The Writing Process: Revising


1. Editing for Content and Argument

2. Editing for Clarity and Style

3. Proofreading

4. Formatting

5. Citing

Many students think that revising is proofreading. It is not. Revising involves an in-depth analysis of how well you have communicated your ideas to your reader. It is a broadly scoped and yet often tedious process. Beware of the impulse to stop at your draft, without revising; just because you have something printed doesn’t mean it’s ready to hand in to your professor. Be prepared to move ideas, delete paragraphs, even shift the entire paper to a new thesis if necessary.

To begin revising, you should ask several fundamental, far reaching questions:
• Have you proven your thesis?
• Is your evidence adequate? Appropriate?
• Does each paragraph develop the argument?
• Do any paragraphs or points seem disconnected from the larger focus of the paper?
• Are sentences grammatically correct?
• Are the tone and language consistent?

If you are having trouble seeing from this critical perspective, it may help to distance yourself from the draft in order to look at it objectively. Consider putting it aside for a day or so before re-reading one last time. The difference between a first and a final draft can be significant and can make the difference of an entire letter grade, if not more. And ultimately, professors are not only looking at what you’re saying, but also how you’re saying it. For this reason the final editing stages can be the most important. You will need to approach revision with everything from argument to punctuation in mind.

1. Editing for Content and Argument

At this first stage in the revision process, you should concentrate on larger rhetorical concerns like a focused structure and a strong argument with adequate textual support. Your first step should be to read through the paper as a whole and ask yourself a) whether you accurately responded to the assignment or prompt, and b) whether you proved your own thesis.

The next step is to look for holes in your research or evidence. Are there possible challenges to your thesis that you have not addressed and refuted? Conversely, look for areas where you have included information that while interesting may not necessarily be relevant to your thesis. Your goal at this stage is to ensure that each paragraph contains adequate references, source material, and quotations that substantiate claims made by the thesis and topic sentences, and that those references and quotations are seamlessly embedded into the body of the paragraph. Do not include quotations that you do not explain or analyze. Quotations that are placed in the body of a paper without analysis are called “dropped quotations.” These serve no analytical or persuasive purpose and detract from the overall effectiveness of your paper and evidence. Do not include new information or ideas without connecting them to the topic sentence.

2. Editing for Clarity and Style

There are several things to consider when editing for clarity and style. The first is organization, the second is language, and the third is transitions, or “links.”

With changes to the content and thesis complete, reorganization is the next step. Using the reverse outline (see the TIP in previous section), number the sentences that describe each paragraph, revisit them in relation to the newly defined thesis. Reorder them where appropriate to ensure a logical progression of ideas. At this point you might notice that several paragraphs have the same topic or that one paragraph has more than one topic. Consider combining or dividing such paragraphs.

Next, look at each paragraph as its own entity. Are the ideas self-contained? Then look at each sentence individually. Does the sentence as it stands alone make sense? Avoid sentences that use the word “this” or “these” unless it is very clear to what “this/these” refers. Are your sentences ambiguous? Is your language appropriate? Have you used language correctly? Don’t use words that you don’t understand.

Finally, in the same way that paragraphs should be linked, so should sentences be linked. A link may be thematic or syntactic. A thematic link is a repeated idea or fact that reminds the reader how or why the new sentence relates to what has been said before. A syntactic link is a word or phrase that indicates to the reader some sort of order that helps him or her organize the flow of ideas.

Unlinked sentences:
    The library’s hours of operation do not provide for all students’ academic needs. On Friday night the library closes at five o’clock.

Thematically linked sentences:
    The library’s hours of operation do not provide for  all students’ academic needs. On Friday night the library closes at five o’clock leaving students who need to study or research during that time with no place to go.

In the above example, the repetition of “students’ needs” provides a clear link between the ideas expressed in the two sentences. Without the thematic link, as seen in the unlinked example, the reader is unsure why it is significant or relevant that the library closes at 5:00 on Friday night.

Unlinked sentences:
    Many students like to dine outdoors. There are four outside tables at the Refectory.

Syntactically linked sentences: 
    Many students like to dine outdoors. However, there are only four outside tables at the Refectory.

In the above example, “however” links the first sentence to the second one, suggesting that the number of tables is insufficient for the number of students who wish to eat outside. This point is further articulated by inserting “only” into the second sentence.

Words and phrases like however, although, in that regard, therefore, then, on the other hand, contrary, alternatively, furthermore, similarly give your reader a syntactic clue that the sentence they are now reading is related to the previous sentence. Syntactic links make it much easier to follow a rhetorical argument because they pull the reader through the consecutive build-up of ideas.

3. Proofreading

Proofreading for grammar and punctuation is the final stage of editing. After you’ve addressed the broad concerns of revision (argument, organization, and clarity), edit the draft at the sentence level, looking for fragments, misspellings, punctuation errors, verb tense inconsistencies, and so on. Do not rely on your word processing software to detect errors. Consider reading your paper aloud to find changes in tense, awkward or wordy passages, and to help you determine whether you’ve employed proper grammar. If you find yourself having to re-read or pause, it is generally a good indication that something is amiss. By reading aloud, you’ll also be able to easily detect any unnecessary repetition.

4. Formatting

The final step in revising is to check your formatting. Include your name, your professor’s name, your class and the date all double-spaced in a block to the left of your first page. Also be sure to include any other information required by your professor; for example, a word count or your student ID.


There should be one return between the heading and your title. Titles should not be underlined or italicized and should not contain a period. If your title contains the title of a book, the book title should be italicized or underlined. Titles of articles or short stories should be set in quotation marks. Some professors might prefer that this information be included on a title page rather than on the first page of your paper. Title pages (which are required for papers written in Chicago Style) should also include a word count and your pledge to uphold the honor code.

5. Citing

College level writing demands evidence. Students typically are given free range to make any analysis they see fit provided that they can substantiate such claims with textual evidence and often with critical research. And, in fact,the way you cite depends very much on the nature of the evidence you use and the way you are using it. Imagine, for example, that you are writing a literary analysis of John Milton’s Lycidas and you want to examine the poet’s words, “Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more, / For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead.” It might not occur to you that a poem requires a different format of citation than regular books, or that the format for these citations would differ greatly depending on whether you were writing a literary analysis or using Lycidas as an example of anti-Anglican rhetoric in a historical paper on the English Civil War. In a literary analysis you would use the Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. (New York: MLA, 2009), while in a history paper you would use the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: UP, 2010) or Kate Turabian’s more compact A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed. (Chicago: UP, 2013).

While these style manuals dominate writing-heavy disciplines within the humanities, other style manuals include Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 6th ed. (Cambridge: UP, 1994) and Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (Washington: APA, 2009), which govern research writing in the sciences and social sciences, respectively.

MLA In-Text Citations
In addition to including a final list of the sources you used, you will be citing throughout your paper. You should cite whenever you include information from an outside text or source, whether that information is quoted or paraphrased. In MLA format, your in-text citations are “parenthetical” in that they appear at the end of the source material or reference in parentheses. Here you must include the author’s name, if it is not already self-evident by the way you’ve introduced the information, and the page number. Do not use a comma or the word/abbreviation “page/pg/p” between the author’s name and the page number. Occasionally, you must include additional information in a parenthetical citation; for example, if you use more than one article by a single author, you must include the author, the article title, and the page number. The “common sense” key to all citations (particularly in-text ones) is to accurately and thoroughly communicate to your reader where you got the information.

As you write, keep in mind that different types of texts require different kinds of information in their parenthetical citations.

If the poetic quotation consists of three lines or less, you should insert a diagonal line to indicate a line break in the actual poem (as is done in the example below); if the poetry extract is more than three lines long, however, then the quotation should be blocked and indented one-inch (retain double spacing). Moreover, the correct MLA format for in-text citation is to put the line numbers in parentheses (175-177), or if the author is not named in the sentence, then to write the author’s name followed by the line numbers (Milton 175-177).

From a paper on Milton’s Lycidas:
    When the speaker declares in the penultimate verse paragraph of Milton’s Lycidas, “With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves, / And hears the unexpressive nuptial song, / In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love” (175-177), the pagan image of nectar, the food of the gods, merges with the Christian marital song of God’s “blest kingdoms.”

If you are citing prose in-text (whether a scholarly book, journal, literary work, etc.), then the quotation or other information should be introduced and then separated by either a comma or a colon (if the excerpt is over three typed, double-spaced lines on your screen, remember to block and indent). Once again, the author’s name and the page number should be in parentheses, and the period comes after the parenthetical citation. If your quotation is long enough to be block indented, omit the quotation marks and place the final period before, not after, the parenthetical citation.

The following example demonstrates how to format a quotation within a quotation—use single quotation marks on either side of the borrowed phrase (the phrase ‘affable archangel’, from Paradise Lost).

From a paper on George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
    Just before Dorothea’s marriage to Casaubon, the narrator uses free indirect discourse to articulate how her vision of marriage is marred by literary allusion (and illusion): “For he had been as instructive as Milton’s ‘affable archangel’; and with something of the archangelic manner he had told her how he had undertaken to show. . .that all the mythical systems of the world were corruptions of a tradition originally received” (Eliot 24).

The use of ellipsis (…) denotes that something has been left out of the sentence; when using ellipsis remember to maintain the sense of the sentence and not to misconstrue the author’s meaning.

From an evaluation of the Rhodes Summer Writing Institute:
    According to a recent survey conducted over a seven-year period, approximately 20% of the students who attend the Summer Writing Institute at Rhodes eventually matriculate at the college (Finlayson 1).

This sentence does not use quotation marks because it paraphrases the source material. It does include a citation.

When quoting a play, list the act, scene, and line numbers parenthetically; for example (3.2.21-23). Do not include the words “Act” or “Scene.” All other rules remain the same.

MLA Works Cited
The standard MLA works cited page requires double spacing and lists the author, title of the work, publisher, year of publication, and page numbers (if applicable); any deviations from this format are noted below. Also, a hanging indent must be applied to each citation, and use italics (instead of underlining) for titles of larger works (books, magazines) and quotation marks for titles of shorter works (poems, articles).

The basic form for a book citation is:

Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.

Journal article
Cahill, Edward. “Federalist Criticism and the Fate of Genius.” American Literature 76.4 (2004): 687-717. Print.

Essay in a scholarly book or collection of essays
Knoepflmacher, U.C. “Fusing Fact and Fiction: the New Reality of Middlemarch.” This Particular Web: Essays on Middlemarch. Ed. Ian Adam. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975. 43-72. Print.

Work in an Anthology
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. 1381-1444. Print.

Book by two or more authors
Eggins, Suzanne, and Diana Slade. Analysing Casual Conversation. London: Cassell, 1997. Print.

An Edition
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. Ed. Claudia Johnson. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

A Poem
Jonson, Ben. “On My First Son.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century-The Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. Print.

A Translation
Allende, Isabel. Daughter of Fortune. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Harper, 2000. Print.

An Electronic Source
Bing, Gordon. Due Diligence: Planning, Questions, Issues. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008. NetLibrary. Web. 19 July 2010.

Chicago In-text Citations
Chicago style retains formatting nearly identical to MLA for blocking quotes, using quotation marks, inserting ellipsis, and knowing when to quote, but Chicago style does differ in that it mandates a use of endnotes or footnotes (rather than parenthetical citations) for each quotation or other source material.

When quoting a source in Chicago style, be sure to place the superscripted number after the quotation marks; for example, “Even if more people were becoming literate [in the Stuart Age], it does not necessarily follow that they read or were taught new, ‘modern’ ideas.”13 The footnote includes author, title of work, publication information, and page number and reads as follows:

13. Coward, Barry, The Stuart Age (New York: Longman Group, 1980), 59.
Each succeeding footnote referring to this same source would be abbreviated:

Coward, The Stuart Age, 59.

Chicago Bibliography
Chicago Style stipulates that you include either footnotes or endnotes for all individual quotations and source materials, but you must also compile a bibliography following your list of endnotes (if you did indeed choose endnotes over footnotes). Although similar to an MLA Works Cited, Chicago Style Bibliographies are single-spaced with double spacing only between entries.

Kenny, Colum. Tristram Kennedy and the Revival of Irish Legal Training, 1835-1185. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1996.

An Edition
Rolle, Andrew F. California: A History. 5th ed. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1998.

Work in an Anthology:
Loewenstein, Joseph. “The Script in the Marketplace.” In Representing the English Renaissance, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 265-278. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.

Journal Article
Kelly, Michael. “The Nationalization of the French Intellectuals in 1945.” South Central Review 17, no. 4 (2000): 14-25.

Guerra, Tonino. Abandoned Places. Translated by Adria Bernardi. Barcelona: Guernica, 1999.

Full Text Online Journal Article
Montgomery, David. “Presidential Address: Racism, Immigrants, and Political Reform.” Journal of American History 87, no. 4 (2000): 1253-1274.