What Does Revise Your Essay Mean

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College students are often confused about what it means to “revise” a paper. Catharine Wright explains the difference between revision, editing and proofreading.

Revision means “re-visioning” your paper. It is “big picture” work. Step back and ask yourself: does the paper you wrote respond directly to the assignment and its audience, answer the questions that were posed? Is the argument clear? Is it sufficiently complex? Check to see if any of the ideas need to be developed, and if you’ve articulated the relationships among ideas. See if you need to add further evidence or support. Revision can require adding material, taking material away, working with the big strokes of the paper. It might involve changing the order of paragraphs and re-crafting topic sentences/transitions. It may demand re-drafting the introduction and checking the conclusion to see what should be brought up to the front of the paper. All of this is when you “re-vision” your paper.

Editing: People often refer to all stages of revision as “editing,” but editing is what you do after you revise. Editing involves crafting with a fine tool, and it leads to style and coherence. Here is where you consider your paper as a writer/artist. Try reading your paper aloud, slowly, in parts. Is the voice clear and confident? Is there a sense of rhythm and flow in each paragraph, each sentence? Do the sentences connect up with one another like well-constructed joints? Editing is when you correct any awkwardness that may have occurred in the initial drafting or in revision (revision can be very helpful to the big picture but create problems within paragraphs, for example). While editing is also a good time to check the clarity of your title and the accuracy of your reference or works cited page(s). Careful editing is critical to a polished, well written paper.

Proofreading: Proofreading comes last and consists of a final sweep through your paper with an eye for errors. When proofreading you make your final check for errors in sentence structure, grammar, verb tense and punctuation. You also look for mistakes in spelling, use of quotations, citation details, etc. Look not just for the tricky mistakes but also for any typos. It is important to check that your name is on your essay and it is desirable to number your pages or include a word count. This is the final read-through of your paper, your last chance to impress your reader and show your commitment to your work. Reading aloud at this stage or any other stage of the revision process can help you focus more carefully on your work.

Catharine Wright for the Writing Program and Center for Teaching, Learning and Research

Middlebury College, 2010


Revision Process: Improving the Strength of Your Paper

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Now that a few days have passed since your sigh of relief after completing your rough draft, take a deep breath, and dive into the revision process. If you have not taken a few days off, do so before beginning your revisions. The break gives you better perspective on how well you convey your message.

The revision process involves several steps:

  • Deleting information
  • Adding information
  • Clarifying sections
  • Examining your content
  • Looking at sentence structure and syntax
  • Proofreading

With so many steps, you want to tackle each area individually. Do not try to barge through your research paper during the revision process to fix everything at once. Instead, take each aspect of the process on its own. Read your paper out loud slowly to pinpoint areas that need improvement more easily. As you read, ask yourself a series of questions that help you identify areas that need changes.

Revision process question #1: What is your main point?

Making sure your main point is clear during the revision process involves examining your thesis statement. Read your introduction paragraph, and set the paper aside. Can you summarize your thesis and the main points to support it? Does the introduction let you know what you can expect to read in the rest of your paper? If you cannot answer yes to those questions, spend some time clarifying your thesis and reworking your introduction paragraph.

Revision process question #2: Does your paper address your audience appropriately?

Part of the revision process is ensuring your paper addresses your audience in the right way. When considering your audience, look at both the vocabulary you use and the concepts you introduce.Can someone who is unfamiliar with your topic understand your paper? If you cannot answer yes, spend some time explaining confusing concepts and using easier-to-understand vocabulary, or define the vocabulary you do use.

Revision process question #3: What is the purpose or goal of your paper?

This step in the revision process involves easily identifying the goal of your paper. This should be clear while reading your paper. Are you arguing for or against a position, evaluating existing research, comparing your research to existing research, applying the research to a particular situation and attempting to draw conclusions or something else? You know the answer before reading your paper while revising, but does the content of your paper give you the right answer?

Revision process question #4: Is your thesis supported with evidence?

This step in the revision process involves looking at the supporting evidence in the body paragraphs of your paper. Is your thesis supported by the evidence you present? Is there sufficient evidence to support the position you take or any claims you make? Is all information that requires in-text citations properly cited? If you cannot answer yes to these questions, work on supplying more evidence and ensuring it is properly cited. This is the step where you can incorporate more evidence and supporting details if you did not include them while writing the rough draft.

Revision process question #5: Is supporting evidence relevant?

Looking at the evidence during the revision process is also about making sure it is relevant to the thesis. If you find pieces of information or ideas that do not relate to the thesis, omit that information. If it is a large portion of your paper, revise and clarify your thesis statement to reflect the change. Ultimately, you should be able to answer “yes” when you ask yourself this question: Is everything in my paper relevant to my thesis?

Revision process question #6: Is your vocabulary appropriate?

The revision process also involves examining your vocabulary choices. Do you use consistent vocabulary throughout the entire paper? Do you use the same word repeatedly where a synonym works just as well? Do you leave words undefined that should be defined? Are you descriptive enough? Do you use too many pronouns? Are there portions that are wordy, vague or contain words that are used incorrectly? Is anything confusing? Use this step in the revision process to make sure you can answer these questions correctly, and make revisions until your vocabulary is clear, free of awkward pauses and strong.

Revision process question #7: Are there grammatical and spelling errors?

Reading to correct grammatical and spelling errors is an important part of the revision process. If grammar is not your strong suit, consider asking someone else to proofread it for you, or take it to a writing center for review. You want your final revision to be free of both types of these errors. Make sure you are checking the spelling of all words because most spell checkers do not catch all misspelled words, missing or duplicate words or erroneous words that result from typos. Also ensure your grammar, mechanics and punctuation is up to par.

Revision process question #8: Do you wrap up the conclusion effectively?

Looking at your conclusion is also part of the revision process. When looking at the conclusion, consider whether it is backed up by the content of your paper? Does it summarize your thesis and the main points? Does it leave your readers with something to think about after reading the entire paper? Is the thesis resolved in some fashion? Remember your conclusion is the last chance to leave an impression with readers, so make sure it is powerful and appropriate while it draws your topic to a close.

You should engage in the revision process over a longer period of time. Trying to pinpoint all the areas that need improvement in one read-through of your paper is not only difficult, it is almost impossible. Remember to read slowly and carefully while reading your words out loud. Make notes where improvements are needed. After working through one revision, set the paper aside, and then go through the process again. Expect to complete several revision drafts as you work to finalize your paper, always remembering to take your time and think critically.


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