Revising and Editing

Re-vision is about needing to re-see your text, even if you’ve already spent hours conceptualizing and drafting it. Experienced self-editors know that they need to create some distance from their papers and complete proof-read in multiple stages, each time paying attention to just a handful of specific issues.

Get Some Distance
  • Set your paper aside for a few hours (or even a few days) and read it with fresh eyes. Imagine yourself as a skeptical intended reader (whether that be a professor, an employer, or an admissions committee member).
  • Share your paper with another person. They can provide the fresh perspective you may need.
Reverse Outline

Spend some time reverse outlining where you make a paragraph-by-paragraph bullet point list of your main points and evidence. Even if you made an outline before you began writing, try to forget about your intentions. When reverse outlining, imagine you are new to the paper and take notes on what is actually there.

Train Your Attention

Our minds benefit from attending to only one or two things at a time. Plan on making focused passes through your paper where you pay attention to one thing as you read.

For example:

  • Spend at least one reading just focusing on ideas and your argument. As you read, ¬†you may want to avoid diving into the sentences as you may get distracted by minutiae. Instead, try jotting down notes in a to-do-list so that you can be more systematic.
  • Spend other focused passes paying attention to sentence-level issues that you know you should work on, such as: comma splices; missing transitions; subject-verb agreement; starting too many sentences in the same way, etc. You might need to cover these in several different readings.
  • Read your paper aloud and note any words/sounds that you may be repeating. Spend another focused pass using ctrl+F (or command +F) to search for repetitive vocabulary in your text.
  • Spend one focused pass checking for citations, including whether you’ve used quotation marks for exact wording, whether all information is documented clearly, and whether those small details of punctuation and footnoting have been done correctly for your required formatting style.

As you can see, the editing process takes time, so block off chunks of time to read and re-read your text. Don’t forget to factor in time for making changes and edits as well.

Other Editing Resources

OWL Purdue: Where to Begin (with Proofreading): this handout walks a writer through some general strategies for proofreading. Be sure to check the related pages in the sidebar for more strategies about how to locate patterns.

The UNC Writing Center’s Handout Heaven: this website offers beautifully organized and streamlined handouts on every aspect of the writing process–including videos! Check out their list of topics:

Style: Ten lessons in clarity and grace (Williams, 1981): this short guide walks writers through a few central principles that lead to clear, concise, and cohesive prose in Edited American English. A print copy is available at the Northeastern Library, and the book is also readily available new and used online.