Revising, Editing and Proofreading

Many students don’t differentiate between Revising, Editing, and Proofreading. What’s the difference?

Revision involves analyzing the global level and paragraph level organization of the document, and making changes to your draft on a global, paragraph, and sentence level to ensure that:

  • The document addresses its purpose
  • The document supports any claims its makes (main claims and secondary claims)
  • The structure of the document is logical and supports the purpose and main claims

Editing involves looking at each sentence carefully, and making sure that it’s well designed and serves its purpose.

Proofreading involves checking for grammatical and punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, etc. Proofing is the final stage of the writing process.

A. Revision

During revision, take the following steps:

1. Confirming Purpose and Main Claim: The first step in the revision process is to confirm that the draft actually serves the purpose outlined in the introduction. In case the paper hasn’t done so, you need to either revise your purpose, or revise the paper so that it addresses the purpose. While this may seem straightforward, it is very possible for goals to change during the writing process.

If your paper is persuasive, then your paper will likely also have a main claim. For example, if your purpose is to recommend a solution to a given problem, then your main claim will be to follow recommendations A, B, and C. Even if your goal is simply to evaluate several options, you will be making claims about each of those options (i.e. one is best, or that there are certain advantages/disadvantages to each option). During the revision process, ensure that your main claim is clearly stated in the paper (usually at the end) and that the paper supports that main claim adequately. Each section of the paper should be doing something to support this claim.

2. Identifying and Checking Support for Major Claims: The main claim of the paper will be supported by sub-claims; these will need to be adequately supported as well. Ensure that you’ve provided sufficient supporting data (your own or from others) and explained how that information supports your claims. For example, if your paper recommends a solution (its main claim), one supporting claim would be that Solution X has certain benefits. In order for that supporting claim to be warranted, you would have to provide sources or data from your own work that confirm those benefits.

3. Check Against Your Outline: Begin the revision process by comparing your first draft to your outline, and asking the following questions:

  • Does your draft match your outline?
  • If not, why not? Is your revision to the outline warranted, or would your original structure be better?
  • Where are the gaps in information in your draft; where might you have to add more information? What information is unnecessary, or tangential?

After this stage, you may choose to move sections around, add or subtract information. Essentially, you’re re-evaluating your original outline from a different perspective (after you’ve written the draft).

4. Identify and Evaluate Transitional Strategies: Transitions are the points at which we move between ideas in writing. They play a particularly important role in between sections and paragraphs, but operate within paragraphs as well. At each section break in your outline, you should be able to identify a transition strategy. Some transitional strategies include:

  • Logical: the last idea of the previous section/paragraph is the first idea of the next
  • Phrasal: using explicit wording to create a shift in writing/develop a relationship between the ideas in the previous and next sections/paragraphs
  • Structural: Using similar sentence structure to create a relationship between
  • Verbal: Using key words to establish a relationship between sections/paragraphs

Checking for transitions is a way to evaluate ‘flow’ or coherence of a document. A transitional strategy is effective when it helps create coherence in a document – when it helps clarify the relationships between ideas in a piece of writing.

5. Checking on a Paragraph Level: With each paragraph, you should be able to:

  • Easily identify a prominent and accurate topic sentence (near the beginning)
  • Identify the paragraph’s role in its section and in the document as a whole
  • Identify an organizational strategy or structure that the paragraph uses to accomplish its purpose; assess whether or not that structure is an efficient one, or if there may be a better structure (See Writing Process / Rhetorical Patterns)

B. Editing

You can begin the process of editing after you’re satisfied with the structure, content, and coherence of your document (as a whole and in specific parts).

Editing and proofing both focus on the sentence level. Editing is different from proofreading because it involves questioning and analyzing sentences, whereas proofreading only involves checking them for error. When editing:

  • Read each sentence carefully and identify its function in the paragraph; ask yourself how you might redesign the sentence to more effectively accomplish that goal
  • Analyze the sentences that precede and follow the sentence you’re focusing on. Are the connections between these sentences clear, or do you need to insert transitions between them?
  • Evaluate the design of each individual sentence; in doing so, employ the following principles:

1. Manage Sentence Length: Short sentences clearly communicate individual ideas, but often leave connections between them unmade. Long sentences make connections between ideas, but can obscure individual ideas. Vary sentence lengths according to needs of section.

2. Strengthen the Grammatical Core of the sentence (Subject-Verb-Object): The subject (actor), the verb (action), and the object (what the actor performs the action on) constitute the grammatical core of the sentence, but the real subject, verb and object is often buried by complex or elaborate sentence structures. Whenever possible:

  • Elevate the verb, so that the real action of the verb occupies the role of verb in the sentence (especially in passive voice).
  • Find the real subject (the thing actually performing the verb), and allow it to occupy this role in the sentence

Evaluation of the material was performed on the basis of strength, flexibility, and cost.

In the above sentence, the ‘real action’ is evaluation, but it appears in the form of a noun here. The real subject of the sentence – the person(s) doing the evaluating – are the researchers, but they don’t appear in the sentence at all. A revision which fixes both problems might look like the below.

We evaluated the material of the basis of strength, flexibility, and cost.

  • Position the verb closer to the beginning of the sentence, because the verb is key to reader’s ability to process information

The influence of physiochemical properties of microbial floc, namely extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and hydrophobicity, on ultraviolet (UV) disinfection of sequencing batch reactor effluent was studied.

In the above example, the verb doesn’t arrive until the end of the sentence. That means that readers need to store three lines of information in memory until they get to this verb, which gives them the information needed to process the long noun phrase.

This thesis studies the influence of physiochemical properties of microbial floc, namely extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and hydrophobicity, on ultraviolet (UV) disinfection of sequencing batch reactor effluent.

3. The ASAP Principle: Avoid elaborate sentence structure, unless necessary. Good technical writing is always ‘As Short as Possible,’ while containing the necessary amount of detail. Cut away unnecessary phrasing whenever possible.

It is evident that this thesis provides a foundation from which engineers may astutely intervene for the betterment of the circuit board manufacturing process

Yikes! If it’s evident, then you don’t need to say it. And ‘astutely intervene for the betterment’ of? What about:

This thesis provides a foundation for improving the circuit board manufacturing process.

C. Proofreading

When proofreading, you may want to try the following strategies.

  • Read each sentence aloud as you visually inspect the spelling and sentence structure; sometimes, reading the sentence aloud will allow you to spot mistakes that your eye can’t always see
  • Allow enough time for several close readings of the text, with some break time in between to give you a fresh perspective on your document
  • Ask friends to read over your work to check for errors as an additional strategy; sometimes, outside readers can spot errors that the writer can miss. However, don’t rely on this as a primary proofing strategy: your proofreader doesn’t have anything invested in your report. You do, and are the one ultimately responsible for errors
  • Don’t rely on your computer’s spell check to correct all the spelling errors for you. Why?
    1. Because Canadian and British spelling standards are different from American ones (standard on most spell checkers)
    2. Because when you intend to sue ‘through,’ but forget the letter ‘r,’ your spell check will not register an error. (Can you see another small mistake in the above sentence that wouldn’t register? ‘Use,’ misspelled as ‘sue’)
    3. Because the spell checker cannot ensure that the correct ending (agreement) has been used. ‘We ends the paper by . . .’ doesn’t register a spelling error, but ‘ends’ should be ‘end.’
    4. And finally, because spell checkers often do not account for many of the specialized terms that are commonplace in engineering contexts – the spell check will identify many technical terms as errors simply because they are not in its dictionary
  • Don’t rely on your grammar checker to correct all of the grammatical errors for you. Why?
    1. Because the rules implemented in the grammar checkers are rudimentary and simple, and don’t always allow for complex sentence structures. They may identify errors where there are none
    2. They often don’t catch simple and straightforward errors, such as the ‘We ends’ example above (no error was reported by Microsoft Word)
    3. Their suggestions will often substantially change the meaning of the sentences