Revising is the stage of the writing process after the first draft where you improve what you wrote with additions, removals, corrections, and rephrasing. Typically, it is the final stage before completion and the writer’s last chance to fix any mistakes.
Some consider revising to be the most important part of writing, even more important than creating the first draft. That’s why we want to explain how to revise drafts—so your writing can be at its best. Below, we cover how to revise effectively with a step-by-step revising plan plus a revising example so you can see how it’s done.
What is revising, and what is its purpose?
Revising is the part of editing that incorporates “big-picture” changes like altering the main topic, reorganizing the order of paragraphs, or modifying the work’s structure. Additionally, it involves detailed changes like perfecting word choice, cutting out redundancies, rephrasing, and fixing grammar and spelling mistakes.
Why bother revising? When writing a rough draft, it’s hard to focus on every aspect of your writing all at once. Revising gives you a second chance to zoom out and catch mistakes you missed the first time, plus reading a rough draft can reveal some mistakes you hadn’t anticipated.
No matter which type of essay you’re writing, the methods for revising an essay still tend to follow the same guidelines, covered in the next section. Narrative and fiction writing also use many of the same revision standards, but these have additional literary concerns, such as characterization, imagery, and plot.
How to revise writing: a step-by-step guide
Prepare to revise
Once you’ve finished your rough draft, it’s time to get ready to revise. The revision process will be more effective if you follow a few basic steps beforehand.
First, take a break from writing after the first draft. Taking a break after the rough draft lets your brain rest so that you can later approach your writing with fresh eyes. If you can, try sleeping on it and starting the revisions the next day.
Hitting pause before revising gives you a chance to conduct some extra research. While we recommend doing the bulk of your research before the outline, you’ll find that actually writing the paper may reveal new questions or points of interest you hadn’t considered before and that you might want to explore through additional research.
Finally, we recommend getting someone else to read and critique your first draft for a fresh perspective. Often writers miss glaring mistakes or problems because they’re so focused on the details; having a third party review your draft without any preconceptions can help identify problems you might miss on your own.
Reexamine the topic
To begin revising, take a “funnel” approach—start with the most general areas and then gradually focus more on the specifics. With those in mind, your next step should be reexamining the most general aspects of your topic.
When writing for an assignment, you want to make sure your topic satisfies all the requirements. Often while you’re writing, topics tend to stray from what they were supposed to be. An essential part of revising is making sure that your topic stays on point from beginning to end.
If your topic did stray, you may want to change topics to better fit what your first draft focused on. For example, let’s say your original topic was the benefits of clean energy, but during the rough draft you spent a lot of time writing about the harm of fossil fuels. You might want to change your overall topic to be a comparison paper between clean energy and fossil fuels instead of just focusing on clean energy.
Pivoting from one topic to another is not as difficult as it may seem. Most of it, specifically rewriting your thesis statement and introduction to reflect the changes, involves things you know from learning how to start an essay.
Revise the structure
After the topic, the next most-general aspect of writing is its structure. This encompasses the order in which your paper discusses its points, such as the arrangement of paragraphs or sections.
Structure can be difficult to get exactly right in the outlining phase before you’ve actually put words down. After the rough draft is completed, you’ll be able to see firsthand how each paragraph flows into the next and how certain arguments fit before and after each other. That makes it easier to notice any structural mistakes that eluded you before.
When you revise, take a deep look at the order in which you make your points, and see if you can rearrange them in a way that’s clearer and a more logical or poignant expression of your message. It helps to look at the topic sentences of each paragraph so you don’t get sidetracked with the details from supporting sentences.
If reorganizing still doesn’t fix the problem, consider adding a new paragraph or section. Revising isn’t just about changing what’s already there; it’s also about adding what’s missing. Sometimes a new section can fill in the gap and make transitions between existing sections flow better.
Likewise, if an entire paragraph or section seems superfluous or tangential, feel free to cut it completely. It’s never easy to cut something you spent effort writing, but in the grand scheme of your paper, removing weak areas can strengthen what remains. Just don’t cut anything necessary to your central argument.
Polish the wording
When most people think about revising, they think about polishing the wording. For the most part, the idea of the sentence remains the same, but some of the words are changed to make the message stronger or the communication more efficient.
We covered what exactly to change in our previous guide on self-editing tips, but in general, you want to tighten up the writing by cutting the unnecessary words and making the necessary words more potent. Here’s a quick list of the most significant red flags:
- Redundancy: Using multiple words that mean the same thing
- Inefficient phrasing: Phrases that can be replaced with fewer words
- Overused sentence structure: Using the same sentence structure over and over
- Passive voice: The passive voice is when the subject receives the action instead of does it; rewrite the sentence in the active voice if possible
- No parallelism: With parallelism, if there’s a series of phrases or clauses in a sentence, they should all follow the same grammatical structure
- Repetition: Using the same word multiple times throughout the entire writing
Recognizing these issues while revising takes some practice, so go as slowly as you need to make sure you catch everything.
Lastly, make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Technical issues like these are the easiest to fix—the hard part is noticing them in the first place. When you’re done polishing the wording, give your writing one final review and pay attention to finding only errors.
If you’re not confident in your spelling, grammar, or punctuation or just want to save time, you can always download Grammarly to check your writing mistakes for you. There’s even a free version that points out any spelling or grammar errors in your writing and suggests solutions for how to correct them.
Once you’re done proofreading, your paper is officially finished! At least, until your next round of revisions . . .
How to revise a paragraph: Example
Want to see precisely how to revise writing? Here’s a before-and-after example of how to revise a paragraph, with a brief explanation of why the changes were made.
First, let’s start with an example paragraph from a rough draft. The core idea is there, but it’s not quite ready yet.
Cheerios are a much better cereal than Frosted Flakes. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about honey-nut, multigrain, or the original flavor, Cheerios always taste delicious and are really good for your health, too. I eat Cheerios every morning. Cheerios contain your basic vitamins and minerals for the day, making them a healthy choice. Cheerios contain fiber that lowers cholesterol, too. Moreover, Cheerios can also be used for other delicious recipes like parfait or muffins. When you start you’re day with Cheerios, you never regret what you ate for breakfast! They’re also gluten-free.
Now, here’s the paragraph after revising, with the changes in red. Below we explain the purpose of each change so you know what to look for when you revise your own work.
Cheerios are a much better cereal than Frosted Flakes. (1) Cheerios are the best cereal on the market. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about (2) Whether it’s honey-nut, multigrain, or the (3) original flavor, Cheerios always taste delicious and are really (4) good for your health, too. I eat Cheerios every morning. (5) Cheerios contain your basic vitamins and minerals for the day, making them a healthy choice. Cheerios contain fiber that lowers cholesterol, too. (6) If you want fiber that lowers your cholesterol, Cheerios have that as well. Moreover, Cheerios can be used (7) you can use Cheerios for other delicious (8) recipes like parfait or muffins. (9) They’re also gluten-free. When you start you’re (10) your day with Cheerios, you never regret what you ate for breakfast! They’re also gluten-free.
The original topic sentence did not accurately reflect what the paragraph was about. It suggested that the paragraph would be a comparison between Cheerios and Frosted Flakes but only discussed the benefits of Cheerios without mentioning Frosted Flakes at all.
The original phrasing was too long and easily replaced with something shorter.
For parallelism, “the” is deleted so “original flavor” matches the same construction as the other items in the series.
Words like “really” or “very” are often unnecessary.
This entire sentence is unnecessary.
The original sentence copied the same structure as the one before it, so we changed the structure.
We revised this sentence to remove the passive voice.
The word “delicious” appeared a few sentences before this.
This sentence seemed out of order, so we moved it earlier.
The usage of “you’re” was grammatically incorrect.
What is revising?
Revising is the stage of the writing process after the rough draft when you make the final improvements for structure, word choice, and grammar.
Why is revising important?
It’s practically impossible to write a perfect first draft because it’s hard to focus on every aspect of writing at once. Revising allows you to catch whatever fell through the cracks the first time, plus reading a rough draft can reveal some mistakes you hadn’t anticipated.
How do you revise your writing?
Revising is a mixture of fixing general problems (like topic and structure) and specific problems (like word choice and grammar).