Strategies for revising and editing
During our last #AcWriChat Tweetchat event on June 12th, we discussed the difference between revision and editing in addition to strategies for completing both of these essential elements of the academic writing process. Chat participants Marc Ouellette and Sonal Mehta added their perspectives to the discussion.
Below is a summary of the ideas and resources presented during the event.
Revision vs. editing
We began our discussion with a focus on the difference between revision and editing. The Berkeley Student Learning Center resource on the topic states that “We often use the two terms interchangeably and yet there are some important distinctions. True revision requires seeing your writing from a completely different perspective which can be facilitated by another reader’s comments and questions.”
For chat participant, Marc Ouellette, who writes his drafts longhand, typing the paper is his first revision. During the process, he says that he engages in the following revision activities: “checking for connections, links, missing parts, & moving things to fit.”
In the Butte College TIP Sheet on Revising and Editing, they note that “during revising, the rough draft is evaluated for the larger issues of general content, organization, and tone” while “during editing, the paper is fine-tuned for specific content”. They further offer the following questions for consideration during the revision process.
- Who is your audience?
- Why are you writing to them?
- What will they be looking for?
- How do you come across?
- Will your audience be able to understand what you’ve written?
- Are you objective enough?
- Have you included enough information?
- Do you have more information than you need?
As with any process, a strategy for implementation can increase the potential of success. According to the University of Maryland University College, “a revision strategy is a systematic process of reviewing and evaluating your writing before you actually begin revising.” With this definition in mind, we asked participants in the chat to define a revision strategy and identify how one is created.
Ouellette shared that his process is different when revising on his own versus basing revisions on feedback from others. “If it’s me revising on my own, I am looking for connections & elucidating them. I am looking for places to signal, signpost or recapitulate”, he said. “If it’s revisions based on responses, I try to address 1 major thing, footnote 1 medium thing, & smooth the rest.”
The Excelsior Online Writing Lab states that “during the revision process, you should seek outside feedback. It’s especially helpful if you can find someone to review your work who disagrees with your perspective.” However, whether the revisions are based on feedback from others or your own reading of the draft, the following four steps provided by Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Center for Teaching and Learning can help to start with the big picture and narrow your focus, as described by Ouellette.
- Start with the big picture – Look at the first draft in terms of larger, abstract qualities
- Focus on development of the main idea
- Focus on structure and how ideas link to one another
- Focus on sentence structure and word choice
As mentioned by Ouellette, signposting can be an effective writing strategy that aids in the revision process. According to the City University of New York, “signposting is when you tell your reader what you’re going to say next”. This can be done in an introduction for longer papers, but “you should also use words and phrases to signpost each paragraph”. With signposts on each paragraph, other revision strategies such as reverse outlining can be more easily adopted.
Noted earlier, the editing process is the fine tuning of the paper for specific content and typically occurs after the revision process. For many academic authors, this process is one that involves self-editing, but in larger projects and external or paid editor may be used. We continued our discussion by focusing first on self-editing strategies.
When self-editing, Ouellette suggests to “walk away from it for a while. Go do another paper or abstract”. When he returns with fresh eyes to the manuscript, his focus is on subject and connections. “I ruthlessly position the subject: the subject of every important sentence is also the subject of the sentence. Then, I make sure this is signaled, sign-posted, up front & connected. Everywhere.”
According to the University of Portland, “it is important to keep an eye out for details that will affect the clarity of your argument.” Among others, they suggest the following self-editing strategies:
- Read your draft out loud, and do so somewhat slowly
- Read through your paper with your audience in mind
- Pay special attention to your thesis statement
- Check to make sure that each of your paragraphs is cohesive and develops relevant support for your thesis
- Make sure that you have dedicated at least one or two sentences to elaborating on each quote or example that you used to support your point
- Vary the structure and lengths of your sentences to make your writing more interesting
- Look at word choice
- Learn to recognize the writing mistakes you make most often, and look for them when revising your paper
Although common to self-edit your academic writing, there can be advantages to using an outside editor. Specifically, as Sonal Mehta noted in the chat, “It helps sharing workload” and provides “new perspectives” for your work.
Sara Donaldson of Northern Editorial lists the following five advantages of hiring an editor:
- An unbiased critique
- A professional, easy to read document
- A chance for better reviews
- A better chance of being traditionally published
- It sets you apart from the rest
Often considered part of the editing process, proofreading is commonly the final step before submitting a manuscript for publication – even after initial self-editing or professional editing efforts have been made to improve the work.
According to the Southeastern Writing Center, “The most basic rule of thumb for effective proofreading is to find ways to experience what you have written differently than how you wrote originally.” They further suggest working from a printout rather than your computer screen to avoid missing mistakes.
If you recognize common mistakes in your writing, you can take Ouellette’s advice and use “ctrl-F” – the keyboard shortcut for Find – in your word processing software to locate all instances for correction quickly and easily. Other software-based tools, like grammar and spell check can also be helpful for editing and proofreading your work.
Mehta notes, however, that these structural errors are only part of the proofreading process. “Apart from grammar and spell check, I also focus on user reading flow while proofreading”, she says. The Writing Center at UA Little Rock suggests that “You want to polish your sentences at this point, making them smooth, interesting, and clear…. Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing; try to use sentences of varying lengths and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots.”
We encourage you to join us on Twitter this Friday, June 26th for our next #AcWriChat event where we’ll be discussing online research strategies.