A Rough Hierarchy for Revision and Editing

A Clear Topic

Sufficient Support, Development, and Documentation

Appropriate Overall Organization

Appropriate Tone

Smooth Movement from Paragraph to Paragraph

Solid Paragraph Organization and Development

* * * * *

Good Syntax

Good Grammar

Good Punctuation

Correct Spelling


Revision is a "top down" process. Effective revising starts with the most general characteristics of an essay and gradually moves to more specific characteristics. Editing, on the other hand, is "bottom up." Recognizing these facts and employing revising and editing techniques in a logical manner will enable you to write more effectively. If you begin with revising, the top-down process, you will solve most of your large problems before getting to the small ones. If you start with editing, the bottom-up process, you may invest a great deal of time perfecting details that you won't even appear in your final paper once you've gone on to solve larger-scale problems.

A Clear Topic: Can your reader easily understand the purpose of your paper (ideally before having to read all the way through it)?

To Check: Ask a peer or Writing Assistant to read you piece, without telling them what your purpose is; then ask them to describe you apparent purpose in a sentence or two. If they can't do this accurately, you need to revise.

Sufficient Support, Development, and Documentation: Support=citing sources, examples, evidence. Development=how fully you address your topic and support your assertions. Documentation=citing your sources as appropriate.

To Check: Ask a friend or Writing Assistant if the number and type of examples in your paper seem sufficient to convince someone who might be skeptical about your assertions. Are there any spots where they feel you're asking them to take things on faith, rather than demonstrating why you feel they're true?

Appropriate Overall Organization: Most fields have an accepted format for introducing, presenting, and analyzing one's ideas.

To Check: Compare your paper to any guidelines you've received from your instructor or to journal articles in your field. In terms of format, would your work fit comfortably into a journal in your field?

Appropriate Tone: Your tone in writing, just as is the case with your tone in speaking, should fit your particular situation.

To Check: Think about the level of formality your audience might expect from you. After taking a break from the actual writing of your piece, try reading it out loud while picturing your audience in your mind (but remember it isn't an oral presentation). Do you think the language you use would lead your audience to view you as a reliable, intelligent peer? If you're not sure, ask a friend or Writing Assistant to be your audience and see what they think.

Smooth Movement from Paragraph to Paragraph: Every discipline has a standard format, and movement from section to section can often be accomplished relatively easily if you and your readers share a common understanding of the purpose of each section. Movement within sections (or when using a non-standard format) requires more care.

To Check: Look at the end of each paragraph and the beginning of the next. Is it easy to understand how these are related? Do they build logically upon one another, so that readers get information in a useful order?

Solid Paragraph Organization and Development: Just as movement from paragraph to paragraph needs to make sense, movement within paragraphs should be purposeful and should help readers understand your ideas.

To Check: Ask a friend or Writing Assistant to read your paper, jotting down the central idea of each paragraph in a single sentence. If they can't pin down the idea or they find more than one idea, this is a sign that you need to revise.