Just when you think the production of your document is done, the revision process begins. Runners often refer to “the wall,” where the limits of physical exertion are met and exhaustion is imminent. The writing process requires effort, from overcoming writer’s block to the intense concentration composing a document often involves.
It is only natural to have a sense of relief when your document is drafted from beginning to end. This relief is false confidence, though. Your document is not complete, and in its current state it could, in fact, do more harm than good. Errors, omissions, and unclear phrases may lurk within your document, waiting to reflect poorly on you when it reaches your audience. Now is not time to let your guard down, prematurely celebrate, or to mentally move on to the next assignment. Think of the revision process as one that hardens and strengthens your document, even though it may require the sacrifice of some hard-earned writing.
General revision requires attention to content, organization, style, and readability. These four main categories should give you a template from which to begin to explore details in depth.
As you think about revision, note that you may need to take some time away from your document to approach it again with a fresh perspective. Writers often juggle multiple projects that are at different stages of development. This allows the writer to leave one document and return to another without losing valuable production time. Overall, your goal is similar to what it was during your writing preparation and production: a clear mind.
Content is only one aspect of your document. Let’s say you were assigned a report on the sales trends for a specific product in a relatively new market. You could produce a one-page chart comparing last year’s results to current figures and call it a day, but would it clearly and concisely deliver content that is useful and correct? Are you supposed to highlight trends? Are you supposed to spotlight factors that contributed to the increase or decrease? Are you supposed to include projections for next year? Our list of questions could continue, but for now let’s focus on content and its relationship to the directions. Have you included the content that corresponds to the given assignment, left any information out that may be necessary to fulfill the expectations, or have you gone beyond the assignment directions? Content will address the central questions of who, what, where, when, why and how within the range and parameters of the assignment.
Organization is another key aspect of any document. Standard features such as introduction, body, and conclusion may be part of your composition, but you must also consider how logical and clearly ideas, information, and arguments are arranged within each of these parts.
Your document may use any of a wide variety of organizing principles, such as a classical arrangement, organic arrangement, chronological, spatial, least to greatest (greatest to least) important arguments, etc. But the overriding concern with organization is whether your approach to organizing is clear and understandable to readers. Will your organization continue to a better understanding of the knowledge you cover and arguments you make in your draft?
Beyond the overall organization, pay special attention to transitions. Readers often have difficulty following a composition if the writer makes the common mistake of failing to make one point relevant to the next, or to illustrate the relationships between arguments or points being made.
Style is created through content and organization, but also involves word choice and grammar. Is your document written in an informal or formal tone, or does it present a blend, a mix, or an awkward mismatch? Does it provide a coherent and unifying voice with a professional tone? Are ideas, information, or words redundantly or awkwardly repeated? Do you use a variety of sentence lengths so that your writing doesn’t seem monotonous or choppy to the reader?
Readability refers to the steps taken to make sure readers can comprehend what is said. Reread your draft. Look for long, complicated sentences that may trip readers up. Can you think of a way to rephrase the sentence or break it into smaller sentences to make them more understandable? Look for places where you use undefined jargon or technical language that your readers may stumble upon. Either define those terms if they are important to use or find more understandable synonyms if they are not. Overall, think about how your readers will understand your writing. What can be done to make sure your writing is as clear as possible to them? If possible, find someone who can read your draft for you and point out anything that may be confusing or unclear to them.