Revision process steps

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1 Steps in the revision process

The following are guidelines for students in revising writing assignments and academic papers.[1]

1.1 Start large, end small

Before editing the grammar, style, and vocabulary, it is more important to examine the contents, to be sure that you have presented ideas that are clear, coherent, and persuasive. Thus, first consider the following.

1. The assignment

First check whether you have fulfilled the intention of the assignment.

  • Have you performed the kind of thinking the assignment asked for (e.g., analyze, argue, compare, explore)?
  • Have you written the genre of document called for (e.g., book review, critique, personal response, field notes, research report, lab report, essay)?
  • Have you used concepts and methods of reasoning discussed in the course? Don’t be shy about using theoretical terms from the course (as long as you show that you understand them when you discuss them).
  • Beware of just retelling stories or listing information.
  • Have you given adequate evidence for your argument or interpretation? Be sure that the reader can understand why and how your ideas are important. For example, note where your paragraphs go after their topic sentences. Looking at your topic sentences in sequence will show what kinds of ideas you have emphasized. Watch out for repetitions of general ideas. Make sure your ideas progress into detailed reasoning, usually including sources that are referenced.

2. Organization

Then look at overall organization. It’s helpful to print out a hard copy so that you can examine everything as you consider the following.

  • Does your introduction make clear where the rest of the paper is headed? If the paper is argument-based, you will likely use a thesis statement. Research papers often start with a statement of the research question. (Ask a clear-headed friend to give you a specific prediction of what s/he expects after reading only the first few paragraphs of your paper, without giving a vague answer.)
  • Is each section in the right place to fulfill your purpose? It might help to make a reverse outline: take the key idea from each paragraph or section and set it down in a list so you can see the logical structure of your essay. Does it cohere together? Is it all necessary? What's missing? Revise to fill in gaps and take out irrelevant material.
  • Have you drawn connections between the sections? Look again at your topic sentences to see if they link back to what has just been said as well as looking forward to the next point. Find ways to draw ideas together explicitly. Use logical statements, not just a sprinkling of connecting words.
  • Would a person reading your conclusion know what question you had asked and how you had arrived at your answer?

3. Style

Now polish and edit your style by moving to smaller matters such as word choice, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

  • Read passages aloud to see if you have achieved the emphasis you want. Look for places to use short sentences to draw attention to key ideas, questions, or argumentative statements. If you can’t read a sentence aloud all the way through with a normal speaking voice and expression, try cutting it into two or more clauses or separate sentences.
  • Be sure to use spell check, but also read it all through (don’t always trust the word processor’s suggestions).
  • Don’t depend on a thesaurus or dictionary. It will supply you with lists of words in the same general category as the one you have tried – but most of them won’t make sense. Use plain, clear words instead; or consult a thesaurus, and look for examples of how new words are used in real contexts.
  • Don’t depend on a grammar checker. Even the best ones still miss errors, and can give incorrect advice. If you know that you overuse slang or the passive voice, you may find some of the “hits” and advice useful, but be sure to make your own choice of replacement phrases.

4. Layout

Follow basic expectations for appearance:

  • For major essays or research papers, include a cover page with the paper title, the course name, your name, the date, and the instructor’s name. Don’t bother with colored paper, plastic covers, fancy print, or decorations. Do not include a cover page for regular homework assignments or exams.
  • Number your pages at the bottom or in the top right-hand corner. You may omit the number for the first page of your paper (since it will be headed by the title), starting in with 2 on the second page
  • Double-space your text (or at least 1.5 line spacing). Leave 2-2.5 cm margins on all sides; use a standard font in 12-point size, or 11-point Arial or equivalent; staple the pages.

5. References

Put the reference list or bibliography on a separate page at the end, following a standard documentation format, such as APA (in social sciences), MLA (in some humanities fields), IEEE (in engineering), CBE (in biology), or others – there are many such systems, and which one is used depends on one’s field or subfield.

1.2 Common problems for second-language writers

The following are the kinds of problems that those learning English as a second language encounter, especially for East Asians, and thus, the kinds of things to look for and comment on in grading papers.[2]

1.2.1 General strategies

  1. Less planning. Students may not plan the essay well beforehand, leading to an essay that is not well organized or inadequately developed.
  2. More laborious, but less efficient writing. Students tend to get lost in the details, e.g., by spending more time consulting dictionaries, and less time thinking about good contents, ideas, or organization of the essay.
  3. Less reviewing, drafting, or revising. Students should treat paper writing as a process of drafting and revising multiple times before turning in a finished product. Instead, they may do minimal revision and rush to hand in a paper.

1.2.2 Grammatical and lexical errors

  1. Simpler sentences. Students tend to avoid complex sentences, and use many simpler sentences, which can lead to a more informal, simple tone, and less smoothness or sophistication in the flow of ideas.
  2. More strong modals. Students may overuse stronger modal verbs like should or must, and less often verbs like might, may, could. Also, Koreans tend to overuse could for past tense, when it is not commonly used as a past form of can in contemporary English.
  3. More coordination, less subordination. Students more often form longer sentences by joining main clauses with coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, or…), and less often with subordinating conjunctions (though, whereas, after, thereby, so that…). Writing with many coordinated sentences and few subordinate clauses leads to a more informal style and flow, and less sophisticated expression of ideas.
  4. Simple noun phrases. Student writers may use simple noun phrases with little or no modification with adjectives, prepositional phrases, or other modifying expressions. For example, a student might write “the experiment that was successful…” instead of “the successful experiment;” or “the experiment that was done on the mice that were genetically modified” instead of “the experiment with the genetically modified mice.”
  5. Articles. Students may use fewer definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a, an), or make other article errors. Articles are notoriously difficult, are not so well understood linguistically, and can depend on the particular nuances that a writer wants to convey.
  6. Less passive voice, and incorrect passives. Overall, students may use fewer passive voice verbs (e.g., “was conducted”) in academic contexts where they are fairly common. Asian students tend to incorrectly make some verbs passive that cannot be passive (e.g., “was existed, was appeared”).
  7. Fewer transitionals. Asian writers tend to use less variety of transitional or connective words (conjunctions and other words like though, however, while, whereas, furthermore, to link ideas, words, and clauses). Asians also overuse common transitionals like but, and, so, or; they may also overuse there is / there are phrases for introducing new topics.
  8. Repetition. Koreans may use fewer synonyms, and instead may repeat the same words in subsequent sentences.
  9. Simpler or vaguer words. Second-language writers tend to overuse simpler and vaguer vocabulary. This may be due to a limited command of sophisticated academic vocabulary, and not knowing the nuances of more sophisticated words and how to use them in context. Some commonly overused word types are:
    • Simple verbs, such as be, have, give, do, get (for example, instead of give, one can use contribute, donate, yield, or others).
    • Informal phrasal verbs, e.g., get out instead of more formal Latin words such as remove, extricate.
    • Simple nouns like man, women, people instead of more specific terms like subjects, participants.
    • Simple adjectives like good, bad, instead of more specific, meaningful terms like harmful, adverse, deleterious.

1.2.3 Text features

  1. Overall argumentation. Some may argue indirectly for their main idea, without stating the main point (thesis) at the beginning, and without following a sequential development of claims or arguments to support the thesis. Some may instead follow a traditional Korean indirect style. However, in English essays, the writer is expected to state the thesis first, and develop supporting arguments in the body of the essay.
  2. Introductions. A clear, specific thesis may be lacking, or may be too general to effectively cover in a single paper. The introductory paragraph may begin with overly general background information that is too familiar or not directly pertinent to the thesis.
  3. Argumentation. Claims made in the paper may lack sufficiently convincing evidence, data, proof, examples, or other supporting information to back up the claims. Not enough claims may be presented to support the paper’s thesis. The writer may include a lot of data, without explaining the relevance of the data, or making explicit connections between the data and his/her claims – an information dump.
  4. Source use. Students may use more terminology without properly defining or explaining the terms or concepts. They may have difficulty incorporating information from sources smoothly into their texts – there may be abrupt shifts between their ideas and source information. They may fail to make enough use of referring to primary sources to support and develop their ideas. They may rely too heavily on quotations or footnotes. Finally, they may rely too much on authority – they may rely on appealing to the ideas of a famous scholar for support, rather than providing direct evidence; they may even do so, not realizing that the scholar’s ideas may actually be controversial or not always accepted in the field.

1.3 See also

  1. Adapted from
  2. Many of these are from (Silva, 1993). These are also applicable to presentations and other tasks by East Asian students.