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The Process of Writing: Revising

Revision is in many ways the most important stage in the writing process. At the very least, it may be called the workhorse of the writing process, the part where most of the hard work often takes place. And in the hands of inexperienced or careless writers, the revision stage is also the most neglected stage.

First of all, what should not  be a part of revision?  Proofreading should not be done while revising, at least until you are a very experienced writer.  Proofreading searches for specific grammatical errors, while revision looks at various broader issues; only the most experienced writers can do both sorts of reading at once.

So if revision does not include proofreading, what does it include?  While what needs to happen during revision depends heavily on what style of drafting you have used, several areas commonly need attention. One task of revision is focus. This means to re-read what you've written from the broadest possible viewpoint, asking yourself whether you have strayed off-topic and are no longer writing about the same specific topic you began with. Equally important, are you still writing in support of the main point you began with in regards to that topic--in other words, have you kept the same thesis? If the answer is "no" in regards to either topic or thesis, then unfortunately you may have to virtually begin again, but at least you are discovering that yourself, before someone else does.

Another important task of revision is organization, especially if your first draft was done in the loose style. Ultimately--by the end of the final draft--you should be able, if asked, to tell the purpose of each and every paragraph in a piece of writing, and to tell which part of your outline it corresponds to. This goal might not be reached all at once, because that's why several revised drafts are often needed, but it is the ultimate target in regards to organization. Every paragraph should be accounted for. In general, you should use the three-part format as the standard against which to check your organization. More specifically, remember that each mode of writing has been matched, within my website, to a version of the three-part format modified to suit that particular mode. (Keep in mind that, as I teach, the persuasive mode is the one keyed to the basic three-part outline.)

Another part of revision may be deletion--getting rid of unneeded sentences or even whole paragraphs. Focus problems will at times call for massive deletion, and is the main reason for getting rid of parts of a document.

More likely, though, you will probably need to add to your paragraphs during revision. There is a strong tendency on the part of the inexperienced writer to inadequately explain logical points, to give too few details to a description of an experience to really make it compelling, and in general to assume the reader is far more in tune with your thoughts then he or she in fact is. In my experience as a teacher, for every student who writes too much explanation, there are probably twenty who write too little. So the lesson to keep in mind here is that the revision process is the stage of writing where you have the opportunity to build on your essay from the inside out--to flesh it out, from a bare-bones, minimal presentation of your points to a truly interesting, informative, and compelling presentation. This process of adding to (developing) your essay can be keyed in particular to two parts of the main body paragraphs: GE (general explanation) and SE (specific examples). These are the places to build on.

A last part of the revision process is one which actually overlaps somewhat into proofing, and that is the rewording of sentences for clarity, to make sure they express what you mean for them to. It is normal for ideas to reach the page, at first, in a garbled fashion. Part of the business of revision (usually the last part) is to slow down, read your sentences one at a time, and judge whether each one says what you think it does. The main reason this function of revision is similar to proofing is the focus on one sentence at a time.

Drafting and revising are often intimately connected. In fact, in my own writing process, I take full advantage of this connection. Whenever I get "stuck" a little ways into a writing project (like this one you're reading), I go back to the first of my draft and begin rereading it, and revising as I go. For me, this works well: Almost without fail, by the time I have re-read and revised my way back to the point at which I was confused and stuck, I have gained a clearer understanding of where I need to go next and can push on. So normally for me, the early sections of a finished document may have gone through six or eight revised drafts, while the last sections may have seen only a couple of revisions.

To go to any stage of the writing process, just click on the selected stage below:

Overview ~ Brainstorming ~ Outlining ~ Drafting ~ Revising ~ Proofing

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