The Difference Between Revising and Editing

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Proofreading your own paper is tricky!. Grace Fleming

Just when you thought you were done writing your paper, you realize you still need to revise and edit. But what does that mean? The two are easy to confuse, but it is important for students to understand the difference. 

Revision starts once you have a finished first draft of your paper. As you reread what you have written, you might notice a few places where the wording does not seem to flow quite as well as the rest of your work.

You may decide to change a few words or add a sentence or two. Work through your arguments and make sure you have evidence to back them up. This is also the time to make sure you have established a thesis and have kept your focus on that throughout your paper. 

Some helpful tips for revision are:

  • Give yourself time between writing the first draft and looking at it again for revision. A few hours can give you enough time to see it with fresh eyes that are more likely to spot trouble areas.
  • Read your paper out loud. Sometimes speaking the words helps you get a better feel for the flow of a paper.
  • Do not worry about the editing yet. Get the big ideas down and leave the detailing for later.
  • Make sure your paper is organized in a logical way. Make your thesis statement and follow it up with arguments, quotes, and evidence in a way that makes your purpose clear.

Editing your paper happens once you have a draft you are confident in as a whole.

In this process you are going to look for the details that may have slipped by you during the writing process. Spelling errors are often caught by spellcheck, but do not trust this tool to catch everything. Word usage is also a common problem to catch in editing. Is there a word you use repetitively?

Or did you write there when you meant their? Details like this seem small on an individual basis, but as they pile up they can distract your reader. 

Here are a few tips and things to look for when editing:

  • Look for spelling and capitalization errors that your editing software may have missed.
  • Punctuation can make a big impact on how your paper flows. It creates a rhythm that can completely make or break a paper.
  • Fact-check yourself. Did you site your quotes and sources properly?
  • Don’t be afraid to let a friend or colleague look at it with unfamiliar eyes. Sometimes you know your material so well that your brain automatically fills in blanks or sees what you meant, rather than what you said. Someone seeing the work for the first time might catch things you didn’t.

Once you get into the habit of revising and editing, it becomes a little easier. You begin to recognize your own style and voice, and even learn the mistakes you are most susceptible to. You may know the difference between there, their, and they’re but sometimes your fingers type faster than you can think and mistakes happen. After a few papers, the process will happen more naturally.