Part 1: The Writing Process

4 Revision and Editing


a woman working on the computer

Revision means what it looks like RE-vision, to see again.

So great, you’re thinking. That sounds easy.

Well… it’s not. (Surprise!) Revision requires us to look at our own work again with fresh eyes.

Revision and editing are both important parts of the writing process, yet many students skip revision and don’t spend enough time editing. It’s important to remember that these steps are separate and that each step takes time. The following pages will help you develop strong revision and editing strategies for your writing process.


The revision process is an essential aspect of writing and one that you should build in time for before submitting your written work. Just when you think the production of your document is done, the revision process begins. Runners often refer to “the wall,” where the limits of physical exertion are met and exhaustion is imminent. The writing process requires effort, from overcoming writer’s block to the intense concentration composing a document often involves. It is only natural to have a sense of relief when your document is drafted from beginning to end. This relief is false confidence, though. Your document is not complete, and in its current state, it could, in fact, do more harm than good. Errors, omissions, and unclear phrases may lurk within your document, waiting to reflect poorly on you when it reaches your audience. Now is not time to let your guard down, prematurely celebrate, or mentally move on to the next assignment. Think of the revision process as one that hardens and strengthens your document, even though it may require the sacrifice of some hard-earned writing.

Revision means to “re-see” the piece of writing.

It isn’t just proofreading your paper or correcting grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. Revision is stepping back and looking at your paper as a whole and seeing if you are effectively saying what you intend to say. It is giving your paper a thorough look to see how you can make it stronger. Your goal should always be to write clearly, concisely, and in an engaging way.

One way to go about re-seeing your writing is to do it in three stages. Many people skip the first stage, but looking at the big picture is crucial in making sure you have a well-developed essay that expresses your ideas.


The Grand Canyon - Looking from high upWhen you first begin your revision process, you should focus on the big picture or issues at the essay level that might need to be addressed. 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 well organized?
  • Is each paragraph a building block in your essay: does each explain or support your thesis?
  • Does it need a different shape? Do parts need to be moved?
  • Do you fully explain and illustrate the main ideas of your paper?
  • Does your introduction grab the reader’s interest?
  • Does your conclusion leave the reader understanding your point of view?
  • Are you saying in your essay what you want to say?
  • What is the strength of your paper? What is its weakness?


    A chalk board with the words who, how, what, why, where, and when on itThe second stage of the revision process requires that you look at your content closely and at the paragraph level. It’s now time to examine each paragraph, on its own, to see where you might need to revise. The following questions will guide you through the mid-view revision stage:

    • Does each paragraph 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?
    • Are your paragraphs overly long? Does each paragraph explore one main idea?
    • Do you use clear transitions so the reader can follow your thinking?
    • Are any paragraphs or parts of paragraphs redundant and need to be deleted?



A close up of a document being edited with red inkOnce you have completed your revision and feel confident in your content, it’s time to begin the editing stage of your revision and editing process. The following questions will guide you through your editing:

  • Are there any grammar errors, i.e. have you been consistent in your use of tense, do your pronouns agree?
  • Have you accurately and effectively used punctuation?
  • Do you rely on strong verbs and nouns and maintain a good balance with adjectives and adverbs, using them to enhance descriptions but ensuring clear sentences?
  • Are your words as accurate as possible?
  • Do you define any technical or unusual terms you use?
  • Are there extra words or clichés in your sentences that you can delete?
  • Do you vary your sentence structure?
  • Have you accurately presented facts; have you copied quotations precisely?
  • If you’re writing an academic essay, have you tried to be objective in your evidence and tone?
  • If writing a personal essay, is the narrative voice lively and interesting?
  • Have you spellchecked your paper?
  • If you used sources, have you consistently documented all of the sources’ ideas and information using a standard documentation style?


When revising your document, it can be helpful to focus on specific points. When you consider each point in turn, you will be able to break down the revision process into manageable steps. When you have examined each point, you can be confident that you have avoided many possible areas for errors. Specific revision requires attention to the following:

  • Format
  • Facts
  • Names
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar


The format is an important part of the revision process. The format involves the design expectations of the author and audience. If a letter format normally designates a date at the top or the sender’s address on the left side of the page before the salutation, the information should be in the correct location. Formatting that is messy or fails to conform to the company style will reflect poorly on you before the reader even starts to read it. By presenting a document that is properly formatted according to the expectations of your organization and your readers, you will start off making a good impression.



Another key part of the revision process is checking your facts. Did you know that news organizations and magazines employ professional fact-checkers? These workers are responsible for examining every article before it gets published and consulting original sources to make sure the information in the article is accurate. This can involve making phone calls to the people who were interviewed for the article—for example, “Mr. Diaz, our report states that you are thirty-nine years old. Our article will be published on the fifteenth. Will that be your correct age on that date?” Fact-checking also involves looking facts up in encyclopedias, directories, atlases, and other standard reference works; and, increasingly, in online sources.

While you can’t be expected to have the skills of a professional fact-checker, you do need to reread your writing with a critical eye to the information in it. Inaccurate content can expose you and your organization to liability and will create far more work than a simple revision of a document. So, when you revise a document, ask yourself the following:

  • Does my writing contain any statistics or references that need to be verified?
  • Where can I get reliable information to verify it?

It is often useful to do independent verification—that is, look up the fact in a different source from the one where you first got it. For example, perhaps a colleague gave you a list of closing averages for the Dow Jones Industrial on certain dates. You still have the list, so you can make sure your document agrees with the numbers your colleague provided. But what if your colleague made a mistake? The Web sites of the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers list closings for “the Dow,” so it is reasonably easy for you to look up the numbers and verify them independently.


There is no more embarrassing error in business writing than to misspell someone’s name. To the writer, and some readers, spelling the name “Michelle” instead of “Michele” may seem like a minor matter, but to Michele herself, it will make a big difference. Attribution is one way we often involve a person’s name, and giving credit where credit is due is essential. There are many other reasons for including someone’s name, but regardless of your reasons for choosing to focus on them, you need to make sure the spelling is correct. Incorrect spelling of names is a quick way to undermine your credibility; it can also harm your organization’s reputation, and in some cases, it may even have legal ramifications.


Correct spelling is another element essential for your credibility, and errors will be glaringly obvious to many readers. The negative impact on your reputation as a writer, and its perception that you lack attention to detail or do not value your work, will be hard to overcome. In addition to the negative personal consequences, spelling errors can become factual errors and destroy the value of content. This may lead you to click the “spell check” button in your word processing program, but computer spell-checking is not enough. Spell checkers have improved in the years since they were first invented, but they are not infallible. They can and do make mistakes.

Typically, your incorrect word may in fact be a word, and therefore, according to the program, correct. For example, suppose you wrote, “The major will attend the meeting” when you meant to write “The mayor will attend the meeting.” The program would miss this error because “major” is a word, but your meaning would be twisted beyond recognition.


Punctuation marks are the traffic signals, signs, and indications that allow us to navigate the written word. They serve to warn us in advance when a transition is coming or the complete thought has come to an end. A period indicates the thought is complete, while a comma signals that additional elements or modifiers are coming. Correct signals will help your reader follow the thoughts through sentences and paragraphs, and enable you to communicate with maximum efficiency while reducing the probability of error (Strunk & White, 1979).


Learning to use good, correct standard English grammar is more of a practice than an event or even a process. Grammar involves the written construction of meaning from words and involves customs that evolve and adapt to usage over time. Because grammar is always evolving, none of us can sit back and rest assured that we “know” how to write with proper grammar. Instead, it is important to write and revise with close attention to grammar, keeping in mind that grammatical errors can undermine your credibility, reflect poorly on your employer, and cause misunderstandings.



By revising for format, facts, names, spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you can increase your chances of correcting many common errors in your writing.


by Jenn Kepka

As we’ve discussed, the major purpose of writing is to communicate with an audience. Keeping that in mind means everything we do when writing a paper must be done for the benefit of whoever is reading. That’s hard; it means that sometimes, things that look perfectly fine to us or sound OK out loud will need to be changed because other people bring different ideas and demands to our writing.

It also means that we need to go out of our way to be helpful to anyone who’s sitting down to read our work. Every step of the writing process is built to help the reader, from the title — which tells him what he’s getting into — to the conclusion, which reminds him what he’s read. Along the way, we use other organizational signs to let the reader know what’s going on.

Whenever we pause to signal the reader about what’s about to happen, we use a transitional word or phrase. Transitions are simply brief, common signals that are put in place for the reader. They are often one of the final things that a writer will edit and add to a paper.

The most common place to find transitions is at the beginning or end of a paragraph. In an essay, transitions signal that one piece of a paper is coming to a close or that a new section is about to start. Common transition lines include:

  • First, we have to consider…
  • A second point in favor of this proposal is…
  • The next day, I started…
  • Finally, I want to make clear…

Transitions often help provide a logical order to a piece.  Logical order means that the writer has made decisions about how to organize the essay that they’re writing. If, for instance, I decided to write a paper about the ways to be a good student, I could likely think of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of pieces of advice. However, to write an essay, I would need to narrow that down, and then I’d probably want to list my top 3 (or 5, or 10) reasons in an order that would make sense to my reader. That’s what it means to put a paper in logical order. Every time you see a Top Ten list online, that writer has used logical order to organize her paper.

Transitions signal that logical order by reminding the reader where we are on the list. First, Second, Third, Fifth, Last, etc. all tell my reader what kind of progress she’s making. These words are small but important.

We also use transitions to show changes in time or location. For instance, in a narrative essay, you might want to let the reader know that you’re going to jump ahead from your first swimming lesson as a four-year-old to your gold-medal-winning competition at the 2025 Olympics. When you write, “Fifteen years later, I put on my Speedos and started to climb the pool ladder,” that date at the beginning of your sentence is a clear transition. Without it, the reader will be lost (and wondering what a four-year-old is doing in a Speedo swimsuit).

When a piece is written in time order, we say it uses chronological order to organize itself. Transitions are vital to chronological order; without them, your hopeless reader won’t know whether an hour or a day has passed.

Transitions also can signal to the reader that we’re about to encounter a different kind of information. For example, if I’m in the middle of providing facts about why everyone should wear a seatbelt, and I decide that a story is necessary to keep the reader’s attention, I might say, “Let’s consider an example.” This tells my reader that I’m moving from the lecture to the story.

Signals like this are important because readers tackle different parts of our writing with different levels of attention. They also help a reader figure out where the main idea, a supporting idea, or a minor detail might be happening in a piece. If you’ve ever had to read and analyze a text, looking for the main idea, you know that words like “First,” and “Finally” often signal that a major point is being made, while a tag like “For example” means that something smaller, an illustration or a detail, is about to be shared.

Use these signposts in your own writing to keep readers interested and focused.

Special Cases

Some kinds of writing require special transitions. For example, as we’ve already discussed, narrative writing will require the use of time transitions in nearly every case. You’ve got to name a time and give hints about the duration of an event when telling a story.

Example Writing also requires the use of transitions. Because Example (also called Exemplification or Illustration) writing uses logical organization, you’ll find that ordinal numbers are key to providing clear transitions. (Ordinal Numbers are numbers that demonstrate an order or a position: First, Second, Third, Fourth, and etc.).

Comparison or Contrast writing requires a writer to provide transitions not just at the start of paragraphs but also within the text. In fact, in Comparisons, transitions carry the meaning of the paper. They are more than just organization: they actually tell your reader what you mean.

For example, if I’m comparing Tuesday and Wednesday, then I’ll need to use comparison transition words when talking about them. I might write:

Tuesday is the second day of the week, and Wednesday is the third day.

Without a comparison word, that’s a boring sentence that tells my reader almost nothing. So, instead, I could add a transition phrase:

Tuesday is the second day of the week, unlike Wednesday, which is the third day.

Yeah, still boring, but that’s because my topic is bad. At least now my reader knows that I’m saying this is a big difference between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Transitions are critical to good comparison writing.

Transition Word Resources:

You can find great lists of comparison words in nearly every substantial grammar book and resource. I’ve listed a few below.

  • Michigan State University, credited to Professors Gregory M. Campbell, Michael Buckoff, and John A. Dowell:
    • This is an excellent resource with dozens of common transition words listed. The words are divided into different types/uses of transitional words and phrases.


Exclamation Point in a yellow triangle

Revision Tips

One great way to help you with revision is to try something called the post-draft outline. Here’s how it works: Outline your paper, jotting down your thesis statement and the topic sentences in each of your paragraphs. See if this skeleton of your paper reveals a clear, logical flow of ideas and organization. If not, you know you need to make some changes. Having this visual representation of what you have actually written in your essay is a great help when you are trying to revise effectively.

Editing Tips

It’s important to remember that a good editing process takes time. You can’t edit well in one big editing pass. You should be prepared to spend the time it will take to edit in several passes and use strategies that will slow yourself down and edit thoroughly.

Read your paper aloud.

Reading aloud gives you the opportunity to both see and hear what you have written—and it slows your eyes down so you’re more likely to catch errors and see what you have actually written, not what you think you wrote. It’s also helpful to have someone else read your paper aloud so you can listen to how well it flows.

Read your paper backward

Start with the last sentence. Read it first. Then, read the second-to-the-last sentence. Continue this process for your whole essay. This strategy really slows you down and helps you see each sentence on its own, which is key to effective editing.

Review the Grammar 

Review the Grammar for known struggles you have with grammar, punctuation, and other errors. Then, with that information fresh in your mind, edit your paper just looking for those known issues. For example, if you know you have struggled with commas, review the information on commas in, and, then, immediately edit your essay with special attention to commas. With the rules fresh in your mind, you’re more likely to catch any errors.

A Tip for Both Revising and Editing

Finally, a good tip for both revision and editing is to use the resources available to you for feedback and help. If you’re on a campus with a writing center, take advantage of it. If your online college offers an online writing tutorial service, submit your essay to that service for feedback. And, take advantage of in-class peer reviews. Your peers understand the writing assignment you’re working on and can provide helpful reader feedback.

Seek help when you need it, and ask questions of your professor. A good revision and editing process involves using all of the resources available to you.


How do you get the best out of your revisions and editing? Here are some strategies that writers have developed to look at their first drafts from a fresh perspective. Try them throughout this course; then keep using the ones that bring results.

  • Take a break. You are proud of what you wrote, but you might be too close to it to make changes. Set aside your writing for a few hours or even a day until you can look at it objectively.
  • Ask someone you trust for feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Pretend you are one of your readers. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Why?
  • Use the resources that your college provides. Find out where your school’s writing lab is located and ask about the assistance they provide online and in person.

General Revision

General revision requires attention to content, organization, style, and readability. These four main categories should give you a template from which to begin to explore details in depth. A cursory review of these elements in and of itself is insufficient for even the briefest review. You may need to take some time away from your document to approach it again with a fresh perspective. Writers often juggle multiple projects that are at different stages of development. This allows the writer to leave one document and return to another without losing valuable production time. Overall, your goal is similar to what it was during your writing preparation and production: a clear mind.

Evaluate Content

Content is only one aspect of your document. Let’s say you were assigned a report on the sales trends for a specific product in a relatively new market. You could produce a one-page chart comparing last year’s results to current figures and call it a day, but would it clearly and concisely deliver content that is useful and correct? Are you supposed to highlight trends? Are you supposed to spotlight factors that contributed to the increase or decrease? Are you supposed to include projections for next year? Our list of questions could continue, but for now, let’s focus on content and its relationship to the directions. Have you included the content that corresponds to the given assignment, left any information out that may be necessary to fulfill the expectations, or have you gone beyond the assignment directions? Content will address the central questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how within the range and parameters of the assignment.


Evaluate Organization

The organization is another key aspect of any document. Standard formats that include an introduction, body, and conclusion may be part of your document, but did you decide on a direct or indirect approach? Can you tell? A direct approach will announce the main point or purpose at the beginning, while an indirnotebook with pencilect approach will present an introduction before the main point. Your document may use any of a wide variety of organizing principles, such as chronological, spatial, compare/contrast. Is your organizing principle clear to the reader?

Beyond the overall organization, pay special attention to transitions. Readers often have difficulty following a document if the writer makes the common error of failing to make one point relevant to the next or to illustrate the relationships between the points. Finally, your conclusion should mirror your introduction and not introduce new material


Evaluate Style

Style is created through content and organization, but also involves word choice and grammatical structures. Is your document written in an informal or formal tone, or does it present a blend, a mix, or an awkward mismatch? Does it provide a coherent and unifying voice with a professional tone? If you are collaborating on the project with other writers or contributors, pay special attention to unifying the document across the different authors’ styles of writing. Even if they were all to write in a professional, formal style, the document may lack a consistent voice. Read it out loud—can you tell who is writing what? If so, that is a clear clue that you need to do more revising in terms of style.

Evaluate Readability

Readability refers to the reader’s ability to read and comprehend the document. A variety of tools are available to make an estimate of a document’s reading level, often correlated to a school grade level. If this chapter has a reading level of 11.8, it would be appropriate for most readers in the eleventh grade. But just because you are in grade thirteen, eighteen, or twenty-one doesn’t mean that your audience, in their everyday use of language, reads at a postsecondary level. As a business writer, your goal is to make your writing clear and concise, not complex and challenging.


You can often use the “Tools” menu of your word processing program to determine the approximate reading level of your document. The program will evaluate the number of characters per word, add in the number of words per sentence, and come up with a rating. It may also note the percentage of passive sentences and other information that will allow you to evaluate readability. Like any computer-generated rating, it should serve you as one point of evaluation, but not the only point. Your concerted effort to choose words you perceive as appropriate for the audience will serve you better than any computer evaluation of your writing.

Try It Out




The writing process has several important stages, and you may find yourself having to engage in some of the stages more than once. You may also have to go back and repeat certain stages. This means the process is recursive. The writing process is not necessarily linear, as good writers often have to go back and repeat several stages of their process. For example, once you revise, you may realize you don’t have enough information on a topic and need to go back to do a little brainstorming or freewriting to help you get more ideas. Think back to the Slinky® metaphor. The parts of the writing process connect and loop around each other.

Remember, a thorough writing process will make your writing better! You may continue to have struggles when you write. We all have areas in which we need to improve, but a good writing process will make your writing stronger than it would be otherwise. When you take advantage of each stage of the writing process, you’re helping yourself do your best work!

Listen as these college students talk about what they learned about writing and what they continue to struggle with as they continue with their journeys.





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English 102: Journey Into Open Copyright © 2021 by Christine Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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