Professional and Technical Writing/Basics/Revising

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Revising and Editing Documents[edit | edit source]

Why Revise?[edit | edit source]

Revising is an important aspect of the writing process in any context. No matter how well you follow the reader centered approach while drafting, improvements can always be made during the revising process.

Revising is essential to be a successful writer. When writing, the most influential writers know it is important to follow a reader-centered approach when drafting a document used for communication, especially in the common workplace. Revising one's documents allows for an increase in the usability and persuasiveness of the document. However, one must note what revising a document consists of, because it is such an important process in the development of a successful document. There are specific procedures and policies required in the revision of a document.

Revision Versus Editing[edit | edit source]

Editing is the process of making superficial changes to a document or rearranging what is already there. In comparison, revising is the process of making major changes in the document like adding new text or entire sections. In revising you can change the way you present the material. Revising is more time consuming compared to editing because it involves more critical thinking and less common sense. --Nardi82 (talk) 19:22, 30 April 2010 (UTC)

Examples of Editing

  • Correcting misspelled words
  • Rephrasing confusing sentences
  • Adding commas, periods, etc.

Examples of Revising

  • Modifying a thesis statement
  • Adding sections with supporting evidence
  • Adding graphics to make topics easier to understand
  • Deleting paragraphs that are redundant or off topic

It is useful to think of editing and revising as two separate topics, although they are sometimes done simultaneously. It is easy for writers to go off on a tangent and revise a part of the draft in the middle of editing. This is not necessarily a bad thing but you must remember to then edit that new section you have just created. Otherwise, it is easy to accidentally skip over a section in your editing process.

Revising Your Own Draft[edit | edit source]

There are five guidelines to consider when revising your own draft.

1. Check from your reader's point of view. Don't focus on punctuation, grammar, or spelling, but concentrate on your objectives. What do you want your readers to think about when they read your draft? How do you want them to feel? After establishing what your objectives are, read your draft slowly while considering what your reader's reactions may be towards your draft. What are some of the things your readers might change? Was your draft a persuasive document? Were your objectives clear? Is the information helpful to your readers? Consider all these questions. Try and read it as if you were reading it for the first time. Does it still make sense to you even with no prior background information? Pretend you were ten years old: Is it in a language that is so simple that a ten year old could understand it?

2. Check from your employer's point of view. When you are in a work environment, you should consider what your employer may think of your document. Questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Will it cause any conflicts within the organizations?
  • Am I making promises on behalf of the organizations?
  • Am I complying with the policies within the organization?
  • Am I answering the questions asked of me?
  • Are my solutions ethical?
  • Will my solutions represent the company only in a positive manner?

3. Distance yourself from your draft. Give yourself time before you re-read your document. Read it the next day and see how you feel about it with a fresh mind. Read the document aloud. It will help you find parts that do not make any sense. When you struggle with a sentence, that usually means it is not flowing correctly. If it does not make sense to you, it won't make sense to your readers.

4. Read your draft more than once, changing your focus each time. Read your document at least twice, once for persuasion and meaning and the second for mechanics. Focusing on one thing at a time will help you revise your documents better. However, when creating a meaningful document revision is key. Re-reading it only twice will not suffice. There is no such thing as overall perfection, but you can make your document perfect to you.

5. Take advantage of computer aids to help detect problems. There are many computer programs that offer aids of some kind to help you check your drafts. These aids consist of: spelling, grammar, and style checkers. They help bring your attention to possible errors within your document. If the grammar or style checkers are flagging things you feel are correct, check online to see what the rule is and see if there really is an error or if the computer is wrong.

Some Questions to Consider While Editing or Revising Your Draft[edit | edit source]

It is important to keep a few key questions in mind as you revise and edit your draft. If you keep them in mind as you go through your draft you will be more likely to catch problems and fix them to make the document more usable.

1. What is your reader going to gain by reading your document?

  • If you keep in mind what the reader is looking for as they read your document you will be able to focus on those points and emphasize them more than the less pertinent information. If you find certain information will be unimportant to your audience, then do not include it.

2. How will your reader's organization benefit from this document?

  • Similar to focusing on the reader's benefit, focusing on the organization's benefit as a whole will help you to emphasize important information to the goals and success of the organization.

3. Do you use appropriate tone throughout the document?

  • It is important to maintain a consistent tone throughout the paper. Choose a tone that is appropriate for you and your reader's expertise and position and stick with it. As you read through your document make sure you do not change your tone at all because if you do it will make you sound either unprofessional or pretentious.

4. Do you use the active voice and avoid the passive voice in your writing?

  • Using an active voice in your communication will help you keep the subject and the actor in your sentences together. Doing this will not only sound better and flow more smoothly, but it will also allow the actor that is performing the subject in the sentence to take credit for it. Consider the following examples:

Poorly written sentence: Updates to the company website will be conducted by our lead computer technician.

Properly written sentence: Our lead computer technician will conduct the updates to our company website.

  • Notice that in the first sentence the subject updating the company website is mentioned before the actor who will be performing them the lead technician. The second sentence corrects this by telling the reader who will be performing the subject in the sentence first.

5. Do you keep related words together to avoid confusion?

  • Always look for sentences that separate related words as this can be very confusing for readers. By reading carefully through drafts you should be able to spot these problems. Consider this example:

Poorly written sentence: Washers are used to bolt two pieces of wood together, which are doughnut shaped pieces of metal.

Properly written sentence: Washers, which are doughnut shaped pieces of metal, are used when bolting two pieces of wood together.

  • Notice that the second sentence makes it clear that the washer is the doughnut shaped piece of metal and that it is used in the process of bolting two pieces of wood together.

6. Are your sentences concise?

  • In a work setting readers are in a hurry and the last thing they want to do is read a paragraph of information that could have been said in one sentence. Wordy sentences take more time to read and cause confusion around your main point. Be certain that the information you are presenting to your audience is important to your argument.

Key Actions of Revising[edit | edit source]

There are three main actions involved in revising a document. Keep in mind that these three actions are usually done together while revising, but it is still important to consider them as separate actions when looking at the big picture.

1. Identify improvements that could be made in your draft through a reader's perspective. With this action, you read through your document with the perspective of someone who will be be reading your document when it is completed. Consider these criteria when revising: will your readers find the document useful or helpful to them? Is it a persuasive document? Is the purpose for writing your document being met when reading through it with the perspective of your audience?

2. Decide what improvements could be made to your draft. In a work setting, more than likely you will be pressured with deadlines and other responsibilities that need to be taken care of. It is important to use the time you have for revisions wisely. Take a look at your draft and identify the most important improvements that need to be made and which ones will produce the greatest improvements in the time you have available.

3. Make the changes you feel are important.

There are two methods that are used the most in the workplace in regards to making improvements to a document. These are:

  • Checking Personally examining your draft carefully, looking for any errors or discrepancies that appear.
  • Reviewing Refer to people who would not otherwise be part of the audience your document is targeting. Ask them if they feel your document is persuasive enough and that they understand it. Also, have them check the draft's usability.

Checking Your Draft[edit | edit source]

Use these five easy points to make sure you know what to look for while checking over your draft. The last thing you want to do is to submit an unprofessional document with errors in it to your colleagues and superiors.

1. Distance yourself from your work to gain the perspective of other readers.

  • Remember it is easy to miss errors in your work because you know the way you want it to sound and sometimes you read it that way too.

2. Read as if you are your intended audience.

  • Take their level of expertise into consideration
  • Be persuasive
  • Consider their time constraints

3. Consider your document from your employer's perspective.

  • Remember that you are always representing your employer even in interoffice communications
  • Do not put words in others' mouths or make promises on behalf of other employees or your employer
  • Make sure the document is appropriate and in the company's preferred format

4. Read your draft from the standpoint of those outside the company whom it may affect.

  • Again, consider who the audience is and if there is damaging information to any of the organization's stakeholders in the document

5. Read through your draft multiple times.

  • With each pass through the draft try to focus on different issues each time
  • Make sure that you catch any errors that you or your word processor may have missed during editing

Reviewing Your Draft Checklist[edit | edit source]

Use these three points as a checklist as you are reviewing your draft.

1. Prepare yourself for the review.

  • What is the objective of the review? Read through your document several times, each time focusing on a different aspect of editing. For example, during the first read-through focus on spelling and grammar, during the second read focus on eliminating passive voice and so on.
  • What are the objectives of communications? Keeping the objectives of the communication in mind helps you to locate and eliminate wordy sentences and paragraphs.

2. Giving comments and suggestions.

  • Identify revisions that are most important. It is always best to focus on major problems first to get them out of the way. This is especially important when time is short.
  • Give reasons for the revisions. It is always helpful when looking back at revisions to know the logic behind making them.

3. Use computer software to help.

  • Computer software can help you to catch little errors like poor spelling and grammar, but do not count on them too much. Remember that computer software only considers spelling and not proper word usage. Spellcheck is a good first step but reading through the document several times yourself is the best comprehensive method.

Documenting References[edit | edit source]

Documenting your sources of information is ethical and makes your document more valid to readers.

Choosing Your Documentation Style

In writing at work or in school you are expected to acknowledge your secondary sources. These may include readings, interviews, web sites, lectures, and other print and non-print materials. It is important to document sources correctly and accurately to avoid plagiarism. You are expected to cite sources when directly quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing another author's material.

There are seemingly countless documentation styles used in writing today and it can be overwhelming to choose one for writers. The important thing is to choose the one that works the best and stick to it for consistency. There are two widely used styles of in-line documentation: author-page and author-year.

  • Author-page System:The author-page system is used by the Modern Language Association (MLA). This style requires the author's last name and the page number the information was taken from to be included in parentheses after its use. For example: It is common for birds of prey to make large nests high up in hard wood trees (Nestor 204).

  • Author-year System:The author-year system is commonly used by the American Psychological Association (APA). This style requires the author's last name and the year of publication of the original work in the citation. For example: During World War II the job opportunities for women expanded greatly (Milkman 1998).

In each style a detailed works cited page or bibliography is included for readers to reference. This page should give readers all the information necessary to locate the exact document you used in your citation should they want additional information or to check source credibility. More information can be found at The Writing Center Handbook