Brittany Stephenson


When you are asked to revise a draft of your writing, you are being asked to “see it again.” Revision means to “see again.” Re-see. Re-vision. Why would you want to see your writing again, and how exactly would you go about doing so?

What Is Revision?

Revision is not the same as editing. Editing has to do with fixing spelling and grammar and making sure your writing conforms to the correctness expectations of your audience. Revision is much bigger and much more important. Revision actually occurs throughout the writing process.

  • When you start to type a sentence, then change your mind and change the sentence, you are revising.
  • When you make an outline of what you’re going to write and draw arrows to flip-flop the order of two ideas, you are revising.
  • When you work with a first draft and add more detail and development to your ideas, you are revising.

Revising is part of the learning and thinking processes that occur while you’re writing. Typically, when you start writing, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it—you figure those things out as you draft and revise.

While revision takes place throughout the whole writing process, often you will be thinking most about revision between drafts. Try to approach revision between drafts as a process of creation. Think of it as an opportunity to transform your writing into something more effective. Often, a first draft is messy and is focused on figuring out what you are trying to say. As you move into the second draft, think about what the reader needs; shift your perspective to that of the reader. This is where peer reviews can come in handy.

When you are revising, you should consider the feedback you have received from others. If you are writing for school, it is likely that you got feedback from other students and from your instructor. Perhaps you even went to the Student Writing and Reading Center and received feedback from a writing tutor. So, what should you do with this feedback? If you receive written feedback, be sure to read it carefully; if you receive verbal feedback, be sure to take good notes while you listen and discuss, then go back and read your notes carefully.

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.”

—Neil Gaiman

One of the primary reasons for getting feedback on your writing is to help you see your writing from a reader’s perspective. Look at the feedback you receive and ask yourself how your writing is coming across to the reader. Remember that a big part of revision is to help you consider the needs of your reader. Where the first draft may have been more about figuring the writing out from your own perspective as a writer, the second draft is about figuring out the writing from the perspective of the reader. Carefully considering any feedback you’ve received is a good way to do so. It’s up to you to decide what you will do with the feedback you’ve received. 

What Are Some Ways to Do Revision?

  • Revise for purpose (review the assignment sheet or your personal goals)
  • Revise for focus (highlight thesis / main ideas)
  • Revise for content (what is my best …? what is my weakest …?)
  • Revise for organization (reverse outline)
  • Revise for style (read it out loud)
When you start your revisions, go back to the original writing purpose. If you’re writing for school, this means going back to the assignment description to determine if you are meeting all the criteria set out for the assignment. If you are writing for work or personal reasons, this means reviewing the initial goals and parameters of the writing task. Make sure that what you have written matches what you set out to do and revise accordingly.

You can also revise for focus. After reading your draft, ask yourself what main idea you get from the writing. If you have a thesis statement, highlight or underline the thesis. Ask yourself if your focus is appropriate for your purpose and if your focus is clear enough and strong enough. If you have a thesis, ask yourself if the thesis is interesting and contestable. Revise to make sure your focus is clear and is what you want it to be. At this point, you should also highlight or underline the main ideas that follow the thesis. Do they in fact support the thesis? Are they on track with what you’re focusing on?

Next, look at the content that supports your focus. Do you have sufficient main ideas that are clearly articulated? Do you include sufficient support for your focus such as examples, details and evidence? Ask yourself “what is my strongest point and what is my weakest point?” then spend some time strengthening that weakest point. After evaluating and revising your main points, do the same thing for your supporting evidence, asking yourself what is your strongest evidence and what is your weakest evidence. Then revise to strengthen your evidence.

Next, you can revise for organization. One good strategy for doing this is to create a reverse outline of what you have written. List out the main points of your writing in the order in which they currently appear in the text. Ask yourself if this is the most effective order of main points or if you should re-organize. Then go into more detail and look at each section and outline how you are supporting your main points. Doing so will help you see if your writing is cohesive and well supported or scattered and less clear than it could be. Based on what you learn from your reverse outline, revise to make your organization as strong and clear as possible.

Finally, you can revise for style. Try reading the draft out loud to yourself (or have someone else read it out loud to you) so you can hear how it sounds. Pay attention to the following things:

  • Wordiness – Using more words than you need to say what you mean. For example, using filler words or phrases that may hinder the reader.
  • Tone – The attitude your words communicate. Think about tone of voice and how tone of voice impacts meaning in verbal conversation. Written tone can do the same.
  • Active vs Passive Voice – Most writing for college should be in active voice where the subject (actor) in the sentence comes before the verb. Passive voice is when the subject (actor) comes after the verb—usually a “to be” verb—or is omitted from the sentence altogether.
  • Parallelism – When words, phrases, and clauses have the same grammatical structure.

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting.”

—Roald Dahl


While revision may feel like a cumbersome step in the writing process, it is actually where the best writing will occur. No one, not even professional writers, produces ready-to-go first drafts. First drafts help us think through what we’re doing and get our ideas down on paper; revised drafts help us clarify what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. Taking the time to “see your writing again”—particularly in terms of purpose, focus, content, organization and style—will help you produce stronger, more effective writing that connects with your reader. 


Works Cited

Hutton, Keely. “Thoughts on Revision by Famous Writers.” January 29, 2015. Writer’s Dojo.


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Open English @ SLCC Copyright © 2016 by Brittany Stephenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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