In this guide we are concerned about revising your writing. This is the stage where you have completed the task of actually writing what it is you want to write, and you are now assessing and analyzing the work for quality and to see what can be improved.
While you shouldn’t have to think too much while you are writing, the revision stage is where you want to engage your brain and really think about what you have put down. Let’s look at a number of methods and techniques for success with your revision.
Don’t Worry About It
There are many different steps that can be taken order to write more effectively, though many people focus too much on writing the best thing they can the first time around. Not getting too attached to your work and allowing yourself to write freely without stopping and starting all the time makes writing more fluid and easier to understand – if you think too much about what you are writing while you are writing it, the quality of your writing may suffer. So the first time around you shouldn’t worry about our writing too much – do what comes naturally to you.
Avoid the temptation to revise your work as you write it. Generally it’s not too much of a problem if you like to revise your work in blocks as you go along, as long as you appreciate that you should still leave a separate stage for revision at the end of your work. The point is to allow enough time so that you can look at your assignment as a whole. Unless you want the freedom to write and your creativity to suffer, do your best to leave the revisions until afterwards.
Leave It and Come Back To It
It is important to leave your work for a while and then come back to it. It is much easier to be more objective about your work and to spot mistakes and inconsistencies when you have distanced yourself from the research and writing process. The more you can imagine that you are simply a reader looking at the work for the first time, the easier and clearer it will be to spot and address mistakes. If you leave it enough time you may even feel like the work is no longer your own – this is the perfect place to be critical and unbiased, and as such the mistakes, poor uses of grammar and general poor quality work will be much easier to spot and rectify. You should leave at least a day for short or medium-sized essays.
Go From Small to Big
The most effective way to revise your work is to start with the small things, and then gradually move your way up to the big things. The start of the revision process should begin with you focusing on the small details. You should focus on each individual line and paragraph and check closely for mistakes in usage and logic. You should also look out for incorrect word usage and grammatical errors.
After this, you want to take a step back and check the overall content, logic and flow of paragraphs and sections – reading more quickly than in the first step. Always remember that if you have had to change small pieces of information from this sentence or that paragraph, this may affect other areas of your work. For example, you may delete a piece of information that is important for the reader’s understanding later on into the work. Remain mindful of all the changes you make, and do your best to remember!
By the end you should be reading through the entire piece of work quickly in one go. By now you are not looking for any specific errors (you should have caught these in the previous stages) but rather for the general flow, style, tone and balance of your work. Read the whole thing through without focusing on the specifics and you will get an idea of how the information generally comes across. What is the dominant tone? Are there areas of the work that need more weight, or are there other areas that are too bulky? Does your flow and vocabulary communicate in a certain style, and is that style in accordance with the requirements of the assignment? Have all of the arguments been established and developed? Are there any arguments which appear to have more weight than others?
Don’t Be Fooled
One of the most common mistakes that a student makes is to assume that their spellchecker is going to naturally find and highlight every possible mistake. This is never the case, and you should never assume that your spellchecker is going to find every mistake for you. While spellcheckers usually always spot genuine spelling mistakes, they are not so good at checking typos (putting ‘their’ instead of ‘there’, or ‘bear’ instead of ‘bare’, for example) and misused/confused words. The story is the same for grammatical errors. There might not be squiggly lines underneath your words, but does not mean that the content is perfect! If something doesn’t sound good to you, or if you are not certain that a word you’re using is the right word for the job, always play it safe and search with an online dictionary.
Go for Succinctness
It is a true skill to be able to convey lots of information in a small amount of words – this is something that takes years to develop and hone. However it is still surprisingly easy to achieve as long as dedicate some of your revision time to thinking about how you can make paragraphs, sentences and phrases more concise and succinct. If you really think about the content you have written down, you may notice that many of the words you have included are simply ‘filler’ words that serve no real purpose, or do not clearly move an argument along. You may also notice phrases used where you can instead use a more specific verb. Examine your work, and wherever you can, replace words and phrases for simpler, clearer and better words and phrases.
Go For Variation
It is important to be succinct, but it is also important to have a varied structure to your sentences. You should also have a working understanding of the active and passive voice, and you should know how much you are using of both as these types of voice have an effect on the overall tone of the work. Are there any repetitions, or have you used lots of unnecessary phrases. Have you used a mix of different argument clauses? As you revise your work, remember that you should be making things interesting for the reader, and it is not only the content of your work, but how the content is communicated.
Reading your work backwards is a popular method to find incorrect words or poor word choices in your writing. When you read your work backwards, you are not engaging with the meaning of the work, and this makes it much easier to spot mistakes. When on the other hand you are reading your work forwards, you may miss mistakes because you are actually engaged with the meaning of the work. Though reading backwards can be tedious and difficult, your work may be worth at least one scan backwards to check for words that shouldn’t be there.
The structure of your sentences and paragraphs is more easily understood when you read your work out aloud. As such, reading aloud reveals all of your punctuation and helps you see where your punctuation is good and where it is bad. Another good method to manage your punctuation is to print out a copy of your work and use a highlighter to go through every single piece of punctuation (you can do this with a digital highlighter on your word processor).
Use Your Time Wisely
You should begin revising your work as soon as possible after the completion of the first drafts. It is a common mistake not to leave enough time to conduct the revision stage properly. Ideally you want to begin your assignment as early as possible so that you have plenty of time to revise and review. Lots of students – even when they do leave themselves enough time – fail to put in the right amount of effort into revisions. They think that because they have completed the main part of the work, they can sit back and relax. Don’t become complacent during this stage! The final mark will assuredly depend on the effort you put into the revision process.
Do Citations Last
Ensuring that your citations are correct and of the same structure and format is a key part of the revision process. You must ensure that the correct format is chosen (your institution should provide you with a citation tutorial) and you must also ensure that quotes and paraphrasing have been done correctly. There are a number of rules to follow when using cited information to build up your arguments, so make sure you know them. The problem with citations is that they can be quite boring and tedious, – especially with longer assignments – which makes it best to leave the structure and formatting of your citations as the last thing to cross off your list.
Tackling Long Revisions
The challenge of revisions is obvious much greater for longer assignments. On top of the simple fact that there is more work to revise, it is the way information ties itself together more complicatedly in larger assignments that can make the task so much harder. In the creative disciplines there are a number of common issues and items that appear, so make sure you know about them and don’t let them slip past.
Learn to Detach Yourself
Revisions can be a source of much distress for students. They have put something they like to paper, and now they are very discomforted by the thought of having to edit it, rearrange it or delete it for the sake of revisions. This is a common problem with authors and professional writers. If you want to be effective at performing revisions and edits, then you should not grow so attached to your work that you can’t manage your work without distress. You might believe that you only ever make things worse when you revise, but this is never the case. If you need any convincing, save a copy of the pre-revision draft of your work and compare it with the revised edition. If you have used your brain and put the effort it, there is simply no way that the original work can be better – so don’t be afraid to change your work because you will be changing it for the better.
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