Note. This page is part of a course about the writing process. See the table of contents for the complete course.
Stage 3 Polishing Your Work
Rarely are writers “done” when they finish the last paragraph. Once you have completed your last paragraph, you should have a solid draft... but it is still a draft.
All effective writers go back over their work to improve it. First, they revise their work. Finally, they edit it and add their final touches.
Revising | Focus on Substance
When you revise your work, you focus on the substance or ideas, not on grammar or style. It is strongly recommended you should save multiple copies of your drafts as you go along in case you change your mind about your revisions and want to revert to a previous state.
When you revise your work, ask yourself the following:
Have I presented my ideas well?
- Have I used appropriate language for the topic, purpose, and audience?
- Are all my ideas in the correct order so that my writing walks the reader through my thinking and leads the reader to “the big picture?”
- In each paragraph, do my details support the main idea?
- Does each paragraph (as a whole) support my thesis statement?
- Are my ideas logically sound? Are there logical errors in my reasoning?
- Are there repetitive, redundant ideas that I can consolidate or delete?
- Are there concepts I need to express better (for example, by adding a definition, an example, or an illustration)?
Are my sentences clear?
- Do my sentences express well what I intended them to originally (not what I think they say but what the reader will effectively understand)?
- Can I improve clarity and accuracy by choosing the right words or using different transitions?
Are my sentences well balanced?
- Can I combine overly short sentences into more complex ones that are easier to read?
- Can I break overly complex sentences into shorter ones that are easier to read?
Editing | Focus on Style
During revisions, you worked on your ideas. Now turn your attention to grammar and the mechanics of writing such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, clauses, and so on.
You may feel tempted to rush through this step; however, editing is as important as any other step in the writing process.
To edit your work, ask yourself the following:
Is my document formatted correctly?
- Using a style manual (e.g., MLA-style or APA-style manual), double-check your formatting.
Are there any grammar problems?
- Does each sentence have a subject and verb? Are my clauses grammatical?
- Is the verb in the correct tense?
- Does each verb agree with the subject?
- Have I used all the correct pronouns, prepositions, adverbs, adjective forms, and so on?
Are there any spelling and punctuation problems?
- Is the punctuation correct? Check each punctuation mark. Check where you may be missing a punctuation mark.
- Is the spelling correct?
Finalizing Your Work | Final Touches
This course covered the most important stages and steps in the writing process. As you use the process and gain experience as a writer, you will notice other, more advanced aspects of writing. Some details may be related to a specific type of writing or where you publish your work or your own preferences.
College students must follow a very strict formatting style for their work. If you are writing for a company or website, you will likely have to use a very different style.
Whatever style you need to use, make sure you learn what it is and follow it carefully.
Flexibility in the Writing Process
If you are still developing your writing skills, you should follow the writing process closely. Do not skip steps to avoid trouble later in the process. When you let the process guide you, your writing experience goes smoothly.
As you gain experience, you will likely start adapting the process to your own needs and personal style. There is much room for creativity, so use your judgment at each stage and do what works for you.
Growing as a Writer
Although you write alone, it does not mean you should work alone all the time. One way to improve your work is to get people’s help. Even highly experienced writers often have “writing buddies,” people who they go to and who go to them when they need to talk through a new writing idea or revise their work.
Just make sure to take criticism positively. After all, you do not write for yourself; you write for others to read your ideas.
If someone critiques your work or does not understand your ideas very well, do not take it personally. Accept the criticism so you can grow as a writer. Take the constructive criticism to heart and ignore the rest.
If you are a college student, you may put a lot of hard work into a paper or essay only to receive it back with a low grade and many corrections. Do not let that discourage you! You are in college to learn, and sometimes part of the learning process can be frustrating. Again, do not take it personally. Go over the corrections carefully and see where you can improve for your next paper.
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