It’s important to remember that writing is a process, not a product. For every finished, polished, solid essay, there were multiple drafts that developed towards that finished piece. Those drafts are necessary for the final piece, so you can’t skip any of the steps and still hope to have a successful final version.
After you complete a draft, you’ll need to:
These steps might sound similar, but they’re actually distinct parts of the process. Considering them one by one allows you to focus on each individual element carefully.
Each of these steps is part of the same process, improving your writing. Because writing is a recursive project, you might find yourself doing multiple rounds of drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading. Similarly, you need not artificially separate these steps.
If while editing the big ideas, you notice a typo, go ahead and fix it. If while doing final proofreading, you discover that you’d rather phrase something differently than you originally had, go ahead and rewrite that spot. You can and probably should be comfortable working through these steps as much as your essay needs.
But why should you work through the steps? Why should you care about these stages at all? You’ve spent time and energy writing the essay and now just want to be done with it, but here’s the secret: Revising, editing, and proofreading will make all the work you did researching, organizing, and drafting worth it.
The more work you do after your draft, the better your essay will be. If you don’t do any of that work, then you might have wasted all of that writing you did in the first place. An essay that’s turned in with errors that could have been fixed through editing, revising, or proofreading can cause you to lose credibility with your reader.
Do you trust an argument when you read it and find glaring typos? If an author can’t be bothered to proofread, how much do you trust that author to have done careful, trustworthy research?
Your whole purpose for writing the paper might be lost if your paper has:
Therefore, think about these final stages as the quality control of your writing process. Just as a car company has quality assurance, checking each car that comes out of the factory to make sure that it has all the necessary parts, runs correctly, and has a clean paint job, so too should you check your essay to make sure that none of its tires is going to blow off as soon as it gets on the highway.
The first stop on the quality assurance assembly line should be revision. This is a different stage than editing, which will look at the sentences themselves to assess how well they articulate the argument.
Revision is also different than proofreading, where you’ll check your writing to make sure that it follows the rules. There’s no sense in doing those two steps, editing and proofreading, if you’re going to take out, add in, or otherwise change all those sentences themselves.
Revising is the stage when you think about the big picture of your arguments, assessing your overall argumentation, support, evidence, assertions, etc.
In this step, you might:
Many people revise by printing out a draft and writing on it with red pen, doing a reverse outline, or looking through how each paragraph contributes to the thesis. You can do your revision either on paper or on your computer, depending on your personal preference.
Here’s what it might look like as you cut, add, move, and change around your writing:
Once you’ve revised and have a draft that you’re sure contains all the info that you want and no info that you don’t want, you’re ready to edit to make sure that the sentences are pulling their weight.
In revising, you’ve been focusing on re-seeing and rethinking the whole argument’s ideas, support, and organization. Here you’re going to zoom in a little more closely, just looking at how those ideas are expressed in language.
In other words, this is where you get to think about how your words are working—making sure that they mean what you intend and match the overall tone you want. Editing is also where you assess how your transitions connect ideas in sentences and paragraphs to create a smooth flow of ideas.
During this stage, you’ll want to check that your essay has all the elements of style:
More specifically, you might:
In the revised paragraph from above, now that you’re ready to edit the language, perhaps you can make this spot more evocative.
And in this portion here, you can change up the sentences a little to add some more variety:
Those kinds of changes are all editing requires.
You’ve now got to do a final check to make sure that everything in your essay is where it and how it should be. Proofreading is where you zoom in your closest to check for the smallest errors in grammar and mechanics.
This is separate from revision and editing, because here is where you’re making sure that this text is ready for prime time. You’re not adding anything new or fundamentally changing the way things are expressed; you’re just making sure everything is clean and correct.
Again remember that writing is a process, not a product. Thus, you might notice something to revise or edit while you’re proofreading, and that’s fine. Go ahead and fix any issues that you notice, but do focus on the small nitty-gritty details of grammar and mechanics.
When you proofread, you should look for:
One method of proofreading is to enlarge the font on your screen to at least 20 points so that you can see some errors that might have otherwise been hiding in the fine print.
You can see how this works with a portion of the revised and edited sample from before:
Once you zoom in, you’ll notice the word “human” is misspelled as “humane,” and you can fix it.
You’ll also see an excess comma that you don’t need, and you can delete that.
After proofreading, your essay is ready to be seen by the world.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.
Improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing.
Fixing grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and formatting errors in an essay or other piece of writing.
The process of re-visioning an essay or other writing project.