What is Covered in this Guide?

The aim of this guide is to explain why you should revise draft papers, to motivate you to do so, and to suggest techniques for effective revision.

What is Meant by Revising?

In literal terms the word "revision" can be defined as "to see or look again" i.e. to look again at a text with a critical lens and a fresh perspective. The entire process is an ongoing one that involves rethinking a written piece, considering again the arguments within that piece, the reviewing of evidence, the re-examining of the purpose of the piece, rejuvenating stale text, and reorganizing the presentation of the piece.

So You Thought Revising a Text Simply Meant Fixing Spelling and Comma Errors

Definitely not! That process is one that is referred to as proofreading. Of course, it is an essential task before you submit an assignment. However, if there are weaknesses in your paper's thesis, the ideas in it are easy to predict, and it is organized in a messy manner, then all proofreading does is put a bandage on an existing wound. The best time to engage in a round of proofreading is when revision is finished. Please refer to our proofreading guide to learn more about this stage of the writing process.

Is it Alright to Simply Reword a Text: To See if You Can Find More Suitable Words, Remove Repetition, and So On.? Does This Mean Revision? In fact this is part of the revision process - the part we call editing. It certainly is another critical step in the final polishing of a written piece. However, if your points and ideas have not been properly thought-out, then they will not be improved very much if you merely rephrase them.

What Is So Important about Revision?

The process of writing is one of continuous discovery, and it is not always the case that a writer will produce their best piece(s) straight off. Revision is, therefore, an opportunity to look over a written piece with a critical eye to ensure:

  • That it actually does express what the writer intended to express;
  • That something really is worth mentioning;
  • That readers' will properly understand the meaning and what the piece says.

The Actual Process of Revision

What are the First Steps When You Begin Revising?

Below are a number of things that need to be done. However, you should not attempt all of them at once. Focus instead on two key areas - or perhaps three - as you do each round of revision.

  • Leave a little time between finishing your draft and going back to look over it. A renowned poet once suggested waiting nine whole years, but this is a bit long. One day, or even several hours, is sufficient. Upon returning to your draft, do not take a lazy approach, and judge your work honestly. Consider your work and question yourself about it, e.g., what do you truly think of it?

One expert who is responsible for writing a respected writers' handbook suggests it is best to think in a big way and not tinker. By now, it is the larger issues in your paper, rather than the commas, that should concern you.

Look at your paper in terms of its focus. Is the focus appropriate for the particular assignment? What about the topic - is it too narrow in its focus or too wide-ranging? Have you stayed on track for the entire duration of your paper?

  • Consider your thesis statement and be honest in your assessment of it. Is it still something you agree with? Should you modify it to make it a better fit with information that came to light while you were writing your paper? What point does it make - is the point provocative and sophisticated or is it merely a point any individual could make if they were working with this particular topic? Is the stance in your thesis too general rather than being specific? Should you completely change it? Please refer to our section on thesis statement writing for more information on how to write an effective thesis statement.
  • Consider the purpose of your writing. Does the introductory section clearly state what you meant it? Will readers be able to clearly see what your aims are?

What Other Steps Should You Consider as the Revision Process Moves to its Latter Stages?

  • Look at your essay or paper with a view to assessing how well balanced it is. Are parts of it disproportionate to others? Have you spent an excessive amount of time on some unimportant point and/or neglected something that is of greater importance? Have you provided a lot of information in the early stages and allowed points to trail off towards the end?
  • Make sure you keep any promises you make to readers. Has your paper followed through on the promises in your thesis? Have all the claims made in the thesis been properly supported? Is the tone appropriate for the intended audience and is the language sufficiently formal or informal?
  • Look again at how your essay is organized. Is it obvious that your essay adheres to a sensible pattern? Have you included proper transitions that smoothly take your readers from one idea or point to the following one? Does every paragraph start with a topic sentence and does this properly introduce the paragraph and say what it contains? Could you improve your written work by moving some points around?
  • The information in your paper will need to be checked. Are the facts in your work accurate? Does it contain any misleading statements? Are the details provided sufficient to satisfy the curiosity of your readers? Is the information provided properly cited?
  • Double-check the concluding section of your paper. Does this final paragraph bring everything in your paper neatly together? Have you ended your work on a thought-provoking note or does your paper simply come to a close too suddenly, or does it all end in a slow and lame manner?

Hold On! Did You Think Revision Could Be Done In Minutes?

If so, we are sorry to say you are wrong. We suggest, however, that you begin working on the next assignment you are given as early as possible to allow yourself enough time at the end for revision. This gives you a bit of time to return and re-look at your written piece with fresh eyes. It is surprising how a piece that seemed excellent to you after you had written it can seem not-so-excellent when you allow it to rest for a while.

But I Hear You Say You Do Not Want To Have to Rewrite Your Entire Paper!

Revising a paper does not have to mean the entire thing will need to be rewritten. On occasion, it can mean only having to revise your thesis so that it better matches new discoveries you made while you were writing. At other times, or at the same time, it can mean strengthening an argument so that it better defends the stance you have taken, or finding better examples to emphasize or illustrate a particular point or several points. At times, it can mean removing or adding new or more material for emphasis or better balance. And, unfortunately, revision can sometimes mean casting aside an entire initial draft and beginning anew again. However, this is better than handing a final piece to a teacher and watching them trash it.

If your aim is to become a good writer capable of producing polished pieces, it is likely you will discover eventually that it is not possible to write effectively and not throw some parts away. It is not unusual for seasoned writers to produce a lot of written material that has to be discarded. A metaphor, idea, or even a paragraph you think is brilliant and amazing is often the part that may confuse your readers, spoil the entire tone of your piece, or disrupt the smooth flow of an argument. Therefore, every writer needs to be prepared to discard some of their favorite pieces for the benefit of an entire paper. However, in order to start trimming a piece down, it is first necessary to have enough material to trim. One way to achieve this is not to place word count restrictions on your first attempt since the more material you have available, the more leeway you have when it comes to cutting some of it.

Maybe You Are In The Habit Of Revising As You Go Along - What Then?

If this is the case, it is fine. Because the writing process is circular in nature, not everything needs to be done in particular order. You may find you sometimes write a piece and then make some adjustments to it before you go on to the next part or next assignment. However, a word of caution is needed here since two possible problems can arise from revising on-the-go. The first is that revising in this way does not really give you chance to see the bigger picture. The essential thing is to still allow yourself sufficient time to look back at your entire paper when you have completed it. The second pitfall to this type of revising is that it can dent your ability to be creative. Spending an excessive amount of time adjusting the content on one page can cause you to lose sight of good stuff you have not yet got onto that page. If you want a valuable tip, here is one: you should not think about proofreading a piece that is still incomplete. You can waste a lot of time fixing the punctuation in a particular sentence where the sentence might get discarded anyway in the end.

Can We Offer Any Tips On How To Approach The Revision Process? Yes, Here Are Some:

  • Print a copy of your work when you are ready for revision since this is easier to work from. Additionally, issues somehow seem to appear more clearly in print than on a computer screen.
  • Our next piece of advice is that you read your paper aloud because this is a good way of checking the flow of a text.
  • Cast your mind back to the questions that were listed earlier. It is not advisable to attempt to cover them all in just a single draft. Instead, choose a few items to cover in each progressive draft in order to avoid trying to see in one go if you have managed to cover everything.
  • Do not be afraid to ask plenty questions of yourself and do not shy away from giving yourself truthful answers e.g. are there any opposing points of view you have not yet considered?

Areas of Concern

It May Be That You Feel You Make Your Writing Worse, When You Revise It

This misconception is a common one that is often borne out of fear and, on occasion, from being lazy. The fact is that even the most experienced of writers have to revise their written work. The only exception here may be those very rare occasions when flashes of genius or inspiration draw forth the perfect prose expressed in the most eloquent, effortless, and graceful way from the mind. It is likely the person who wrote this guide created several drafts before they reached this final version. It is said that Ernst Hemingway made thirty-nine attempts at rewriting the final page of the renowned novel A Farewell to Arms. In the event you still need convincing, just look back at some of your previous papers. What do you think of them now? Given the opportunity, what aspects of them would you consider revising?

What Factors Can Obstruct the Best Revision Plans or Strategies?

A good piece of advice is to avoid becoming too attached to your written work. If it is the case you allow this to happen, you may be reluctant to change parts or an entire piece even when you are sure it is not brilliant. Begin with a temporary thesis statement - a working version - and do not treat it as if you and it were married. Try to behave instead as if you were still in the dating stage e.g. find out how compatible you are and how it works one day at a time. If you find a thesis that works better, let the first one go. Additionally, you should not view revision as merely the rewording of a text. Revision is an opportunity to re-look at a paper in its entirety rather than at individual words and individual sentences.

What Should You Do If You Find You Do not Agree With a Point You Previously Agreed With?

If it is the case you are serious about revision, the whole process can generate questions you may not be able to answer; it may throw up mismatched cases, exceptions or objections to your central thesis, ragged ends, and/or contradictory evidence that continues to persist. If you find this to be the case (which is very likely if you spend enough time thinking), there are a number of options you can consider. For example, you may decide to ignore ragged ends in the hope that readers will not notice, but this is a high-risk strategy. Other options are the possibility of changing your main thesis entirely so that it fits in with your newfound knowledge of a problem or you could alter it a little to take account of new information. Alternatively, you could just acknowledge any opposing views or contradictory evidence and demonstrate why and how a central argument or point still stands up well despite the existence of these. The majority of readers tend to understand that some problems do not necessarily have an easy solution. Hence, they might feel irritated if you present a thesis and persist in claiming it is an absolute truth regardless of perceived or obvious exceptions.

So How Can You Become An Expert At Revision?

In a similar way that someone gets very good at video gaming, playing a musical instrument, or at some sport, the same thing applies to revision if you do it frequently enough. Get serious about revision, discipline yourself, and set the bar high. Below are three additional tips:

  • Create plenty material, so that you have more to work on and remove during revision;
  • Put yourself in the place of readers who have not read your work until not, and it should be easier for you to identify problem areas;
  • Putting a lot of effort into making a written piece clear and elegant will pay off.

Do We Have Any Advice On Revising A Paper Sentence by Sentence? Yes, Here Is Our Advice:

Try reading your completed paper aloud one sentence at a time and take heed of this advice: Look out for areas where you find yourself stumbling or getting lost mid-sentence. Clearly, there is awkwardness in these spots that you need to fix. Look out for areas that feel boring to you or distract you i.e. places where you lose concentration. These feelings may point to areas where your concentration or focus went awry while you were writing. Cut out any vagueness or unnecessary words - bring energy back to the piece. Listen out for even the smallest stumble or jerkiness - the smallest loss of concentration, focus, or energy - while you read your words and remember that sentences should feel alive.

Practical tips for making sure sentences feel and sound alive:

  • Look out for duplicated use of words or phrases in sentences that are close together (or follow on from each other) and see if there are other ways to replace them or ways to join these sentences together.
  • Check the sentences in your paper for variety. If you have begun two consecutive sentences in an identical or fairly similar way, then try and find a different way to begin one of them.
  • Choose verbs that are forceful - consider replacing lengthy phrases with more specific verbs, e.g., "He argues in favor of the significance of his theory" would read better as "He defends his theory."
  • Check your work for over-use of prepositional sentences or phrases and remove as many as you can while retaining your original meaning. For example, it would be a lot better to replace this sentence, "Huck Finn is a character who provides numerous examples of the concept of integrity" with "The concept of integrity is repeatedly addressed in the character of Huck Finn."
  • See if you can revise sentences that begin with "There are" or "It is" to make them more engaging and active sounding.
  • Try and be precise in your choice of words. Try not to settle for a word that seems best at a particular moment. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and choose words that explicitly reflect what you mean.

Please feel free to check out our guides on writing styles and word choices.