Rewriting or Revising

As you are writing an essay or article, the process only truly ends either when you submit it or decide on your own to stop. If you were to look at something you had written a couple of years ago, you would undoubtedly be able to find ways to make it look better. Likewise, if you revised it and looked at it again two years from now, you could find reasons to further change it. The way we view ourselves and the world is constantly changing, and this has an effect on how we perceive our writing. We are always acquiring knew knowledge, whether it is improved writing techniques, something related to whatever it is we are writing about, or even about ourselves.

There is always some detail that you can insert, even if it does not come to you immediately. Even if you are the most seasoned of writers, you could always find a way to make your writing better. You discover that approaching something from a different angle makes the paper better. The best authors do not publish the first draft of their books, they and their editors find ways to make the plot more logical or clearer, and in the end create a better reading experience. If you are struggling with the process of revising your paper, this article offers advice on how you can effectively accomplish the task.

What Does It Mean to Revise a Paper?

Let us begin with some misunderstandings about what revision entails. First, it is not the process of proofreading for typos or misplaced words. It is also not about clicking the spell check button. While you would obviously want to do these things before turning in your paper, they are not part of the revision process.

What exactly is revision? Revision involves looking at a piece of writing (whether it is yours or somebody else's) and finding ways to improve the content. There is a lot of information out there that offers advice, but a lot of it is vague. For instance, one common suggestion is to remove unnecessary words.

But how do you determine what belongs and what should go? How can you make your paper more clear and organized while still getting your message across to the reader? One useful tip is to avoid looking over your paper immediately after you finish writing it. Instead, close the document and wait until the next day to read it again. This obviously means that ideally you should try to finish your assignment a few days before the deadline. But if this is not feasible, at least pause for a couple of hours before you go back and read it again. While you wait to do that, do not think about your essay at all. Instead, find something to do that will allow you to clear your mind. Then you can proceed to the revision process.

The art of revising a paper is a real challenge to teach others. The fact is, writers are generally hesitant to change their words. They generated them and are content, so why should they go back and change anything? However, keep in mind that context can matter. You could write the most beautiful sentence ever, but what good would it do you if it does not fit into the overall paper? Maybe at some point in the future you can make use of these sentences, but for now, the goal is to focus on keeping all of the information relevant. 

What Are Some Ways in Which a Paper Can Be Revised?

The process of revising a paper is complex and involves several approaches. Ultimately, there are only four ways to modify your paper. These include:

  1. Inserting additional words, quotes, information or punctuation that will enhance the paper.
  2. Removing words, quotes, or information that does nothing to advance your paper or has the potential to cause confusion. 
  3. Move words, quotes, information or even entire paragraphs to other parts of the paper where it might be a better fit. 
  4. Replace or substitute content with other words, quotes or information that will make the paper more understandable and logical.

How Can I Accomplish Those General Approaches?

Now that you have a general idea about how to revise, the next step is to target the parts of the paper that need to be changed. The revision process is a lot like the writing process in that you often begin looking at the paper more broadly before going into the more specific details. For example, if you have been assigned a research paper, you would start by choosing a topic. Then you would narrow the focus down to a research question. After that, you would develop a thesis. This thesis would be explored in more detail by creating an outline, and supporting your arguments through research. The last step is to make sure it is written in a way that can be understood by its intended audience.

When revising your paper, you should take a similar approach, although it does not require as many steps. For instance, you have chosen a topic and research questions. It is probably not necessary to revise them. On the other hand, you should read through your work and determine whether it actually focuses on the thesis. In particular, are the answers that you provide actually related to the question you were asking in the first place? If your work goes in a direction that is far different from what you had envisioned based on the thesis, you have two options. You could change the entire paper to be more in line with the thesis, or you could change your thesis along with some parts of the introduction so that it aligns with your paper.

Learn more about revision in article "Revision as a Phase of the Writing Process".

1. Once you have decided on the approach, you should evaluate how your paper looks overall.

While doing this, ponder the following questions:

  • Are the paragraphs too long? Do they properly focus on one issue or do they contain information about several issues? Is there any unnecessary information that can be taken out of this paragraph? (Note that in this case, you could either delete it entirely or move it somewhere else where it might be more appropriate).
  • Are the paragraphs too short? Note that a typical paragraph should be around 150 words in length. Is it possible to merge information from a couple of paragraphs? Or would it be better to expand the paragraph by including more information?
  • Are the paragraphs written in a logical order that makes it possible for the reader to understand the paper? (Note that the best strategy for avoiding potential problems with logical paragraph flows is to create an outline before writing the paper). 

2. Another very important feature of the revision process is to examine the relationship between the various paragraphs.

Paragraph transitions play a major role in this. As you are providing information to the reader, you would not want to abruptly jump from one point to another without any transition, much like you would generally not want to move from one topic of a conversation to another without some kind of segue. You need to think to yourself, “I have finished discussing one point, now I need to move on to the next, related point.” If you give no indication that you are moving to another point, you will leave the reader feeling lost and confused. You need to create something of a pause and also indicate that you have moved on to the next point. So check between the paragraphs and determine whether it clear that you are doing this. If not, you should use transitional phrases such as (“along the same lines,” or “by contrast..”)

Read about guidelines of editing and proofreading, their strategies in article "Editing and Proofreading"

3. The third step to the revision process is to examine the sentences individually.

Is there a logical order between the sentences or do some of them appear random or abruptly inserted? Also, have you placed two quotes next to each other? If so, this is typically ill advised. Instead, you should include information between these quotes in order to create some kind of link between them. Quotes are a very effective way to support your arguments, but the only way to make them work is to provide some background so that the reader can understand their purpose.

4. Finally, you should revise your work by looking at the individual words.

Are the words appropriate given the audience you are intending to target? Are you using terminology that you can assume the reader (such as a professor) would already understand or should you be defining them if the audience is less informed (such as a first year college student). Are you using abbreviations that your reader will automatically be able to identify? (For instance, while WHO commonly refers to the World Health Organization, it can also an abbreviation for the Canadian-based Wood Heat Organization. The difference between the two is significant!) Are you using obscure words in order to impress the audience? In some cases, using large words makes a sentence read awkwardly. Your best bet is to just keep things as simple as possible. Did you use “then” when you meant “than?” Or “effect” when you meant “affect?” Spell checker is not going to detect those mistakes. In addition, are you using proper word order? For example, do you want to inform the reader about a red, juicy apple or a juicy, red apple? These little things really make a big difference in terms of your credibility.

 

Process of Revision Has Become Far Easier

Thanks to the increasing sophistication of word processors, the process of revision has become far easier than in the past. Use the copy and paste feature to move sentences and full paragraphs around to other parts of the paper. Print out various drafts in order to see how the paper reads based on where you positioned everything. Read the paper out loud. If it is difficult to follow along when reading it aloud, you can be certain that the audience will find it confusing. If your professor or instructor allows it, submit a rough draft so that they can critique what you have written so far. 

One final tip is to ask somebody who knows nothing about the topic to read your paper. Somebody who is full knowledgeable might be able to fill in the gaps themselves, which means you might not be fully aware of the paper's flaws. But if you give it to somebody who is a novice on the subject, they will be able to identify the parts of the paper that confuse them, or ask you to define terms that are unfamiliar to them, or modify paragraphs in order to create more clarity and organization. If they come away feeling like they learned something new and informative, that is a good sign that you are on the right track. Do not limit this to one individual either. Ask for feedback from multiple people when possible. The more suggestions you receive, the better the odds are that you will be able to create a superior paper.

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