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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




What are some basic methods, plans, or strategies for revising?


Who Are Your Readers?

Revising Your Organization

Revising Your Details in Steps

Seeing from Different Perspectives

Getting Help

Spell and Grammar Check in MS Word


Would you wear your tee-shirt and old jeans to a professional job interview?  Similarly, good writers learn to revise their papers before showing them to an audience. This chapter describes who that audience is and offers some simple but effective methods for revising for that audience.


The word "revising" comes from the roots "re" or "again," and "vise" or "see."  So, basically, "revising" means "seeing again."  In addition, most of us tend to read "out loud in our heads" when we read.  This means that our readers will be "hearing" in their heads what we have written.  And it means that we "speak out loud in our heads" when we write.  For this reason, then, revising is not just re-seeing or seeing again--it also is re-hearing: hearing something again.

But re-seeing and re-hearing are just part of it.  The real key to revising--the important secret to great success at it--is to see and hear your writing differently.  The very best revision means that you do not just see and hear your writing from your own point of view.  Instead, you also see and hear it as your audience--your readers--will see and hear it.

Who Are Your Readers: The Concept of Audience

One of the first principles in seeing and hearing as your readers will is this: how will your readers perceive your overall organization?  What organizational order will work best to help the greatest number of your readers understand what you are trying to say?

Who, in fact, are your readers?  Readers taken together are what is called the "audience."  Most students at the beginning college level assume their teacher is the audience: most college papers are written for one person: the course instructor.  In the short run--and for practical purposes--this is a good way to operate.  It is always important to ask, "What does my teacher want?"

However, you should learn to be very aware that most teachers have a very different understanding of whom your audience for your papers should be.  Most college teachers want you to write for an academic or professional audience, as if you were already a member of that academic or professional audience.  In the advanced courses, for example--classes in your future profession or discipline--your instructors usually expect you to write as if you are writing for others in your profession--for a boss, a committee, a wider audience of your peers in the company, or even perhaps to clients or customers.  Likewise, in academic disciplinary courses, teachers expect you to learn to write as scholars and teachers in that discipline write.  For example, history teachers expect you to learn how to write like historians, social science teachers like social scientists, chemists like laboratory chemists, etc. 

And in introductory writing courses--where you learn to write more general and more generic college papers--teachers still expect you to pretend that your audience is a group of intellectual peers (equals) with whom you are sharing your knowledge.  Often it helps to imagine and even visualize this audience.  You may want to imagine just one person, or you may imagine a group of them.  It often helps to imagine someone your own age or slightly older who already knows something about the subject on which you've written, but who doesn't know the key pieces of information that you are providing.  In other words, this person--a friend or acquaintance--hopes to learn something from you by reading your paper.

So, this is the stage upon which you must present your paper in college.  It is in many ways an imaginary stage.  However, your teachers take this imaginary stage very seriously.  They see their job as helping you to learn how to think, act, and write according to how their profession or discipline expects scholars to act.  For this reason--and because it is what teachers themselves do when they write--you need to either become--or imagine yourself--a part of the audience for whom you are writing.  Then write for the audience, whether you choose one person or many.  See this person or persons, hear them, feel them if you can.  Then, in your head and in your writing, talk to them and write to them using academic language to help teach them something they want to know. 

First drafts of your paper may have come from you and may be mostly about you.  But revising is much more about others: your audience.  How will these others see--and hear--what you are writing?

Revising the Major, Overall Organization

A first important method or system for revising is to finish major organizing.  You do this first so that you have all the major parts of your paper in place, in good order, before you start fixing the small details.  As you look at your major organizational parts of your paper, you ask yourself, "How well will my imagined audience understand the order of what I am presenting?  Is there a better order or plan for presenting my major body sections, my paragraphs, or my topic sentences?"

In discussing revision of organization, it may be helpful to define two levels of organization: macro-organizing and micro-organizing.  "Macro-organizing," according to writing expert Peter Elbow, means working on the major organizational parts such as the order of body sections and and the order of the paragraphs within them.  It also means the addition of a starting and an ending sentence for each  body section and each major paragraph.  In addition, macro-organizing means shaping each major paragraph so it follows the pattern that scholars and professionals have come to expect: topic sentence à general explanation à details/facts/quotes à conclusion. 

Finally, macro-organizing also means writing a first draft of the conclusion and the introduction. Often your drafting may flow faster if you write the body of the paper first (or start with the simplest one- or two-sentence introduction that you can think of quickly).  Then, after you've finished the first draft of the body of the paper, write a conclusion.  And once you have written the conclusion, you'll likely have a much better idea of exactly what you are trying to say in your paper--and you can then write a good introduction.  In other words, often you'll write an introduction best if you save it for last, at least in your rough-draft writing.  For more details about macro-organizing, see section "B. Organizing." 

Revising the Details in Manageable Steps

"Micro-organizing," on the other hand, means "small organizing."  It involves organizing (or, more accurately in this chapter, reorganizing) the small stuff. It includes the order of sentences within parts of a paragraph, the order of words within sentences, and the order of ideas and images using sentences and graphics. 

Along with micro-organizing, there are even smaller details to check in revising: punctuation, spelling, word choice, and other editing details.  Most people take care of both micro-organizing and editing of small details at the same time, in one stage.  However, one of the more important principles of highly successful revision is to break down this final editing stage into separate steps. 

In other words, typical editing for details often means that the writer reads each sentence--sentence by sentence, beginning to end--looking all at the same time for any small errors of spelling, punctuation, word choice, etc.  However, if you want to edit well, this is the worst way to do it.  Instead, break the revising of details and editing into separate major tasks.  The tasks you choose will depend on what your own greatest needs are.  For example, one writer might need to work hard on spelling (even spell check programs won't fix everything) and word choice.  Another writer might be fine with spelling and word choice but need to work on commas.  Yet another writer might be fine with all of these needs but might have a deadly tendency to regularly write sentences that are too long or sentences with lots of long, introductory phrases.  Whatever a person's typical editing problems are--and the audience's needs--will help determine that person's individualized plan for revising and editing.  The important thing is to break the revising and editing into more easily manageable steps.

The reason for using separate, more manageable steps is that most people can are much more thorough and efficient when they apply just one or two major focuses at a time.  For example, if you are cooking a complicated meal, you do not try to beat the eggs, form the pie dough, and start the coffeepot all at the same time.  You move from one task to the next, saving a specific, singular focus for each activity at a time.  You may have to come back to some of your foods several times to take care of the next stage, but the point is that you do not try to complete ten or twenty cooking activities in one minute, then another ten or twenty in the next minute, and so on.  Similarly, if you focus on nothing but word choice in one sweep through your manuscript, nothing but spelling on a second sweep, and in a third sweep look for comma usage, you will likely be much more efficient and consistent in making improvements. and in finding and correcting errors.

Seeing Sentences from Different Perspectives

In order to see and hear your writing as your audience might, there are several other revising and editing tricks of the trade.  These include developing flow, editing aloud, and editing backward.

The first method or system is to read aloud.  Reading your piece aloud--whether to someone else or to yourself in an empty room--process the writing through a different part of your brain.  it allows you to hear it with your outer ear--a very different experience from hearing it with your inner ear.  Again, a different part of your brain is processing it.  As a result, you will hear it differently--and see places that could be changed to make the flow better.  You also may be able to more easily pick up your editing errors and small editing needs.

Another method or system is, as you read aloud, to listen for flowFirst, have you created "bridges" of summarizing phrases and sentences before, after, and between sections and paragraphs?  Second, does your paper flow so well that a listener could hear it as a speech and not need anything repeated?  Third, do the ideas in each paragraph and body section connect to each other with transition words such as "First, second, third," "Now, next, finally," "One, another, in addition," etc.; or with connecting imagery such as "one pole, another pole" or "the first position, the second position," etc.? 

What is the goal of flow?  It is, simply, to make your ideas and images move so smoothly that the reader rarely becomes aware of the how the words, spaces, and other marks on the page are formed.  During the reading experience, he or she just simply hears and sees a story or flow of ideas or images. 

To put this into perspective, think about what kinds of essays, articles, or stories you like that are so easy to read--and so interesting--that you are almost never aware of the order of the words, the punctuation, or the particular choices of words?  That kind of reading experience is your goal for your readers: you want to write so well that people do not notice your writing style.  (Or if they do, it's only to exclaim how smoothly and intelligently you write!)  Provide easy-to-follow transition sentences, phrases, and words.  In word choice, choose simpler words over longer ones.  (However, if you need to prove to your audience that you are able to understand and use important "big" words in a discipline, then use them in such a way that they make the reading even easier for your average scholarly or professional audience.)  If you use a word some of your audience might not understand, you can simply add a quick definition or even a synonym for it in parentheses.  For example, "When traveling north in the United States, a person sees increasingly more coniferous (needle-bearing) trees."

Yet another method or system is to read backward.  This is especially effective when combined with "reading aloud," above.  How does one read backward?  Often doing so sentence by sentence works best.  Why?  It is a particularly excellent way to pick up small editing errors.  It works in this way: when you read and reread your own paper the usual way, your mind will tend to make the same leaps and bounds over and through the words, spellings, phrases, and punctuation marks that you used when you first wrote the paper.  However, if you read the same paper backward, sentence by sentence, your mind is much more likely to lose track of the content of what you are saying, and thus it will be able to focus better on the way you are saying it.  In short, you'll pick up the details of your word choice and punctuation much more fully.  And you will be seeing these word choices and punctuation more as parts of your audience will. 

Getting Help with Revising

The last important strategy for good revising and editing in college is to get help.  Research at one college in Minnesota suggests, for example, that it is not "dumb" students who go to writing tutors for help, but rather smart ones. In that study, students who sought help at the school's writing center received higher grades in their introductory writing classes, on average, than did students who did not go for help. 

There are various levels of help.  The simplest level is to ask a friend to listen to you read your paper aloud.  The next level is to get your friend to listen while you read the paper backward out loud, and help you pick out errors.  The next level is to have the friend actually read the paper and mark it up.  These levels require increasing amounts of both trust and patience: if your helpers have difficulty understanding something, it is more likely to be your fault for not making it clear, and you have to trust that their perception of difficulty in understanding you is a reasonable perception. 

A reader group is the next level of help.  Readers' groups often form just temporarily, for one assignment or one class.  They are rarely used but can be very effective if organized carefully.  Here are several helpful guidelines in forming a reader group: (1) Keep it small, from two to five people. (2) Generally members should be working on the same assignment at the same time.  (2) Only those who are willing to do the work--reading others' papers in a timely manner or attending meetings at which readings are done--should be members.  (4)  Readers should comment--whether out loud or in writing--more on whether something is clear and what is confusing or missing, and not so much on on rules of grammar and punctuation.  This final guideline, "4," is especially helpful to follow for two reasons.  One is that most readers are not experts on grammar and punctuation; second, pointing out how something is unclear or confusing to you as a reader is a more direct response as a reader, and it allows the writer to better identify the reader's difficulty and then choose from among many possible corrections in content or flow. 

The next higher and perhaps most often used level of help is to go to a writing tutor in a tutoring center.  Writing tutors usually know very well how to assist students who are writing papers, and the tutors often are not only excellent writers but also trained in how to help paper writers.  Do not expect tutors to revise the paper for you.  The trained tutor will ask you for details about the assignment and what you want to accomplish in working with the tutor.  Then he or she will help you go through your own paper.  To give your tutor the best help in understanding your needs, bring your writing assignment and your most recent draft with you, and explain to the tutor exactly what you hope to accomplish.  If one tutor does not work for you, then choose a different tutor and visit that one.  some of the most successful students return to one or more tutors several times for one paper if the paper is a big assignment.  One of the great advantages of working with tutors is that tutors are trained to see papers like scholarly or professional readers, so they can help you more easily attain the tone, format, and style of a scholar or professional.

The highest level of help is from the instructor him- or herself.  Some teachers are very open to helping in this way; others, less so.  You can't find out unless you ask.  It is, in fact, wiser to ask a teacher and have him or her say "no" than to never ask at all because, if everything else is equal, it is better to be noticed by a teacher than for the teacher to never be aware of you as an individual as long as your questions have a legitimate purpose.  You also should know that most schools require teachers to have weekly office hours specifically so they have a set time and place each week for students to visit them.  Ask your teacher whether you can make an appointment to work on your paper for 1/2-1 hour.  If he or she agrees, the help you receive may be invaluable to getting a better grade on the paper.

Spell and Grammar Check in MS Word

Using MS Word’s own spelling and grammar checking programs can be very useful as you type.  Though they are not perfect, they are very good.  They can help you take care of a majority of your spelling and grammar errors.  It is wise to turn them on.

These first sets of directions describe how to turn them on in Word 2007 for Windows.  For earlier versions of Word for Windows, see below.  For Word for Apple, these directions may sometimes work, but if not, simply do a word search in a search engine such as Google.

Starting Directions:

(1)  In Word, start by clicking on the “Review” tab. 

(2)  Then choose (click on) “Spelling and Grammar.”  You should get a small textbox titled “Spelling and Grammar: English (U.S.).” 

(3)  Then look at the “Check grammar” box in the lower left.  If it is not checked, then check it.  (If the “Spelling and Grammar” textbox does not appear when you have clicked on “Spelling and Grammar,” highlight one or two of your lines.  Then click on “Spelling and Grammar.”)

(4)  Next, click in the lower left corner on “Options.”  This should give you another textbox called, in the upper left corner, “Word Options.”  Make sure, in the “Word Options” textbox, that in the left-hand column, “Proofing” has been selected.  (You should then be able to see “Change how Word corrects and formats your text” at the top of the textbox.)

(5)  Then continue by using the next set of directions below.

Using the “Word Options” Textbox :

(1)  In the “Word Options textbox, click on “AutoCorrect Options.”  This opens the “AutoCorrect: English, U.S.” textbox. 

(2)  Then choose the “AutoCorrect” tab, and in that tab, check most or all of the boxes.  (You may look at the other tabs and their boxes if you wish, but these are less important for correcting your writing.)

(3)  Then close the “AutoCorrect: English (U.S.)” box.  You should now see the “Word Options” textbox again.  (If you have lost it, then start over again at the beginning of these directions.

(4)  Next, in the “Word Options” textbox, you’ll see a vertical list with small checkboxes—a group of six checkboxes, then a group of five, and then a group of two. 

(5)  In the first group (after “”), check the first four boxes. 

(6)  In the second (middle) group (after “”), also check the first first four boxes. 

(7)  You may, if you wish, check other boxes, but this is not necessary.

(8)  Then, after the middle five checkboxes, find the line of text called “Writing Style.”  Then look on the dropdown menu to its right, and decide whether you want to choose “Grammar Only” or “Grammar & Style.”  (You also can click “Settings” to the right and make specific choices for grammar and style settings.)

(9)  Then you may close all of the textboxes and continue working.  Word will highlight possible errors using zigzag lines.  If you right click on the highlighted areas, Word will offer you alternatives.

Grammar & Spell Check in Older MS Word Versions:

In MS Word for Windows 2000, you need to set word to formal writing in “Grammar & Style.”    To do this, go to "Tools," then "Options," then "Grammar," and then "Writing Style."  (In even earlier versions, reset it to "Formal" grammar style.)

For spell check in the older version, if it’s not on, here’s how to turn it on.  First go to "Tools." Then go to "Options" and then "Spelling."  Then check the first box.



Revising is a multifaceted operation that, done well, takes time, attention, and thoughtful alertness.  It doesn't really work well until and unless you are considering the audience for whom you are writing, and most instructors expect you to write for an imaginary audience of intelligent students, scholars, and/or professional experts.  Once you understand the important of revising for an audience and breaking revision down into intelligent steps, you can make great changes in your work.  In fact, some students start with rough drafts that, if turned in at that point, would seem not very well thought out, organized or styled; and these same students turn their papers into masterpieces of thoughtful, audience-oriented content and style.  The difference is like that between wearing a tee-shirt and old jeans barefoot to a prom, interview, or formal luncheon vs. wearing your best business or formal wear: the content may be the same within you, the way you present it to others speaks volumes about your abilities, intentions, and methods. 


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C. Revise/Edit

Click on any chapter below:


14. What Is "Revising"?

15. Peacock Sentences

16. Peacock Punctuation

17. Punctuation Review

18. 5 Special Methods

19. Typing/Printing

20Revision Checklist




 Related Links in

  5. Choosing Words

  6. Making Sentences

  8. General Editing

  9. Spelling

10. Punctuation

11. Grammar Guides

13. Help for ESL/NNS

15. Writing Books & Tutors

19. Visual/Other Design                


Updated 1 Aug. 2013

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.