readers. If you notice a pattern—say, a tendency to misplace modifiers or use unnecessary commas—read the paper looking only for that error so that you can find and correct it throughout. 

Also realize that spell-checks, even though their useful, do not always replace a close reading for errors. [The error in this sentence is intentional, to prove the point. Can you find it?]

Revising for Format

Although format is the least important aspect of revising, it’s still important that your essay be readable and use certain conventions, such as the following:

  • Use 10-12 point size, depending on the font.
  • Choose a simple, easy-to-read font (e.g., Calibri, Ariel, Times New Roman).
  • Use 1-inch margins.
  • Check with your instructor about spacing and layout preferences.  If you single-space, then left-justify all paragraphs and leave a space between paragraphs; if you double-space, then indent each paragraph 5 spaces.
  • Put your name and the date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of the essay.
  • Put your last name and page number in the upper right-hand corner of each page of the essay.
  • If you’re writing a research essay, make sure to use correct citation format.