Chapter 14: WHAT IS REVISING?
What are some basic methods, plans, or
strategies for revising?
Who Are Your
Revising Your Details in Steps
Seeing from Different Perspectives
Spell and Grammar Check in MS Word
Would you wear your tee-shirt and old jeans to a
professional job interview? Similarly, good writers learn to revise their
papers before showing them to an audience. This chapter describes who that
audience is and offers some simple but effective
methods for revising for that audience.
The word "revising" comes from the roots "re" or
"again," and "vise" or "see." So, basically, "revising" means "seeing
again." In addition, most of us tend to read "out loud in our heads"
when we read. This means that our readers will be "hearing" in their heads
what we have written. And it means that we "speak out loud in our heads"
when we write. For this reason, then, revising is not just re-seeing or
seeing again--it also is re-hearing: hearing something again.
But re-seeing and re-hearing are just part of it.
The real key to revising--the important secret to great success at it--is to see
and hear your writing differently. The very
best revision means that you do not just see and hear your writing from your own point of
view. Instead, you also see and hear it as your audience--your readers--will see
and hear it.
Who Are Your Readers:
The Concept of Audience
One of the first principles in seeing and hearing as
your readers will is this: how will your readers perceive your overall
organization? What organizational order will work best to help the
greatest number of your readers understand what you are trying to say?
Who, in fact, are your readers? Readers
taken together are what is called the "audience." Most students at the
beginning college level assume their teacher is the audience: most college
papers are written for one person: the course instructor. In the short
run--and for practical purposes--this is a good way to operate. It is
always important to ask, "What does my teacher want?"
However, you should learn to be very aware that most teachers have a very
different understanding of whom your audience for your papers should be.
Most college teachers want you to write for an academic or professional
audience, as if you were already a member of that academic or professional
audience. In the advanced courses, for example--classes in your future
profession or discipline--your instructors usually expect you to write as if you
are writing for others in your profession--for a boss, a committee, a wider
audience of your peers in the company, or even perhaps to clients or customers.
Likewise, in academic disciplinary courses, teachers expect you to learn to
write as scholars and teachers in that discipline write. For example,
history teachers expect you to learn how to write like historians, social
science teachers like social scientists, chemists like laboratory chemists, etc.
And in introductory writing courses--where you learn
to write more general and more generic college papers--teachers still expect you
to pretend that your audience is a group of intellectual peers (equals) with
whom you are sharing your knowledge. Often it helps to imagine and even
visualize this audience. You may want to imagine just one person, or you
may imagine a group of them. It often helps to imagine someone your own
age or slightly older who already knows something about the subject on which
you've written, but who doesn't know the key pieces of information that you are
providing. In other words, this person--a friend or acquaintance--hopes to
learn something from you by reading your paper.
So, this is the stage upon which you must present
your paper in college. It is in many ways an imaginary stage.
However, your teachers take this imaginary stage very seriously. They see
their job as helping you to learn how to think, act, and write according to how
their profession or discipline expects scholars to act. For this
reason--and because it is what teachers themselves do when they write--you need
to either become--or imagine yourself--a part of the audience for whom you are
writing. Then write for the audience, whether you choose one person or
many. See this person or persons, hear them, feel them if you can.
Then, in your head and in your writing, talk to them and write to them using
academic language to help teach them something they want to know.
First drafts of your paper may have come from you
and may be mostly about you. But revising is much more about others: your
audience. How will these others see--and hear--what you are writing?
Revising the Major,
A first important method or system for revising is
to finish major organizing. You do this first so that you have all
the major parts of your paper in place, in good order, before you start fixing
the small details. As you look at your major organizational parts of your
paper, you ask yourself, "How well will my imagined audience understand the
order of what I am presenting? Is there a better order or plan for
presenting my major body sections, my paragraphs, or my topic sentences?"
In discussing revision of organization, it may be
helpful to define two levels of organization: macro-organizing
"Macro-organizing," according to writing expert Peter Elbow, means
working on the
major organizational parts such as the order of body sections and and the order
of the paragraphs within them. It also means the addition of a starting
and an ending sentence for each body section and each major
paragraph. In addition, macro-organizing means shaping each major
paragraph so it follows the pattern that scholars and professionals have come to
general explanation à
Finally, macro-organizing also means writing
a first draft of the conclusion and
the introduction. Often your drafting may flow faster if you write the body of
first (or start with the simplest one- or two-sentence introduction that you can
think of quickly). Then, after you've finished the first draft of the body
of the paper, write a conclusion. And once you have written the
conclusion, you'll likely have a much better idea of exactly what you are trying
to say in your paper--and you can then write a good introduction. In other
words, often you'll write an introduction best if you save it for last, at least
in your rough-draft writing. For more details about macro-organizing, see section "B.
the Details in Manageable Steps
"Micro-organizing," on the
other hand, means
"small organizing." It involves organizing (or, more accurately in this
chapter, reorganizing) the small stuff. It includes the order of sentences within parts of
a paragraph, the order of words within sentences, and the order of ideas and
images using sentences and graphics.
Along with micro-organizing,
there are even smaller details to check in revising: punctuation, spelling, word
choice, and other editing details. Most people take care of both
micro-organizing and editing of small details at the same time, in one stage.
However, one of the more important principles of highly successful revision is
to break down this final editing stage into separate steps.
In other words, typical editing
for details often means that the writer reads each sentence--sentence by
sentence, beginning to end--looking all at the same time for any small errors of
spelling, punctuation, word choice, etc. However, if you want to edit
well, this is the worst way to do it. Instead, break the revising of
details and editing into separate major tasks. The tasks you choose will
depend on what your own greatest needs are. For example, one writer might
need to work hard on spelling (even spell check programs won't fix everything)
and word choice. Another writer might be fine with spelling and word
choice but need to work on commas. Yet another writer might be fine with
all of these needs but might have a deadly tendency to regularly write sentences
that are too long or sentences with lots of long, introductory phrases.
Whatever a person's typical editing problems are--and the audience's needs--will
help determine that person's individualized plan for revising and editing.
The important thing is to break the revising and editing into more easily
The reason for using separate,
more manageable steps is that most people can are much more thorough and
efficient when they apply just one or two major focuses at a time. For
example, if you are cooking a complicated meal, you do not try to beat the eggs,
form the pie dough, and start the coffeepot all at the same time. You move
from one task to the next, saving a specific, singular focus for each activity
at a time. You may have to come back to some of your foods several times
to take care of the next stage, but the point is that you do not try to complete
ten or twenty cooking activities in one minute, then another ten or twenty in
the next minute, and so on. Similarly, if you focus on nothing but word
choice in one sweep through your manuscript, nothing but spelling on a second
sweep, and in a third sweep look for comma usage, you will likely be much more
efficient and consistent in making improvements. and in finding and correcting
Seeing Sentences from Different
In order to see and hear your writing as your
audience might, there are several other revising and editing tricks of the
trade. These include developing flow, editing aloud, and editing backward.
The first method or system
is to read aloud. Reading your piece aloud--whether to someone else
or to yourself in an empty room--process the writing through a different part of
your brain. it allows you to hear it with your outer ear--a very different
experience from hearing it with your inner ear. Again, a different part of
your brain is processing it. As a result, you will hear it
differently--and see places that could be changed to make the flow better.
You also may be able to more easily pick up your editing errors and small
Another method or system is, as you read aloud, to
listen for flow. First, have you created "bridges" of
summarizing phrases and sentences before, after, and between sections and
paragraphs? Second, does your paper flow so well that a listener could
hear it as a speech and not need anything repeated? Third, do the ideas in
each paragraph and body section connect to each other with transition words such
as "First, second, third," "Now, next, finally," "One, another, in addition,"
etc.; or with connecting imagery such as "one pole, another pole" or "the first
position, the second position," etc.?
What is the goal of flow? It is, simply, to make your ideas and
images move so smoothly that the reader rarely becomes aware of the how the words,
spaces, and other marks on the page are formed. During the reading
experience, he or she just simply hears and sees a story or flow of ideas or
To put this into perspective, think about
what kinds of essays, articles, or stories you like that are so easy to read--and so interesting--that you
are almost never aware of the order of the words, the punctuation, or the
particular choices of words? That kind of reading experience is your goal
for your readers: you want to write so well that people do not notice your
writing style. (Or if they do, it's only to exclaim how smoothly and
intelligently you write!) Provide easy-to-follow transition sentences,
phrases, and words. In word choice, choose simpler words over longer ones.
(However, if you need to prove to your audience that you are able to understand
and use important "big" words in a discipline, then use them in such a way that
they make the reading even easier for your average scholarly or professional
audience.) If you use a word some of your audience might not understand,
you can simply add a quick definition or even a synonym for it in parentheses. For example, "When traveling north in the United States, a
person sees increasingly more coniferous (needle-bearing) trees."
Yet another method or system is to read backward.
This is especially effective when combined with "reading aloud," above.
How does one read backward? Often doing so sentence by sentence works
best. Why? It is a particularly excellent way to pick up small
editing errors. It works in this way: when you read and reread your own
paper the usual way, your mind will tend to make the same leaps and bounds over
and through the words, spellings, phrases, and punctuation marks that you used
when you first wrote the paper. However, if you read the same paper
backward, sentence by sentence, your mind is much more likely to lose track of
the content of what you are saying, and thus it will be able to focus better on
the way you are saying it. In short, you'll pick up the details of your
word choice and punctuation much more fully. And you will be seeing these
word choices and punctuation more as parts of your audience will.
Getting Help with Revising
The last important strategy for good revising and
editing in college is to get help. Research at one college in
Minnesota suggests, for example, that it is not "dumb" students who go to
writing tutors for help, but rather smart ones. In that study, students who
sought help at the school's writing center received higher grades in their
introductory writing classes, on average, than did students who did not go for
There are various levels of help. The simplest
level is to ask a friend to listen to you read your paper aloud. The next
level is to get your friend to listen while you read the paper backward out
loud, and help you pick out errors. The next level is to have the friend
actually read the paper and mark it up. These levels require increasing
amounts of both trust and patience: if your helpers have difficulty
understanding something, it is more likely to be your fault for not making it
clear, and you have to trust that their perception of difficulty in
understanding you is a reasonable perception.
A reader group is the next level of help.
Readers' groups often form just temporarily, for one assignment or one class.
They are rarely used but can be very effective if organized carefully.
Here are several helpful guidelines in forming a reader group: (1) Keep it
small, from two to five people. (2) Generally members should be working on the
same assignment at the same time. (2) Only those who are willing to do the
work--reading others' papers in a timely manner or attending meetings at which
readings are done--should be members. (4) Readers should
comment--whether out loud or in writing--more on whether something is clear and
what is confusing or missing, and not so much on on rules of grammar and
punctuation. This final guideline, "4," is especially helpful to follow
for two reasons. One is that most readers are not experts on grammar and
punctuation; second, pointing out how something is unclear or confusing to you
as a reader is a more direct response as a reader, and it allows the writer to
better identify the reader's difficulty and then choose from among many possible
corrections in content or flow.
The next higher and perhaps most often used level of
help is to go to a writing tutor in a tutoring center. Writing tutors
usually know very well how to assist students who are writing papers, and the
tutors often are not only excellent writers but also trained in how to help
paper writers. Do not expect tutors to revise the paper for you. The
trained tutor will ask you for details about the assignment and what you want to
accomplish in working with the tutor. Then he or she will help you go
through your own paper. To give your tutor the best help in understanding
your needs, bring your writing assignment and your most recent draft with you,
and explain to the tutor exactly what you hope to accomplish. If one tutor
does not work for you, then choose a different tutor and visit that one.
some of the most successful students return to one or more tutors several times
for one paper if the paper is a big assignment. One of the great
advantages of working with tutors is that tutors are trained to see papers like
scholarly or professional readers, so they can help you more easily attain the
tone, format, and style of a scholar or professional.
The highest level of help is from the instructor
him- or herself. Some teachers are very open to helping in this way;
others, less so. You can't find out unless you ask. It is, in fact,
wiser to ask a teacher and have him or her say "no" than to never ask at all
because, if everything else is equal, it is better to be noticed by a teacher
than for the teacher to never be aware of you as an individual as long as your
questions have a legitimate purpose. You also should know that most
schools require teachers to have weekly office hours specifically so they have a
set time and place each week for students to visit them. Ask your teacher
whether you can make an appointment to work on your paper for 1/2-1 hour.
If he or she agrees, the help you receive may be invaluable to getting a better
grade on the paper.
Grammar Check in MS Word
Using MS Word’s own spelling and grammar checking
programs can be very useful as you type. Though they are not perfect, they are
very good. They can help you take care of a majority of your spelling and
grammar errors. It is wise to turn them on.
These first sets of directions describe how to turn
them on in Word 2007 for Windows. For earlier versions of Word for Windows, see
below. For Word for Apple, these directions may sometimes work, but if
not, simply do a word search in a search engine such as Google.
In Word, start by clicking on the
Then choose (click on) “Spelling and
Grammar.” You should get a small textbox titled “Spelling and Grammar: English
Then look at the “Check grammar” box
in the lower left. If it is not checked, then check it. (If the “Spelling and
Grammar” textbox does not appear when you have clicked on “Spelling and
Grammar,” highlight one or two of your lines. Then click on “Spelling and
Next, click in the lower left corner
on “Options.” This should give you another textbox called, in the upper left
corner, “Word Options.” Make sure, in the “Word Options” textbox, that in the
left-hand column, “Proofing” has been selected. (You should then be able to see
“Change how Word corrects and formats your text” at the top of the textbox.)
Then continue by using the next set of
Using the “Word Options” Textbox :
In the “Word Options textbox, click on
“AutoCorrect Options.” This opens the “AutoCorrect: English, U.S.” textbox.
Then choose the “AutoCorrect” tab, and
in that tab, check most or all of the boxes. (You may look at the other tabs
and their boxes if you wish, but these are less important for correcting your
Then close the “AutoCorrect: English
(U.S.)” box. You should now see the “Word Options” textbox again. (If you have
lost it, then start over again at the beginning of these directions.
Next, in the “Word Options” textbox,
you’ll see a vertical list with small checkboxes—a group of six checkboxes, then
a group of five, and then a group of two.
In the first group (after “”), check
the first four boxes.
In the second (middle) group (after
“”), also check the first first four boxes.
You may, if you wish, check other
boxes, but this is not necessary.
Then, after the middle five
checkboxes, find the line of text called “Writing Style.” Then look on the
dropdown menu to its right, and decide whether you want to choose “Grammar Only”
or “Grammar & Style.” (You also can click “Settings” to the right and make
specific choices for grammar and style settings.)
Then you may close all of the
textboxes and continue working. Word will highlight possible errors using
zigzag lines. If you right click on the highlighted areas, Word will offer you
Grammar & Spell Check in Older MS Word Versions:
In MS Word for Windows 2000, you
need to set word to formal writing in “Grammar & Style.” To do this, go to
"Tools," then "Options," then "Grammar," and then "Writing Style."
(In even earlier versions,
reset it to "Formal" grammar style.)
For spell check in the older version, if it’s not
on, here’s how to turn it on. First go to "Tools." Then go to "Options" and
then "Spelling." Then check the first box.
Revising is a multifaceted operation that, done
well, takes time, attention, and thoughtful alertness. It doesn't really
work well until and unless you are considering the audience for whom you are
writing, and most instructors expect you to write for an imaginary audience of
intelligent students, scholars, and/or professional experts. Once you
understand the important of revising for an audience and breaking revision down
into intelligent steps, you can make great changes in your work. In fact,
some students start with rough drafts that, if turned in at that point, would
seem not very well thought out, organized or styled; and these same students
turn their papers into masterpieces of thoughtful, audience-oriented content and
style. The difference is like that between wearing a tee-shirt and old
jeans barefoot to a prom, interview, or formal luncheon vs. wearing your best
business or formal wear: the content may be the same within you, the way you
present it to others speaks volumes about your abilities, intentions, and
Return to top.