Revising, Editing, Proofreading
In Chapter 2, we discussed the writing process and shared the writing processes of different professional communicators. One of the main takeaways of this chapter was that in the workplace, communicators revise their work extensively and approach revision as rethinking the entire piece from the perspective of their audience, not just editing the grammar. When we discussed using sources, we also explored the difference between how workplace communicators use sources and how students are expected to use sources. In this chapter, we’ll further explore the revision process and discuss remixing: how communicators take someone else’s message and build upon it to create something new.
The amount of revision you will do will depend on the importance of the document. If you’re sending an email, you might do a little proofreading. If you’re writing a proposal that you’ve spent weeks working on, you’ll likely need to do more significant editing.
Revising, Editing, and Proofreading
As we discussed in Chapter 2, the difference between a new communicator and an experienced one is simply that the experienced communicator has learned the value of revision. While you may feel that you write best “under pressure” the night before your assignment is due or in the minutes before sending an email at work, writing a single draft at the last minute rarely results in anyone’s best work. You may feel that you’ve put a lot of effort into your first draft, so it can be challenging to think about changing your work or even eliminating words that you toiled over. You might worry about ruining your first draft and over-editing. However, it’s well worth the pain of revising, editing, and proofreading so you produce a polished piece of writing that others can easily understand.
Many writing experts describe writing this way: the first draft if for the writer, but the second draft is for the reader. You already know about the importance of audience analysis, so think of revision as one more way to meet the audience’s needs. In your first draft, you’re getting the material down. In the revision process, you’re taking a step back and thinking about what you’ve written from the audience’s perspective.
To revise a piece of writing, it may help you to consider three approaches: look at the big picture, check your organization, and proofread your final draft.
Higher Order Concerns
Revising for higher order concerns means working on the organization of your ideas. You might insert sentences, words, or paragraphs; you might move them elsewhere in your document; or you might remove them entirely (Meyer, 2017).
When you revise at the “big picture” stage, you are looking at the most important aspects of the writing tasks, and the ones that require the most thought. Here’s a set of questions to help you revise for these higher order concerns:
- Have I met the purpose and requirements?
- Does my draft say what I mean?
- What would my audience think about what I’ve written?
- Have I changed my thinking through writing or researching?
- Are there parts that do not belong here?
- Are there pieces missing?
- Are there places where the reader would struggle to understand my meaning?
- Is the tone right for my reader?
- Are my sources the right kind for my purpose and reader?
- Are all the pieces in the right place?
- Will the reader understand the connections between my ideas?
- Are sources documented?
- Are the visuals appropriate? Could they be clearer?
Another way to edit for higher order concerns is to prepare a reverse outline using your draft. This technique is discussed in Chapter 5.
One of the hardest parts of learning revision is building trust in your ability to make big changes and stray from original plan. It can be tempting to keep trying to tinker: moving words around in a sentence or rearranging a paragraph, hoping that the problem you’ve identified can be solved. But a key part of the writing process is embracing that you’ve learned something new from the time you started your draft to the time you finished it. With that new information, you may realize that a new approach is needed.
If you’re feeling stuck with revision, another technique is to imagine that you’re having a conversation with a friend. Your friend asks what your document is about. Record yourself giving that answer. When you play it back, you’ll likely hear some insight into how to solve a tricky revision problem you’re having.
Lower Order Concerns
Lower order concerns focus on editing and proofreading. When you edit, you work from your revised draft to systematically correct issues or errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and other things related to writing mechanics (Meyer, 2017). Proofreading is the last stage where you work from your almost-finished document to fix any issues or errors in formatting or typos you missed (Meyer, 2017). Here’s another way of distinguishing these two tasks. Editing is the act of making changes or indicating what to change; proofreading means checking to make sure those changes were made.
Perhaps you are the person who proofreads and edits as you write a draft, so when you are done drafting and revising for content and structure, you may not have that much editing or proofreading to do. Or maybe you are the person who pays no attention to grammar and spelling as you draft, saving all of the editing until you are finished writing. Either way, plan to carefully edit and proofread your work. For most people, proofreading on a printed copy is more effective than working entirely on screen.
Here are some additional strategies for editing and proofreading your work:
- Take a break between writing and editing. Even a 15 minute break can help you look at your document anew.
- Read your work aloud.
- Work through your document slowly, moving word by word.
- Start at the end of your document and work towards the beginning.
- Focus on one issue at a time. Trying to look for spelling errors, punctuation issues, awkward phrasing, and more all at once can make it easier to miss items needing correction.
- Don’t rely exclusively on spelling- or grammar-checking software. (This poem was run through such a program and no problems were detected!)
- Review through your document several times.