Revision

Overview

The words "revision," "editing," and "proofreading" all refer to the later stages of work on a written product. However, although "editing" and "proofreading" may be used interchangeably, "revision" is a distinct process. Editing and proofreading involve attention to surface details and to errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage. In this painstaking process, you make sure that your writing conforms to commonly accepted standards of correctness. But revision, which takes place prior to proofreading, is a more complicated process.

The first draft you write is likely to be an exploration of your ideas. You may be thinking through a new legal concept or genre, and drafting will help you to discover how well you do (or do not!) understand the concept, how to put the genre to work for you, and what material you want to include in your writing. For example, it may take a lot of drafting to arrive at a clear issue statement. During this process, you are writing for an audience of one: you. During revision, your focus should shift outward from your own understanding of the topic to communicating that understanding to an audience of famously busy legal readers. You may have heard the word "revision" broken down into its component parts, "re-vision," in order to emphasize the idea of seeing your draft again with new eyes. In the revision process, you view your draft as if you were a reader: where do you need more information? what seems confusing? is this idea related to the main point? how do the ideas relate to each other? You may not have settled on an issue statement until after much writing, but your reader will want to see it right away; he or she will probably not be patient enough to follow your original train of thought before arriving at it.

You may be reluctant to revise. All writers are at times. Revision is a potentially time-consuming process, much more so than proofreading, and no computer program can help you do it. It may involve throwing out entire pages of drafted material, writing equally large new sections, and rearranging the order of the ideas and their relationship to one another. You may discover that you need to do more research, or even that you've changed your mind about some part of the content. None of this is fast or easy, but it - not the first draft you sit down to write - is the main bulk of the writing process. Needless to say, it's important to plan ahead for revision; it can't be done well the night before a deadline. If possible, it's a good idea to leave your draft alone for awhile (at least a day, if possible, or even a couple of hours) so that when you reread it, the ideas and language will feel new to you and you can view the piece with detachment.

Revision occurs on several levels, the global level (which addresses overall content and organization), paragraph level and sentence level. Tackle these in descending order, dealing with the largest concerns first. Don't spend time polishing one beautiful sentence that will later be cut in a global revision process.

This section will take you through the different levels of revision, using examples from the various stages of one student's revision process.