Revision and Review

Revision is one of the essential habits of practiced, accomplished writers. Very seldom, if ever, does a draft come out "right" the first time. Some indeed have argued that a piece of writing never really does come out "right" at all. Writing is never finished, they say, only abandoned. There is always something that could be added, taken away, or both, and those changes could improve the writing.

Realistically, however, many writing specimens must reach a stopping point. Articles go to publication. Papers are turned in on the due dates. Letters are sent in the mail. (Or, more commonly these days, emails head to their destination when the "Send" button is clicked.) You get the idea. Writing, while it involves a process, must at times result in a finished product, and that finished product is always better--if not perfect--after undergoing the process of revision.

Revision means, literally, to see again. The idea is that you look carefully over the work to see whether it has successfully met the kairos: does the writing answer the writer's purpose, do justice to the topic, and take the audience into careful account? These are the larger questions revision is meant to satisfy.

When looking again at your drafts in revision, you're looking for the "big" things, what are sometimes called "higher-order" concerns. In order, I list them as follows: argument (claims and support), organization and style. Some may disagree that style is a "higher-order" concern, but as it holds true that "where there is style, there is genre" (Bahktin), style matters a great deal to an audience having certain expectations.

In the document below, you'll find a few questions you'll want to get into the habit of asking yourself when you look at the academic writing you will eventually turn into a finished product. Notice that this document nowhere asks questions about spelling, punctuation or grammar. (It does, however, ask you to look carefully at MLA documentation style.) These are what teachers of writing call "lower-order" concerns, and I will assume that you will, after you have dealt with the "higher-order" concerns, turn your attention upon them. Those are the easy parts. Looking at spelling, punctuation and grammar does not fall under the head of revision, but editing or proofreading. Learning to revise--to handle "higher-level" concerns--is where you really learn to think like an analyst of written discourse.