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All writing requires revision, which means more than just running a spellchecker. Writers should revise in a hierarchical order. First, begin revising global aspects of writing (content, organization), then move on to the smaller, detail-oriented aspects (style, varied sentence structure, etc.). The list below will help you take a prioritized approach to revising your writing.
Check for Overall Unity and Clarity
- What is the main point of your paper?
- Does the introduction clearly introduce the point?
- Is there a thesis statement near the beginning (in the first or second paragraph) that clearly and concisely asserts the main point?
- Does each paragraph help to advance your main line of thought? Does any paragraph digress from that line of thought? Does each paragraph fit in with the other paragraphs surrounding it?
- Is your tone—your attitude toward the subject—consistent? (If not, you may want to reexamine your attitude toward the topic.)
- Does the conclusion show that the essay has reached its goal?
Check Body Paragraphs for Unity and Cohesion
- Does the main point of each paragraph refer back to and further develop your thesis?
- Are the shifts in topic from one paragraph to the next marked by the use of transitions or repetition of key words?
- Does the break between one paragraph and the next always mark a change of thought? Are there places where one or more sentences should be moved from one side of the paragraph break to the other?
Check the General Effectiveness of Each Paragraph
- Is the main point of each paragraph stated clearly, often in a topic sentence?
- Are any of the paragraphs noticeably short? If so, is the brevity justified? Should the paragraph be combined with another paragraph, or do its points and arguments need more support or development? Are more specifics needed to back up generalizations?
- Is any paragraph so long that a reader might get lost in it? Should it be broken down into two or three paragraphs? Are there needless generalizations, repetitions, or padding that could be cut? Could any of
the sentences be cut or combined to tighten the paragraph?
- Does each sentence follow clearly from the one before it or from the topic sentence?
Check Quoted Material and Use of Citations
- Are there too many quotes? Are your quotes too long? Do they crowd out your own statements or substitute for them? Could you summarize or paraphrase any of them?
- Are there any thoughts or information in your paper that would be more effective if you used a quotation instead of paraphrasing?
- Is each quote accurate? Did you properly mark all omissions with ellipses?
- Have you introduced each quotation clearly and set it off with correct punctuation and in-text citations?
- Have you clearly acknowledged every source that you used?
- Have you used the appropriate format for documenting your quoted and paraphrased material (parenthetical references, footnotes, endnotes, a bibliography/works cited page, etc.)?
Check Sentence Style
- Are your sentences varied in length and structure, or do they generally have the same shape?
- Are any sentences overly complex, long, or otherwise hard to understand?
- Have you appropriately used the passive voice? (See the handout Active and Passive Voice)
Check for Sentence Level Errors
- Does every sentence have a subject and a verb, or have you written some sentence fragments?
- Does every verb agree with its subject?
- Are there any dangling modifiers?
- Have you avoided sexist pronoun usage?
- Are there any faults in parallelism?
- Have you combined two sentences together correctly by using either a comma and a conjunction or a semicolon?
- Have you created any comma splices? (joining two complete sentences with nothing but a comma)
Note: For more information on sentence-level errors, see the handouts The Colon, Hyphen, Dash & Semicolon; Apostrophes; Punctuating Parenthetical Word Groups; Comma Splices and Fused Sentences; and Commas.
Check Diction and Word Choice
- Is your diction appropriate for your subject and your audience (neither too formal, too casual, or too scientific)? Is your diction consistent?
- Is your language predominantly abstract? Could you make it more specific and concrete?
- Are any of your sentences cluttered with unnecessary words?
- Are the words you’ve chosen to modify or intensify necessary and effective? (Very, really, kind of, a lot, etc. tend to weaken meaning rather than strengthen it.)
- Do you use the word endings -es, -s, -'s, and -s' correctly?
Note: For more information on possessives and plurals, see the handout Apostrophes.
- Have you confused any homonyms such as there, their, and they're?
- Are you unsure about whether or not to capitalize certain words?
Note:For guidelines on capitalization, see the handout Capitalization.
Read the Entire Draft Aloud One More Time
Have someone else read your writing so you can have a more objective view of what is working effectively. As writers, we are often too attached to what we have written to see some things that are ineffective and should be changed.
Revised by Jessie Leatham & Steve Haderlie, summer 2005
Amy Lynn, February 1993