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9 Steps for Revising Your Essay

Updated on June 6, 2016
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Why Revise?

Revising your essay is the step which makes or breaks your paper and often determines your grade. What is essay revision? Going back over your paper and making changes that improve the logic, organization of arguments, sentence structure, word choice, and grammar.

College Essay 101

To do well in college, you will need careful essay revision.
To do well in college, you will need careful essay revision. | Source

How to Revise?

Below are 9 steps you can use to revise your paper. If you have time, or really want the best grade possible, you can do revision steps 6-9 and then do proofreading steps 1-5. When you are in a crunch, just make sure you do proofreading steps 1-5.

1. Grammar and Spelling Check

Use your word processing program to do a grammar and spelling check. Better yet, use Grammarly, which often can find even more errors. Please never turn in a paper without doing a basic check! About six months ago, I started using Grammarly and now depend on it to catch my typos and to remind me of more effective ways to write. To get the most out of any grammar and spelling check, be sure to notice errors you make over and over. That can help your writing get better.

2. Re-Read Paper Slowly

Remember that no computer program can find all your errors, so you need to do a careful reading of your paper too. One trick is to read your essay out loud or have someone read it to you while you look at a copy. Reading aloud slows you down and helps you see things you miss.Printing off a card copy rather than reading on a computer screen is also helpful in helping you see things you might otherwise miss.

3. First Word of Each Sentence

This is my best revision trick. Go through your paper and circle the first word of every sentence. If there are two sentences in a paragraph that start with the same word, then change one of them by adding one of my transition words, or else changing the wording of the sentence. By adding transition words, you not only make your paper sound more sophisticated, you actually improve the content because you link your ideas better. Try it! I bet you get a better grade!

4. Subjects and Verbs

Next, circle the subjects and verbs in each sentence. Are you using interesting and active verbs when possible? Is there something in the sentence before the subject? (There often should be if you are following my first word rule). Put a comma between that introductory element and the subject. Example: When leaving the house, I locked the doors.

5. Punctuation

Check to see if your commas, quotation marks, colons, and semi-colons are used correctly. See my guides on these if you need help. See my punctuation rules for using commas. Especially remember that you need to put commas after:

  • Introductory elements in a sentence (anything word or phrase that comes before the subject). Example: Inevitably, some student in my class will forget to spell check and the errors will drive me crazy!
  • In between items in a list. Example: She remembered to use spell and grammar check, circle and check her first words, and double-check her punctuation.
  • Before and after quotations. Example: The instructor said, "I know you will get a good grade on your paper," when I turned it in on Tuesday.

6. Thesis and Topic Sentences

Check for logic and clear argument. Underline and read all your thesis and topic sentences. Does your argument make sense? Is there something you need to add? You might ask someone else to read these sentences to see if they think there is something missing.

Interesting Language. Do your thesis and topic sentences sound vivid, opinionated and interesting? Strong language can make your paper stand out. That means using vivid verbs and adverbs. A good example of using strong language is "Why We Crave Horror Movies" by Stephen King.

Opinionated responses are more interesting. Movie reviews are better if they are funny, sarcastic and witty. That might not be an appropriate tone if you agree with the main point of your article, but you can be equally interesting if you are passionate, earnest and thoughtful. One way to do that is to use strong language, especially transition words, verbs and adverbs. Examples:

  • I fully support...
  • I completely refute...
  • Obviously, the author’s ideas that……is biased due to….
  • Nevertheless, I strongly believe...
  • Without proof, I would have to reject….
  • Attempting to prove her points with false evidence, the author slides into ridiculous……

You get the idea. Be bold!

7. Do a Reverse Outline

Especially if you don’t work from a detailed outline in writing your paper. Basically, what you do is to take your paper and write an outline of what you've written. It is a way to make sure you've actually said your main points. Take your paper and underline the topic sentences in each paragraph. Then write those sentences in an outline form. Read them, though. Check:

  • Do they make logical sense?
  • Are they strong sentences?
  • Have you really responded to the article?
  • Have you given clear reasons for your response?

Next, put in your evidence for each topic sentence point.

  • Does each piece of evidence really back up that assertion?
  • Is the evidence clear, concise, vivid and interesting?

Use your computer to proofread.

Don't forget to use a final spell and grammar check.
Don't forget to use a final spell and grammar check. | Source

8. Quotations

Some students have been taught to back up their assertions with quotes. However, this creates a bad habit of using a quote from someone else to make your point, rather than stating that point yourself. Often I find that students don’t actually understand what they are quoting. My rule is that if you quote, you need to both explain the quote in your own words and then tell how that quote backs up your argument. Frequently, it is easier to just paraphrase the author in your own words and then tell how that backs up your own ideas. Check your quotations:

1. Do you keep the quote inside your own sentence?

Correct: Reading is vital to becoming a good writer. As Sarah McKlean points out,"We are all readers before we are writers."

Incorrect: "We are all readers before we are writers." Sarah McKean's quote tells us reading is important to becoming a writer.

2. Do you make sure that you explain how that quote backs up your argument?

3. Do you need to quote? Can you put the information in your own words as effectively or more effectively? Remember quotes are best used only if a person is an authority on the subject, the way the quote is worded is important, or if you are going to talk about specific parts of that quote later in your argument.

9. Author Tags

Did you make sure that you added where you got your information in your paper. You need to either say the author and title of the book or do a parenthetical reference (MLA style) or footnote (APA style). Make sure you have actually cited the essay correctly in your author tags. Read the paper through and mark where you are actually referring to the ideas in the article you read (highlight one color), and your own ideas (highlight in a different color). Make sure that every time you are referring to the author’s ideas you have used an author tag, or referred in some way to where you got the ideas. Examples: the author argues, James concludes, the essay explains, he/she refers to.

Essay Revision Poll

How much time do you spend doing essay revision?

See results

Final Proofreading tips.

Double check your quotes against the source and don't forget to do author tags.
Double check your quotes against the source and don't forget to do author tags. | Source


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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Seeker! As you know, the process of revising is continual for people who consider themselves writers. My students often want to write better but need help in seeing the steps to make their papers clearer.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      An excellent and very interesting article. It's many years since I had to write an essay - the last was during Nurse Training. I wish I'd had guidelines like those above it would have made life a lot easier!

      I also like the step by step guide for proof reading an essay. Often the writer will use the spell checker but as you say, there are errors that can still be missed.

      I'm going to pass this hub onto my niece who will be writing essays as part of her pre-exam studies. She is at Secondary School and I'm sure this hub will be a huge benefit to her.

      Great hub and very interesting. Voted up + shared!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I'm glad I helped Maddie. That is actually something I've found I have to do, since I'm one of those people who doesn't really know what I want to say until I start writing!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I love the idea of reverse outlining! I was never exposed to it in my own schooling, but it makes perfect sense. I will definitely apply it to my writing in the future.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      So true Pennypines. And humor is a great way to make people more interested in what you have to say.

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 5 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      One more little suggestion: Do not make your essays too serious, they can become boring. A little touch of appropriate humor or self-deprecating wit can go a long way.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      You are so right Pennypines! My favorite writer, Anthony Trollope, often used familiar sayings that his characters quote to one another and themselves. That adds zest to life!

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 5 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      I love to use quotes, especially from classic poetry. And they do lend credence to our arguments if used properly. It is amazing how far back in time the writer can go, how very many years ago the same topics that interest us today were used in fine literature and poetry.

      The French say "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

      Vive le bon mot! (long live good writing!)