Writing for an impersonal audience is different from writing for a personal audience such as a close friend. One difference is that you must often explain people, places, and events that your readers might not know or understand. Another difference is that you should revise your writing—that is, make changes that will make your writing clearer and more interesting.
Revising is not just another name for editing or proofreading. Those are the final stages in which you polish the style and fix grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Revising means, literally, seeing again as if with “new” eyes. It is concerned with fundamental matters of meaning and structure (of course, if in the course of revising you happen to notice an error of spelling or grammar, you should feel free to go ahead and correct it). Good writers do not expect to get any piece of writing right the first time. They know they need to look again, from the perspective of their intended reader .
Revising requires getting enough distance from your writing to be able to see it freshly. The best way to achieve this objectivity is to take a break after preparing the previous draft—ideally a day or two, but certainly at least a few hours. Whether you reread the paper on your own or listen while someone else reads and responds to it, a little distance makes it easier to tell the difference between what you actually wrote and what you thought you wrote.
Normally, the best way to revise is to work from the most general concerns to the most specific. Following this order will help you avoid the frustration of throwing out or drastically revising material that you have already spent time fine-tuning. As mentioned above, revision is often most easily done by working on a printed, hard copy of your draft. Having the entire text lets you see the big picture—and alleviates the need to scroll through your document on the word processor and try to remember just where you wanted to paste that new paragraph. Revision should move from large-scale concerns to those on a smaller scale.
There are four kinds of changes you can make in your writing:
You can delete (or take out) words, sentences, or even whole paragraphs.
Original: The man who was sitting in the seat in front of me was so tall that I couldn’t see the screen.
Deletion: The man
who was sitting in the seat in front of me was so tall that I couldn’t see the screen.
Revised: The man in the seat in front of me was so tall that I couldn’t see the screen.
You can add words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Original: I was enjoying the holiday.
Revised: I was enjoying the holiday, lying on the grass with sun warming my back while I listened to music.
You can rearrange words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Original: I enjoy watching double feature horror movies on Halloween evening.
Revised: On Halloween evening I enjoy watching double feature horror movies.
You can substitute words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Original: Aunt Ellen is a doctor.
Revised: Aunt Ellen is an orthopedic surgeon.
Revision is not a last-minute job to do before you hand in your paper. Many writers, in fact, revise constantly as they go along. They may write a sentence and then decide that the sentence should be improved before writing another one. Other writers write an entire first draft and then revise that draft one or more times for a final copy. If you have revised by adding words or sentences between lines, or by crossing out words and sentences, recopy your paper so your readers will be able to read easily what you have written.
As you revise to make your writing clear and interesting, think about your purpose. Your purpose in most writing is to share an experience or an idea with readers. To accomplish this, you must use specific details, and you must explain people, places, and events that readers might not understand. When you revise, think about whether you need to add details or give readers more information. The following checklist can be a helpful guide for revision.