Related Concepts: What is Academic Dishonesty?; Academic Writing Prose Style; Editing; Proofreading; Revision; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasonings; Rhetorical Stance
How to Revise
Some exigencies require substantive revision whereas others require moderate or light revision. For instance,
- if your writing an essay for class and it constitutes a major part of your grade, then you may need to spend considerable time revising it
- if you’re writing a proposal to a client for a big job, you know you cannot rest until your prose demonstrates that you understand the clients’ perspective.
- if you’re writing an email to a friend, your discourse is likely to be more informal, dialogic than if you’re writing academic or workplace discourse. Thus, a lot of the time pretty skilled writers may only quickly glance at their work from a critical perspective.
Because every situation is difficult, no one single Guide to Revision is possible.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to treat every writing task as if it’s a space walk. In fact, researchers in writing studies have studied the writing processes of successful writers and developed evidence-based guidelines that can help you navigate revision processes.
Step 1: Engage in Rhetorical Reasoning Regarding the Communication Situation
Your first step when developing a plan for revising a document is taking an honest look at the rhetorical situation. After all, composing and interpretation are dynamic, rhetorical, social processes.
At a minimum, consider whether the text addresses
Then consider the conventions that govern that situation. For instance,
- In personal settings,
- the evaluative criteria might focus on tone as it reflects sincerity, honesty, candor, authenticity, trustworthiness
- In workplace settings,
- the evaluative criteria might focus on the feasibility of the business plan; the use of commonplace organizational schema to permit logical flow for multiple audiences
- In school settings,
- the evaluative criteria might focus on Information Literacy Perspectives & Practices, research methods, and citation.
Step 2: Inspect the Document @ the Global Level
After you have reflected on the exigency, the call to write, you are ready to analyze the document at a high-level of abstraction — the Global Level.
Begin your inspection by focusing only on the top-level elements, such as
- Letter of Transmittal
- Title Page
- Table of Contents
- Bio Page
- Executive Summary
- Statement of the Problem
- Research Methods
- Results (optional)
- Implementation Schedule
- Budget (guesstimate)
- Call to Action
At this point, you’re looking for problems in the document’s organizational schema.
At a glance, does the title, introduction, and headings (along with the table of contents if one exists) answer these questions for the intended reader, listener, user . . . of the document:
- What is this document about?
- What organizational problem or need is being address?
- What is the occasion for this report?
- What type of document is this?
- What will the document accomplish?
- Where in the document can I find answers to the questions I might logically have?
If you cannot answer these questions based on a quick skim, make notes about the problems you see.
At the global level, you’re likely to encounter
- Rhetorical Problems
- Structural Problems,
- Language Problems, and
- Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems.
For rhetorical problems, check to see if….
|the “problem”||is clearly stated|
can be solved with this plan/document
meets the organization’s real needs
is aimed at the primary audience
|respect||is shown to all people addressed or referred to|
is shown to competitors (if applicable)
For section-level problems, check to see if the…
|introduction||provides context (e.g. makes the occasion clear) states the problem clearly and concisely forecasts content|
has a clear and consistent plan
uses headings consistently and effectively
provides a clear conclusion. Here, we mean conclusion in the sense of a “judgment or decision supported by reasoning” and not “the final section.”
|information||is in the proper section |
has balanced development
is clear and consistent for headings, topic sentences, lists (bulleted, numbered, or outline)
is used consistently throughout the document
|visuals||are coordinated to sections in which they appear (more generic visuals go with summaries or overviews, more specific visuals help support data and detailed discussions)|
are marked consistently and clearly
are relevant to the section or point they are supporting
For language-level problems, check to see if….
|headings||use language that is appropriate for the reader|
|key terms||are consistent across sections|
Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems @ the Global Level
For critical & analytical thinking problems, check to see if
|evidence||is contextualized for readers. |
When introducing evidence to support claims, is the evidence introduced in such a way that the documents intended reader will understand its Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose?
the types of evidence
| is employed appropriately.|
reflects the level of sophisticated required by its readers, listeners, users
evidence and types of evidence the report’s audience expects?
Anecdote, Anecdotal Evidence
Customer Discovery Evidence
Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems
For Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems, check to see if
|The Problem Definition||is lucid with evidence of all relevant contextual factors.|
is robust, addressing historical roots, causes and effects, stakeholders and disruptors
|Research Methods||are appropriate to investigate the problem given time constraints|
|Recommendations||are based not on claims made by the writers burt r=|
- Do the proposed solutions make sense given the problem statement?
- Is the recommendation a realistic solution?
- Does the Gantt chart and other planning documents seem reasonable?
Step 3: Inspect the Document @ the Section Level
Next, critique the document section-by-section.
The intended readers for the document should be able to skim a section and answer these questions for that section:
- What is this section about?
- What is the function of this section?
- What topics does this section address?
- How does this section connect to the sections before/after it?
If you cannot answer these questions, make notes about the problems you see.
At the section level, you’re likely to encounter
- rhetorical problems
- structural problems, and
- language problems, as outlined below:
To find rhetorical problems, ask these questions:
- Does the opening mislead readers?
- Do the headings mislead readers?
- Are the visuals and data appropriate for the target audience?
- Does color or design mislead readers by focusing their attention on less important information?
To find structural problems, ask these questions:
- Is this section one that conventional report structure would place in this location? Is this where a reader would expect to find this section?
- Does the heading adequately and accurately reflect the section’s contents (e.g. does the heading say the section is going to address a topic that the section does not actually address?)
- Is space evenly allocated to each topic?
- Are topics unbalanced?
- Do key topics need to be addressed in more depth because readers will find them challenging?
- Is color used consistently?
Keep an eye out for parallelism problems. Look at headings, opening paragraphs, subheadings, topic sentences, transitions, and visuals.
Language Problems concern how a text is composed — its diction, grammar, use of mechanics, sentence structure, and style of writing. concern The Elements of Style, especially brevity, clarity,flow, simplicity, and unity
To find language problems, ask these questions:
- Is the diction appropriate for the target audience(s)?
- Is the style of writing appropriate given the rhetorical situation?
- Are key terms used consistently across sections?
Step 4: Inspect the Document at the Paragraph Level
Read the document paragraph-by-paragraph, placing check marks as you go.
Your goal is to analyze whether the paragraphs in the document are well formed and structured.
- Do the paragraphs conform to the reader’s expectations for the genre and media of the document?
- Are the paragraphs unified?
- Is there a logical progression across paragraphs, informed by the given to new contract?
- Does the document use the rhetorical moves you believe it needs to help readers better understand paragraph unity and paragraph transitions?
- Do the paragraphs flow? Is there a sense of coherence?
- Are the paragraphs following a coordinate order, deductive order, or Inductive order? Would you recommend a different order to improve flow?
- What recommendations, if any, would you make regarding paragraph transitions?
Step 5: Inspect the Document at the Sentence Level
As you re-read your work or the work of others, place check marks next to:
- Sentences you find tedious
- Sentences you have to read more than once
- Sentences you don’t quite feel right about
Are there any problems in the document with brevity; clarity; flow, coherence, unity; and simplicity?
What about grammar and mechanics?
How to Revise Co-Authored Projects
Revising a document you wrote yourself can be hard work. Revising a document written by a group can be even more difficult:
- Once any text exists, it’s hard to get rid of either because writers don’t want to “lose” their hard work or are afraid of cutting important information by mistake.
- Documents – and especially formal reports – address multiple types of readers, whose needs and ways of interacting with the document differ.
- Documents that have been written by a team will have more problems with consistency than documents written by individuals.
- Writers may disagree about what changes to make.
Structured revision helps a team prioritize its revision efforts. It also allows the team to make strategic decisions about what work can be done and should be done given the time available and the relative importance of the project.
Ideally, when conducted for a team project, individuals will independently conduct structured revisions before sharing insights with one another. This approach can help you answer the following questions:
- What are the most significant problems in the document – and where are they located?
- How much time do we have for revisions and editing?
- Should we spend on our time on the top-level design of the document, the content of a particular section, or sentence-level problems?
- David McMurray’s Online Technical Writing textbook includes an excellent chapter on Power Revision Techniques. (https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/hirevov.html)