revising? try a four step approach

Many people approach revising as if it is a single shot process. They tell themselves, “I’m just going to sit down now and revise my paper”. But revising and refining a text are not one activity, they are several. The writer who thinks that revision is a onesie could be setting themselves up to feel daunted by the magnitude of what needs to be done, and potentially frustrated if it doesn’t all come together in the one big writing stint.

At a minimum, revising consists of four interconnected, interlocking and circular steps:

  • reading your text 
  • diagnosing problems 
  • generating solutions – deciding on what needs to be done and in what order, and 
  • re-writing. 

These steps do not necessarily happen serially and separately. But they don’t always flow seamlessly into one another either. You are highly likely to need thinking time in between at least some of them. After reading and diagnosis, you may decide that you need to go back to checking out literatures or looking at your data analysis. You may also want to check your diagnosis and proposed solutions with a supervisor, a peer or writing mentor.

To avoid revising-refusal or revising-fear you can organise shortish periods of time around each of the four steps. Using shorter sessions for daunting revisions has the advantage of making the task seem more do-able. Expectations are lowered too – the writer tells themselves, “I don’t have to finish it all today. All I need to do in this writing time is to read my text and begin to identify the problems, I don’t need to do everything now”. Read first and then a second writing session might see the writer read again, complete their diagnosis and begin to develop solutions. A third session might focus on textual changes and sorting out the order in which the changes need to be made. The final session(s) is tackling the text itself.

Of course it is possible to do all the steps in one go. But most of us need more time on revising than the single go. And we benefit from the mulling over spaces in between them.

You can support your revising by writing notes to yourself in the margins of your text. Or you can make a simple table to serve as a guide to writing. Your table can be broken down into chunks of time, with particular revision chunks allocated to specific diary slots.

Problem in the text, page number. You can also cut and paste in the beginning and end of the text at issue. From… to.. DiagnosisRewriting solution
Column headings for revising plan

You could also add a fourth column – time and date.

Of course, it is not necessary to be so systematic. It is quite possible to move through the steps for revising without breaking the task up in this way. However, if you DO find yourself unable to start revising and find yourself gazing longingly at tempting reasons to procrastinate, then the act of developing a staged plan can help.

Making a plan means that you are taking charge of what revising you will do, how and when. You are standing back to assess and evaluate your own writing. You are putting your writer self to work on improving your text.

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, communication, revision, revision strategy, supervision and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to revising? try a four step approach

  1. Jessica says:

    When revising I break my work into small revision sections; and I’ve taken to using the read aloud function in Word for dense text. It’s been brilliant at locating errors in my work and helping me improve readability. Not so good for tables and code data, of course!


    • pat thomson says:

      Yes reading aloud or being read to us a really good thing to do. The advantage of being read to us that it says what is actually there, not what you think is there. It’s pretty time consuming for something long though so you heed to add the time in.


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