What many students think of as revising is more appropriately called editing (or even proofreading): making minor changes, typically focused on surface details like correcting errors in formatting, grammar, mechanics, and citation styles. Editing is a vital step to presenting a finished product in any field, especially when you want to appear polished, prepared, and diligent. We love editing!
However, revision means making more significant changes to your work. Precise definitions of “revision” vary, but at the core is the notion that revision helps us update our knowledge and share it more effectively with others and ourselves. We can confidently say that revision typically takes more time and effort than editing and is much more meaningful in terms of our learning. By investing time and energy into the process of revising, you’re typically improving the quality of your work many times over.
The above means that revision is one of the most important things effective writers do. No matter how long you’ve been writing, revision should always be a part of improving your writing. Read on for more about revision and how and when to revise.
Revision is not an afterthought to be done if time allows; it’s a step in the process to plan for, like brainstorming a topic or checking the spelling.
The most important step you can take as a student is to give yourself enough time to properly revise your work. Rushing and leaving this step out means that your work may not reflect your true knowledge, more recent course materials, and more.
The good news is that you do not have to decide alone on when and how to revise. Reaching out to others and accessing university and community resources gives you valuable information when revising. For example, you might find it easier to make a revision schedule and stick to it when you’ve planned meetings with someone else, even if it’s a simple check-in with a classmate (or a colleague/friend/relative also in school). You can also reach out to the JWU Writing Coaches for one-on-one writing support; in fact, many students choose to reach out multiple times about larger assignments, using feedback and one-on-one support to make improvements to their work each time. If your assignment involves research, you can set up an appointment with a JWU research librarian or even chat with them live. Talking through your work with others, whether they are a student support professional or not, helps you articulate and organize your ideas. This helps you recognize the need for revisions and how to address those needs.
All of this is easier when planned, but if you aren’t a planner, that’s okay, too! Consider revision a check-in with your work and use it to make decisions moving forward, no matter the timeline.
Some instructors will not ask for multiple drafts of large projects. They expect students will revise on their own, likely without feedback from the instructor. Handing in an assignment that is clearly unrevised, especially at the graduate level, means you’re losing out on the learning opportunities that revision provides. Many instructors assign writing projects to, in part, support your learning through revision, including using new information and skills gained during a term. Don’t skip it!
Revision often demonstrates learning; what you think, assume, claim, and say should change as you learn more from course materials, life experiences, and outside sources.
Large-scale changes to your ideas show that you know something now you may not have known before. Remember to revise to include new course materials or topics, new current events information, and new research found between drafts. This demonstrates a high level of engagement which also means a high level of learning! By including relevant information from various points in the term, you demonstrate to your instructor that you have put in the time and effort it takes to revise and to learn.
Learning more also means the way you express your ideas will change, too! You might find that terms you thought were simple are more complex; problems that seemed straightforward to fix are more difficult than you knew; reliable information may be harder to access than you had assumed. All this can and will affect how you express your ideas and findings in writing, including using new or additional terms, finding new outside sources to include, or changing the structure of your entire project.
Revise when you get stuck, feel bored, need to reduce or lengthen your draft, need to shift gears, include new information (or remove outdated information), and more.
Revision is a great way to re-engage with your work. Rather than feeling like drafts are stagnant things, done the moment you close the document for the day, you can see your work as something to continue and to refine as you gain skills, experience, and knowledge. Getting feedback from others on revisions can increase this effect, too, since knowing where and how to address your project’s weaknesses gives you the opportunity to improve immediately. You come to see your work in a fresher way when you hear how others see it and when you see the effects of your revisions.
Need some help getting started (or getting back into the groove)? Reach out to a JWU Writing Coach.