Revision

Develop substantive prose by engaging in sustained efforts at revision. Understand the importance of rhetoric, invention, information literacy, and style to revision. Write more effectively by being strategic about how you revise documents. Prioritize revision at the global, rhetorical level.

Revision involves re-envisioning something–a thought, a design plan, the way a text is written or spoken. Writers, editors, and teachers use a variety of terms to describe revision. For instance, they may describe revision as

  • a high-level review
  • a global review
  • a substantive rewrite
  • a major rewrite
  • a re-read based on new information.

Revision isn’t so much correctness with Standard English or even concision. Instead, the focus is on substantive matters: evidence, reasoning, use of sources, and organization. When revising, writers concentrate on global matters such as evaluating Collaboration, Genre, Information Literacy, Invention, Mindset, Organization, Research, and Rhetoric.


See Also

Revision practices are deeply intertwined with rhetoric, invention, information literacy and style.

We are bombarded with the polished printed word. Emails, alerts from news sites regarding politics and the economy, Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram Updates, Snapshot, magazines, junk mail–these texts and more surround us like mosquitoes on a hot summer night, buzzing, “Buy me, read me, believe in me.” Perhaps because we are so inundated with polished final drafts, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine just how much effort went into all of those texts. What this incredible flurry of texts hides is the process behind them.

Plus, in our age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, there’s a tendency to respond quickly without really considering the long-term implications of what we say, our digital footprint. Our texts can become more like dialog, more conversational and informal. As we hear on a nearly daily basis, these sorts of the cuff tweets and texts can cause problems for their senders. Sometimes a little revision, a little discretion, is lost in the ebb and flow of our more heated exchanges with others.

In academic and work contexts, texts matter. Evidence matters. Clear thinking matters. And people are in a super big hurry with loads of other texts competing for their time, so clarity and conciseness matter as well.

Revision is so important to writers in terms of communicating effectively and persuasively that it’s a truism that “writing is revision.” The notion that “writing is revision” is tied to observations of writers at work: Even accomplished professional writers typically need to compose multiple drafts. There are a few exceptions: some extremely gifted people can sit down and write a beautiful song, poem, essay, or business plan in one setting. But for most of us revision is crucial to writing well.

Here’s the bottom line: if you receive a low grade or a nasty note from your boss about your writing you should not assume you’re a bad writer. Instead, ask yourself if you focused hard and long enough on making your document the best it could be.

Invention and Revision are deeply intertwined. With one step forward (e.g., a new source, a new insight about our audience, a deeper understanding of our topic) we may feel as though we take two steps back. As we write, we think, and that may cause us to refine our thesis and research methods. Sometimes, after reflection, we may even decide it’s more strategic not to write something.

Below is a summary of some high-level revisions concerns as they play out in composing. Probably the biggest takeaway from the list is Intellectual Openness. Another related skill is perspective. Rather than look at a text to admire it, to view it in a symbolic way as indicative of your work ethic, you need to assume the perspective of your worst critic.

Collaboration
Does the co-authored or team-produced text suggest a lack of trust, negotiation, coordination, and conflict resolution among the authors and team members? Are some sections well researched and others lacking evidence or logical reasoning? Are some sections edited well while others aren’t?

Has the writer responded to critiques and peer reviews?
Genre
Has the most appropriate genre or remixing of genres been chosen given the exigency of the situation? Does the text account for the prevailing genre conventions? As currently written, does the text reflect the epistemological assumptions of practitioners regarding what constitutes a knowledge claim and how knowledge claims can be tested?
Information Literacy
Does the text reflect deep research? Are foundational authors and texts identified? Does the text need to better illustrate the evolution of research on a topic? Have the authors clarified how cited work was produced and evaluated by others? Have intellectual property laws and conventions been honored? Does the text reflect both visual and quantitative literacy?
Will readers be able to discern when sources are being cited?
Invention
Does the text convey new information to readers/listeners? Is it potentially disruptive? Could the writer employ invention strategies to create a more interesting text?
Mindset
Does the ethos of the writer suggest intellectual openness? Does the text reflect the standards of professionalism and work ethic appropriate for its rhetorical situation? Is the writing and design of the document, the style of prose,
Organization
Does the writer follow the most effective organizational plan? Would a deductive approach be more effective? Is the thesis/hypothesis clear throughout? Is transitional language provided, as necessary? Do the writers move from given information to new information?
Research
Do the author(s) employ the research methodologies expected by the Community of Practitioners they are addressing?
Rhetoric
Does the text respond to the rhetorical situation?

In summary, rather than viewing revision as an act of polishing ideas, successful writers consider revision to be an opportunity to develop their thinking—as an opportunity to be creative. When facing tough writing assignments, they rarely expect to produce a final copy after writing just one or two drafts. Comforted by the knowledge that few people express their ideas perfectly without practice, they expect to revise. They understand that revision is an inevitable step in the process of making meaning.

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