Revision is Not Editing

In order to understand what kinds of changes are expected of you between your initial draft and the final submission of your essay, we’ll start by discussing the difference between the two main kinds of rewriting: revision and editing. In revision, you assess, reconsider, and improve the content and organization of your essay. When you edit, you improve the clarity of your work and correct mistakes of tone, grammar, spelling, or logic. Revision goes beyond adding more information, details, or examples to your draft. It entails evaluating your draft to see how well it functions as an artifact of your best thinking on your topic.

As you re-read your essay in preparation for revision, you should look for both promising moments that can be built on and problematic moments that need to be changed. During your first read of your draft for revision, it’s important not to stop and try to rewrite every time you see an opportunity. Instead, just mark the places where you want to make changes and label the type or types of change you think you will need to make. For example, when you notice places where ideas are beginning to emerge in kernel form, make a note in the margin marking them for development. When you see that you’ve taken a wrong turn and gotten sidetracked into a minor issue, mark that passage for deletion. If you realize that similar ideas are dealt with in different sections of your essay, mark them for rearrangement. When you notice a spot where your examples, sources, or evidence don’t support your claims, mark it for replacement with other better examples, sources, or evidence. If you notice that there’s more to say about something, mark the section for elaboration.

As you assess your essay, you’re not yet worried about how well it communicates to another reader, whether your grammar and spelling are entirely correct, or how well the essay flows. That comes later, in the editing stage. For now, you’re concerned with focusing your draft and developing the ideas, examples, and discussions of other researchers’ work so that you can answer your questions, support your thesis, and deliver on the global project of your essay. As you begin revision, you may not yet know exactly how your changes will play out, and your ideas develop, but after the first read through, you should know where in your draft you need to work.

In order to do the essential work of revision, you cannot be afraid to make large-scale changes in your draft. Adding or deleting a line or two here-and-there is unlikely to significantly improve the quality of thinking in your essay. And improving the quality of the thinking in your draft is the point of revision. You will need to cut or add whole paragraphs and multi-paragraph sequences in order to discover your best thinking on the topic. Likewise, you should expect to rearrange your paper to improve the sequence of your local projects. Writers who leave the structure of their initial draft in tact during revision are often reluctant to make the kinds of changes necessary to improve their thinking. So be willing to alter the structure of your essay to suit the needs of the reader to understand your ideas as they develop in revision.

Click the sample pages of a real UNE student’s revisions to see what revision looks like. Words in green were added, notice strategic deletions as well.

This image shows what a thoroughly revised piece of writing looks like

Revision – click to enlarge