Composition 07: Editing and Revising




One of the most crucial parts of the Writing Process is that of editing and revising your work.   The word “revision” can be broken down into two parts—“re,” which means to do again, and “vision,” which means “to look at.”   Revision, then, is the act of looking again at your work, changing it, and making it better and more effective as a piece of writing.  Revision is central to the writing process.  The single most important thing you can do to improve your own writing is to become a stronger reviser.


But what makes an effective piece of writing?  For our purposes, effective writing means writing that is appropriate in content and form for its audience and purpose.   An email, Facebook wall post, or Tweet is designed to do different things for different people than say, an academic essay or an opinion article in a local newspaper.   Revision is the act of making sure that the focus, organization, details, and language match the writer’s goals.  


In academic writing, the focus of this text, we should focus on revising our writing to make it appropriate and effective for an academic audience.   This means, in short, that the writing must have a logical organization, clear and effective topic sentences, relevant details, internal consistency, coherence, and adherence to the conventions of Standard English Grammar.   



The Revision Process:  Work Big to Small, Global to Local


In its earliest stage, revision focuses on the big issues in a paper.  Is the overall point of the writing clear?  Is the thesis easy to recognize and understand?  Does the writing do what it sets out to do?  Is it organized in a way that readers can follow it?  Is there sufficient detail and development throughout the paper?  Is the tone of the language appropriate for the paper’s audience and purpose?    More narrow concerns, such as punctuation, tense, and other mechanical issues, can be addressed once the paper has accomplished its larger, compositional goals—these issues are addressed in the later stages of the revision process, editing and proofreading.   


Revision is an intensive process that often requires, as its name might imply, doing and then re-doing once again.  Many times, papers go through multiple revisions; professional writers are sometimes known to revise a piece of work dozens of times.   Michael Crichton, a famous writer who wrote Jurassic Park and many other novels, along with the television show ER, had this to say about revision:  “Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten.  It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”   Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote the infamous novel Lolita and many other books, once said something similar:  “I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.”  Ernest Hemingway revised the conclusion to his famous American novel, Farewell to Arms, 43 times before he was satisfied with it.


Since you should plan to revise multiple times, it is often helpful to have a specific goal in mind when you start your revision.  Focus on improving specific things for each pass you make at your paper.  Remember this:  Start big. 


Global / Large-Scale Concerns Checklist


ThesisDoes my piece of writing contain a one or two sentence statement of its intended purpose?   Can a reader easily identify this thesis?  Is the thesis situated in an intuitive place in the introduction—usually at or very near the end?   Is the thesis clearly worded and specific? 


Audience: Does my piece of writing display an appropriate sense of the people that will be reading it?  Have I chosen subject matter, level and specificity of description, and language appropriate for my audience?  Have I considered adequately what my audience might and might not know about my subject ?  Do I use any terms with which they might be unfamiliar?  Am I telling the audience things they already know?    Have I considered how my audience might feel about my subject matter?  Is that feeling relevant to my larger point, and have I selected appropriate information / details to address those feelings or positions?   



Organization: Essay-Level and Paragraph Level:

Essay-Level Organizational Questions:  Does my essay as a whole proceed logically and transition effectively from one section to the next?  If I am writing a narrative, does the narrative progress clearly through a timeline that is easy to follow / understand?   If I am writing a compare-contrast essay, have I used the block  or Point-to-point organizational scheme?  Have I followed that scheme appropriately and consistently?   If I am writing an argument, has my essay followed and supported my thesis statement clearly and appropriately?

Paragraph-Level Organizational Questions:   Does each paragraph in my essay serve a purpose that supports my overall thesis?  Does each paragraph begin with a clear topic sentence that articulates that purpose?  Does the information I present within each paragraph relate clearly to the paragraph’s topic sentence?  



Details: Does my essay include lots of specific, concrete details, examples, and other forms of evidence to support my major ideas?   


When the paper is narrating scenes, does the reader get a clear, specific picture of what is happening through vivid descriptions?  Have I provided the reader with all the relevant information that he or she needs to understand the narration?  


When comparing-contrasting, are the specific elements of compare and contrast explained in sufficient detail?  Can the reader understand the specific elements of each item of comparison?  ?  


Has my argument provided evidence for my claims and warrants, in the form of examples, definitions, relevant facts, descriptive details, testimonials, or quantitative evidence, like statistics?  Is this evidence clear and persuasive to my audience?  Is the evidence relevant to their values and concerns?



Introduction and Conclusion: Does my paper’s introduction and conclusion establish a clear sense a.) of the essay’s purpose and b.) of the essay’s importance or exigence for my intended audience?  Do the introduction and conclusion remind the reader how urgent the problems discussed in the essay are, how important or necessary the comparison was, or how important the story is that was told?


Does the introduction contain a clear, easily identifiable thesis statement?  Is that thesis located at the end or very near the end of the introduction?  


Does the conclusion restate, using different wording, the thesis statement?  Does it remind the audience of the paper’s overall purpose?

Language, Tone, and Mechanics:
Are my language, tone, and mechanics appropriate for my subject and intended audience? 


Does the paper conform to grammatical rules appropriate for its audience?  If the project is an academic paper, does it conform to the guidelines of Standard English Grammar?    See Chapter 05.5, The Writing Process: Proofreading for methods and assistance in finding and correcting errors in Standard English Grammar. 



Peer Review


Perhaps the most important element in the revision process is a simple one:  the reader.  A good reader can improve a paper in ways that a writer could not even imagine on his or her own.  In many ways, writers need readers to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the things they write.  Often, writers are not the best judge of what they have put on the page; they often know what they meant to say, and their interpretation of what they see on the page is affected by that knowledge.    Many writing classes counteract this closeness on the part of writers by encouraging (or requiring) that writers exchange their papers with other members of the class, who will then offer feedback—most of the time, this feedback is very helpful. 


The sheets below will serve as guides for peer readers to respond to, critique, and hopefully improve your papers in English 101. 

Peer Review Sheet: Narration

Peer Review Sheet: Expository

Peer Review Sheet: Compare-Contrast

Peer Review Sheet: Argument

Peer Review Sheet: Writing Process Analysis