Revision Guidelines – Much More Than Proofreading


Revising gives you the chance to preview your work on behalf of the eventual reader. Revision is much more than proofreading, and in the final editing stage it involves some checking of details. Good review and editing can transform a mediocre first draft into an excellent final paper. It’s more work, but leads to real satisfaction when you find you’ve said what you wanted. It is truly rewarding. Consider the revision guidelines below when editing.

Start Large

First, check whether you have fulfilled the intention of the assignment. Look again at the instruction sheet, and revise your work to be sure you can say yes to these questions:

  • Have you performed the thinking the assignment sheet asked for (e.g., analyze, argue, compare, explore)?
  • Have you written the genre of the document called for (e.g., book review, critique, personal response, field notes, research report, lab report, essay)?
  • Have you used concepts and methods of reasoning discussed in the course? Don’t be shy about using theoretical terms from the course. Also, beware of just retelling stories or listing information. Looking at your topic sentences in sequence will show what kinds of ideas you have emphasized.
  • Have you given adequate evidence for your argument or interpretation? Be sure the reader knows why and how your ideas are important. A quick way of checking is to note where your paragraphs go after their topic sentences. Watch out for repetitions of general ideas—look for progression into exact reasoning, usually including source referencing.

End Small

Now polish and edit your style by moving to smaller matters, such as word choice, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may already have passages that you know need further work. Here are some tips:

  • Read passages aloud to see if you have achieved the emphasis you want. Look for places to use short sentences to draw attention to key ideas, questions, or argumentative statements. If you can’t read a sentence all the way through with expression, try cutting it into two or more.
  • Be sure to use spell-check. I have learned how crucial this is before and after each document! It will help you catch most typos and many wrongly spelled words. But don’t let it replace anything automatically, or you’ll end up with nonsense words. You will still have to read through your piece and use a dictionary or writer’s handbook to look up words that you suspect are not right.
  • Don’t depend on a thesaurus. It will supply you with lists of words in the same general category as the one you have tried, but some of them won’t make sense. Use plain, clear words instead. Use a dictionary and look up synonyms given as part of definitions. Always look at the samples of usage, too.
  • Don’t depend on a grammar checker. The best ones still miss many errors, and they give a lot of bad advice. If you know that you overuse slang or the passive voice, you may find some of the “hits” useful.

Nothing can help like a trained and skilled editor. Consider sending your writing in to have a professional edit after you’ve given it your best shot.

Originally posted 3/27/2009 and happily updated 11/14/2017. Thanks for reading!

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