The revision process: Fine-grained details

Date published by Date updated: January 15, 2015

After you’ve revised your paper with the broader, global concerns in mind, it’s time to turn to the fine-grained details of the writing.

The goal of this sort of fine-grained editing is to produce an optimally concise, precise, and coherent essay, and one that is impeccably formatted. Again, you should address certain things first in this process: there’s no sense in focusing on a misplaced comma if the sentence should be rephrased; there’s no sense in rephrasing a sentence if that sentence should be cut.

Begin by checking the content of each paragraph:

  1. Make sure each sentence in a paragraph helps support the topic sentence.
  2. Look for any information unnecessary or irrelevant to topic sentences. Cut it.
  3. Identify all technical terms your audience might not know, and ensure they are defined.

Then begin checking for problems between pieces of information:

  1. Look for any redundancies (anything unnecessarily repetitive). Redundant information can come in phrases, clauses, and full sentences—so long or short, if a string of words unnecessarily repeats information, cut it.
  2. Look for any content-based inconsistencies. Do any of your assertions seem to contradict one another? If so, resolve the disagreement and cut as necessary.

Now you’re ready to start thinking about formal issues, including sentence articulation, grammatical errors, and formatting errors. When you’re this far into the editing process, the approach needs to change. You’re now less concerned with what you say (which should be more or less worked out by now); turn your attention to how you say it.

This part of the editing process is more difficult in certain ways. Many writers find that once they have read their document several times, they are no longer able to easily pick out formal mistakes in the writing. Your eyes will likely skip over mistakes, seeing what they essay should say rather than what it does say.

Here are some tips to help you overcome this common this problem:

  • Read the paper aloud, at a conversational pace. Reading aloud will slow you down and help force you to look directly at each work. This technique has the added benefit that your ear will pick up on the awkward phrases your eyes miss.
  • Change fonts. Anything to make the text less familiar will help.
  • Edit with a printed copy. I have found this to be one of the very best ways to edit. Follow each word with a pen or pencil, to make sure you do not skip any.
  • Have someone else read and make notes on the final draft. Someone else (for instance an editor of Scribbr) almost always sees things that you don’t in your paper.

It’s less important to work on these formal issues in a certain order, but I’ll continue to list steps in an advisable order.

  1. Simplify, condense, and clarify each sentence, aiming for ease of reading, efficiency of expression, and exactitude of meaning.
    • Try to avoid complex sentence construction.
    • In a string of longer sentences (about two lines or more), shorten a few.
    • Cut every unnecessary word.
    • Avoid any complex word where a simpler one will do.
  2. Look for typos and grammatical mistakes.
  3. Check for formal consistency. Consider, for example, the following:
    • Are you consistent with spelling (e.g. whistle blower vs. whistleblower)?
    • Is heading formatting uniform (if applicable)?
    • Does your table of contents get page numbers right (if applicable)?
  4. Double-check all aspects of document formatting.
    • Is the document spaced properly?
    • Is all identifying information present (e.g. on the title page)?
    • Do you have a title?
    • Are citations present and formatted properly?

When you are through this list, let the document sit for a few days to get some space from it, and then edit the entire thing one final time. You may be surprised at the perspective you gain by taking a few days away from the essay. And don’t forget to run spell-check.

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Article by Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master’s degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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