The Writing Process: Revising,
Editing and Proofreading
Student Development Services
Writing Support Centre
Writing a ﬁrst draft is not the last step. To ﬁnish writing a text, you must re-examine it time and time again.
An Editor’s Mindset
Essential component of the writing process
Similar to, yet different from, drafting
Usually a different process
Polishing rather than creating
Depends if editing for yourself or a peer
Editing is an essential component of the writing process. Few writers are able to arrange their words perfectly on the ﬁrst try. That said, editing requires a different mindset than does drafting. While the
end result, communicating information to a reader, is the same, your approach will be different. Instead of creating words and sentences, you are rearranging and polishing them. Instead of just getting the
idea down on paper so that you can remember, you must consider the effect that your words will have on the reader.
Self Editing Issues
Give yourself some space...
...But not too much
Learn your tendencies
What are your goals?
When editing your own work, it is essential that you give yourself some space. You have slaved over the text, and you know your subject better than anyone else, but this can be a problem when you are
polishing your work for readers that are unfamiliar with your subject. Getting away from the text will give you the proper perspective. If you are in a situation where you are writing up to a deadline, even a
couple of hours away from the text can help. That said, you don’t want to leave the text too long. If you are revisiting a text that has been dormant for weeks or even months, you will ﬁnd that you need to
relearn what you have written. It is always best to ﬁnish off projects while you are in the mode. To ease the process of editing your own work, you should identify what issues continually come up when
other people review your work. If you know where you usually have difﬁculty, you’ll be able to recognize these problems and hopefully correct them on your own.
The most important aspect of reviewing your work is to know why you are doing it, and we will address the different goals of editing shortly.
Peer Editing Issues
Degree of help needed
Amount of time before submission
Balance criticisms with compliments
When editing someone else’s work, you should always consider how much help the writer expects and needs. If you feel the text requires some major work, you should determine how this criticism will be
received. You should also consider how much time the writer has before submitting the ﬁnal copy. If you’re just asked to give a quick read-through the night before a friend hands in his or her thesis, this
isn’t the time to point out major structural changes. In these cases, it is always best to balance criticisms with compliments, because people are always sensitive about their writing, they will be a lot more
open to your suggestions if they feel good about your comments.
Procuring Peer Editors
Writers need readers
Good editors are worth their weight in gold
Don’t abuse them; give them your best work
Finding editors can be a daunting task, but it is an essential one. Your supervisor, committee members, fellow graduates students, friends and family, all of these people have different areas in which they’ll be
able to help you. A good editor can elevate a text to levels that are just not possible without outside intervention. When giving work to others, it is important to give them your best work so that they can
make your writing as good as possible. Otherwise, they will just spend their time correcting errors that you could have changed on your own.
Layers of Effective Writing
4- Content Rewriting
3- Organization Revising
2- Style Editing
1- Appearance Proofreading
In previous presentations, we have discussed the concept of effective writing having 4 distinct layers. When reviewing a text, it is essential to look at ways to improve each layer. Here, we use precise
deﬁnitions to describe the areas an editor must focus on. It is best to look at the larger issues in a text ﬁrst (revising), but the smaller issues (editing and proofreading) should also receive your attention.
We will not discuss ﬁxing the 4th layer in this presentation. If there are fundamental ﬂaws with the content of a text, it is usually best to start the writing process from the beginning than try to ﬁx a ﬂawed
Revising For Organization
Moving around and adding/removing major pieces of
Most important aspect
Hard, but rewarding
When we talk about revising, we are talking about improving the fundamental organization of a text. This can involve adding text to strengthen an argument, removing text that is unnecessary and moving
around pieces that are better suited elsewhere. This is the most important aspect of reviewing a text, because you are helping to improve the presentation of the content. Some people ﬁnd this much
harder than playing with words, but it can be very rewarding to clarify a murky document.
1: Elements of the Text
Your ﬁrst concern when revising a text should be to ensure that all of the essential elements of a text are present. Is there a thesis statement, hypothesis, objectives? Is the topic sufﬁciently introduced and
is there a proper conclusion? Does each paragraph start with a clear topic sentence that tells the reader what the paragraph will be about? This may sound simple, but over the course of writing a text,
these elements are sometimes forgotten.
2: Logical Flow
Linear process: A → B → C → D
Does the content build on itself?
Once you’ve looked at the presence or absence of these elements, you should examine whether the content of the text appears in a logical order. This can be quite difﬁcult at ﬁrst, especially if you are
unfamiliar with a topic. It may take a few reads to see that the reason you are having difﬁculty understanding the topic is not because of the material, but because of the way it is being explained. When
reviewing your own work, it might be best to construct a reverse outline. This involves breaking down your prose into a few points allowing you to see the barebones of your argument. If the problem is
that you deviated from your initial outline, or that you were not able to communicate the idea effectively, this will become evident.
“Rules” that are not to be violated
E.g. No results in methods, discussion in results
In many disciplines, there are rules about how papers are organized. For example, in the sciences, it is poor form to include any mention of the results of a study when you are describing the methods. The
author might feel like his or her paper needs to arrange the material in this way, but in reality there will be another way to present the material in ways that conform to the disciplinary standards.
4: Audience Appropriateness
Will the content be clear for the intended audience?
Finally, the content of a text may be arranged in the most logical way, but by reading over the paper, you might feel that the content is inappropriate for the audience the author intends. This can go beyond
simple wording issues and be a matter of content that is too advanced or not follow the logic that a naïve reader might follow.
A detached perspective is essential
Get to the essence of the text
As mentioned previously, the biggest issue when revising your own text is getting the proper perspective. Reverse outlines and careful objective reading will help you get to the essence of the text.
Keep a safe distance
Ask speciﬁc questions, don’t rewrite
When revising a peer’s work, it is important to keep a safe distance and not place too much of yourself in the text. Remember that this is not your work. It is best to ask questions, rather than rewrite, at
this point. The author may just need to be prompted and have things pointed out, in order to see how things could be improved.
Within-discipline peers are most helpful
Outside-discipline peers may need help
At this stage, readers within your discipline will probably be the most helpful. They are likely already familiar with your topic, and thus they will have an easier time ﬁnding holes in your logic. That said,
people outside of your discipline can bring a fresh perspective that looks at your topic in exciting new ways. They can be especially important when writing texts for general audiences.
Editing for Style
Micro-logical aspects of the text
Is this readable?
What style is appropriate?
Do the sentences ﬂow?
When editing for style, it is important to leave all those questions about structure and organization behind. At this stage, you should be asking yourself if the text reads how you intend it to read. You
probably have a good understanding of what you were trying to say, but will a naïve reader be able to make the same conclusions.
If it can be misinterpreted, it is wrong
Make changes to vague, absolute, misleading, and
commonly misinterpreted words
The characteristics of clear and concise writing are reviewed in the presentation “Academic Writing Style”
If words or phrases can be removed while maintaining
meaning, do it
Change passive voice, negative form
General Editing Tips
Hard copy vs. Electronic
Some general tips when editing: if you read each sentence aloud, you will force yourself to read each and every word, instead of skipping or skimming. It also allows you to hear the rhythm of your writing,
elucidating awkward sentences. At this stage, you should also decide whether you need to look at a printed out copy, or if you are able to make changes on the screen. Some people feel that they need to
hold the paper and wield the mighty red pen, but others are able to get by with the screen. Recent innovations in word processors have made the process easier, primarily with the introduction of “Tracking
With tracking changes, instead of the confusion of not knowing what text has been added or deleted, the program points out what changes have been made by the editor. The text reads how the editor
intends, allowing an uninterrupted look at the altered text. Give it a try the next time you’re editing someone else’s work.
Again, time and space are essential
Learn your tendencies
The same principles that cover revising are applicable for editing. Only your focus should change.
Editing Your Peers
Edit, don’t rewrite
Keep the spirit, just play with the words
Again, when editing someone else’s work, it is important to keep their spirit. Unless you are a co-author, you should not put too much of yourself into the text.
Procuring Peer Editors
Within discipline: Help with discipline-speciﬁc
Outside of discipline: Won’t get distracted by content
At this stage, editors within your discipline will be able to help you with the terminology and writing style of your discipline. People outside your discipline, however, will be able to focus on the writing
style, and not get bogged down by the content. They will likely need some help with terms, but their input can provide a fresh, naïve perspective.
Proofreading for Appearance
Grammar, spelling, formatting
Spellcheck and grammar check are not enough
Read each word and sentence carefully
Usually the last step
When reviewing a text, its appearance should be your last concern, but that doesn’t mean they should be neglected entirely. Advances in word processors have helped, but they will not sea all mistakes (as
the typo in this sentence demonstrates). You need a careful readthrough in order to pick up these errors.
Best results when rested
Learn your common mistakes
Last thing you do before handing in or submitting
When proofreading your work, it is essential that you do it with a clear head. A tired mind will skip over entire sections and not notice subtle errors. If you tend to make the same mistakes over and over
again, you can pay special attention to these problem cases or even better, you can proactively avoid these mistakes. This should be the last thing you do before handing in an assignment or draft. You do not
want to be thinking about the strength of your argument or how you organized your conclusion when you only have a short time remaining.
Proofreading Your Peers
Only if other aspects are clean
Can feel like “piling on”
Point out repeated mistakes
While people may ask you to only proofread a paper for them, if you notice larger issues with a text and feel your advice will be received warmly, you should focus on these issues. Cosmetic issues should
be the last concern. If you’ve made substantial structural suggestions to a peer’s work, point out grammatical errors may feel like you are piling on and make your writer less receptive to your comments.
You may also want to take the time to point out where someone is making repeated mistakes and use it as a teachable moment.
Procuring Proofreading Peers
Within-Discipline: Can be a waste
Anal retentive friends
Essential for ESL students
Having experts in your ﬁeld proofread a paper may be a waste of their valuable time. This may be the exception to leaving proofreading until the end. You may want to have a friend proofread a paper
before giving it to an expert reader to make sure the text is as good as it can possibly be. Peer proofreading is an essential part of the writing process for ESL writers. There are just so many subtle
conventions and unwritten rules that a native speaker can use to help a non-native writer.
General Proofreading Tips
Read line-by-line and/or backwards
Watch every comma (and other punctuation)
Hard copy vs. Electronic
In general, reading aloud forces you to read each word, essential when proofreading. Isolating each line with two pieces of paper will force your to look at the smaller issues and not allow your mind to
jump ahead. Likewise, reading backwards will keep you from thinking too much about the upcoming content. Commas are a mark that people often have trouble with, so you should make sure that each
mark is appropriate in each situation. Again, you should decide whether you work best looking at text on the screen or if you need to print out a copy.
Take a break in the middle
Review multiple drafts
Be nice to your editors
For some ﬁnal advice, it is important to note that reviewing a text is hard work that requires a lot of concentration. You will see the best results when you are relaxed and rested, so if you ﬁnd yourself
getting frustrated or tired, take a break and come back to them later. You should always review multiple drafts as you will not ﬁnd all the mistakes the ﬁrst time, and sometimes the changes you suggest do
not accomplish what you thought they might. Finally, you should be nice to your editors (ie. Give them good work, not ask too much of them) because losing a good editor will make your work suffer.