Revising is the process of rereading and changing your work to make it more readable and logical for your audience. Revising relates only to ideas and organization, not to punctuation and grammar. In other words, it’s not proofreading. Proofreading and editing happen only after the ideas in your paper are clear.
Here are some general suggestions for revising:
- Take a step back from your draft by putting your paper away for as long as possible. Try to leave it at least overnight.
- With fresh eyes, reread and assess/evaluate your entire paper. Assess the effectiveness of your thesis statement, topic sentences, support, transitions, and the conclusions that you’re making.
- Consider the appropriateness and placement of your ideas:
- You might remove entire sections that don’t sufficiently support your position.
- You might move paragraphs around to create a logical transition between your ideas.
- You might revisit the drafting, outlining, research, or brainstorming phases.
- Revise your ideas, filling in the gaps in your logic.
- Have a partner read over your work. If you’re on your own, you can use a revising checklist. We’ve provided a revising checklist below for you to view or download, but you might get one more applicable to your assignment and revising style from your instructor or Google.
- Develop self-awareness of your writing style. For example, if you know you tend to ramble, you might produce a first draft that’s 1.5 times longer than the desired word count with the intention of trimming it down significantly during revision.
- What was the original assignment? Make sure your paper relates to the topic you were assigned.
- Does it meet the target or objective? Review the marking requirements provided by your instructor or seek out feedback, such as that provided by the Writing Dropbox for Lethbridge College students.
- Is your thesis easily identified and accurate? Test your thesis statement. If you have a research question, check that the thesis statement answers that question. If you have a topic, check that your thesis expresses something about your topic.
- Do your topic sentences (main ideas) connect to your thesis? Could your audience (probably your instructor) easily identify how the topic sentences connect to the thesis statement? If the answer is “no” or you’re unsure, the topic sentences and/or thesis statement may need to be rewritten to make the connection clear.
- Does each paragraph contain support that directly relates to the topic sentence? Within each paragraph, there’s usually a topic sentence that acts as the map for the paragraph, just as the thesis acts as the map for the entire paper. A good revision strategy is to check whether each sentence supports its topic sentence.
- When integrating research into a paragraph:
- make a statement that relates to the topic sentence,
- provide support in the form of a (properly-cited) paraphrase or quotation, and
- explain how the support connects to the topic sentence and/or thesis.
- This pattern can be repeated as necessary throughout the paragraph.
- If information in a paragraph doesn’t relate to your topic sentence, it may need to be removed or moved to another paragraph. If it doesn’t fit in anywhere but it’s too important to the thesis to remove, it could probably be its own paragraph; just be sure to support and explain it.
- When integrating research into a paragraph:
- Are your paragraphs in a logical order? Consider the order of your paragraphs. Would they make more sense if you changed the order? If so, this is the time to make the move.
- Are your sentences in a logical order? Does each sentence appear in a logical place? Is the connection (transition) between each sentence clear and effective enough to prevent misunderstanding or assumptions from your reader?
- Does your conclusion summarize your main points and connect back to your thesis statement? Read your conclusion as if it were your introduction. Consider whether your thesis statement is clear and your main points are evident. Your conclusion is meant to remind readers of your main points. Discussing new information or evidence is usually ineffective in a conclusion.
- Is your word choice effective and descriptive? Word choice is key to making your message clear and appropriate for your audience. Reread your paper, and evaluate the following:
- Which words create a strong response? Is that the response you want?
- Which words are confusing or vague? Add in strong, concrete words. Omit or change unfamiliar words.
- Check verb tense. Generally, you should only use the past tense when discussing past events and use present tense when discussing research, literature, or ongoing events/phenomena. More important than this general rule, however, is using verb tense consistently. For example, discussing research in the past tense usually isn’t a problem, but jumping back and forth between present and past tense when discussing the same research can be confusing.
- Are your sentences clear and descriptive? Is your audience going to understand what you’re communicating?
- If the meaning of a sentence is unclear, it may help to decide the most important word/phrase in the sentence, then put that word/phrase at the beginning of the sentence. Doing so may require restructuring the sentence.
- Evaluate the quality of your sentences:
- Highlight powerful sentences. What makes them powerful? This is the impression you want to make in the majority of your sentences, but especially the sentences at the beginnings and ends of paragraphs.
- Underline boring or weak sentences. Revise them by varying the length, changing the structure or word order, or modifying how you begin each sentence.
- Is your tone appropriate?
- Tone is the attitude you have about your topic (for example, persuasive, light-hearted, serious, etc.). Your tone should match your topic, audience, and purpose. When writing a message to check in on a friend, you’d probably use a casual tone, which might include slang, shorthand, gifs, or emojis. However, in a research paper written for your college instructor, your tone might be formal and emotionally distant. Here, slang and abbreviations would generally be inappropriate and visuals should be properly formatted and cited alongside APA conventions. If your tone is not appropriate for your audience and purpose, look at revising your word choice and sentences to make your language choices more appropriate to your audience.
- Remember that you can write your drafts in whatever tone you like; it’s the tone of the end product that matters. For example, it can be useful to draft in a casual tone, then revise your writing during post-drafting so the tone is appropriate for your intended audience.
- Do you have effective transitions between your ideas? Typically, a transition sentence comes at the end of a paragraph, linking it to the next paragraph. However, transitions can happen within a paragraph, not just between. And there doesn’t need to be a transition sentence for there to be an effective transition. Sometimes the link between one idea and the next is obvious and doesn’t need to be pointed out. Sometimes a single word like second, or also is enough of a transition. But sometimes an explicit transition sentence is necessary. Try to put yourself in your reader’s shoes and guess at how much guidance they might need to get from one idea/paragraph to the next.
- Is your paper logical overall? Near the end of revision, or even during revision, take a step back and look at your paper as a whole. Your paper should be logically organized enough to guide your audience from your thesis to your main ideas and support and, finally, to your memorable conclusion. Consider the following questions:
- Does your introduction capture your audience’s attention? Grab their interest with a startling statistic, a thoughtful quotation, or a probing question.
- Does your introduction tell readers everything they need to know to decide whether to read your paper? From your introduction and/or abstract, readers should be able to discern your essay’s topic and approximate structure. Readers should also be able to tell whether you’re making an argument or simply discussing research. If you’re discussing research, your introduction should usually include any major trends or findings from your research.
- Do the body paragraphs clearly relate to the thesis and each other? Revise to ensure there are no connections missing.
- Is your conclusion memorable? Compare it to your introduction and ensure that it follows through on the projections/promises made there. Compare it to your body paragraphs to ensure it synthesizes your important points/ideas. Your conclusion summarizes your main ideas under the assumption that your reader has read your paper and just needs the main ideas compiled at the end for memorability and access. Leave your audience with not only a clear sense of your main points, but also something to think about or use. It may be useful to make broader points about how your thoughts can apply to the real world, but avoid being too vague (if you’re connecting it back to history in general or the human condition, you’re probably zooming too far out) or bringing in new information.
Explore three revisions of the Introduction and History section of a student paper on the following research question:
- What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?
In this case, revisions were accomplished by reading through the paper out loud multiple times. Observe how ideas in the introduction and first paragraph are elaborated upon, deleted, and moved. Also notice how changes are made to ensure that the message of each paragraph is well-supported and flows logically.
In the first revision, the student checked the following:
- Is the thesis easily identified?
- Do all of the paragraphs connect to the thesis with topic sentences?
- Does each paragraph support its topic sentence?
- Are there effective transitions between main ideas?
Introduction and History (with revisions highlighted)
The use of fire by native peoples to change ecosystems or portions thereof is almost universal [D1] (Steven Pyne World of Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth from blm.gov website) When I watched the two videos Fires of Spring and Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa’s Savannas provide it portrayed two contrasting examples of how communities use fire .
In North America [D2] First Nations communities have long used landscape burning to clear land, enhancing the growth of desired plants and encouraging the presence of animals (Turner 1999, 185). Across [D3] all Canadian ecosystems there are concentric arcs of fire climate zones stretching from the Hudson Bay (Pyne 2007, 18) There are carbon deposits n lace sediment showing the impact of fire on the landscape after the most recent glacial period (Murphy 1985, 33) Pyne makes note of how fire relies on and shapes the landscape, the same as the landscape relies on and shapes fire behaviour (Pyne 2007, 21) [D4]
In Africa, [D5] savannah grassland is another ecological zone prone to wildfires. People and fire, plants and animals co-exist in complex and sometimes misunderstood relationships. Wild fire affects grazing animals when fresh growth springs up after an area is burned (Archibald et. Al. 2005, 95) The savannah is often considered “patchy” because of the role of fire; the young trees that are most likely to survive wild fires are those closest to clumps of older trees (Hochberg et al. 1994, 225) [D6]
In Europe and western societies [D7], fire has been viewed mainly as a destroyer (Murphy 1985, 33), as did French colonizers in Guinea (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). In 1982, Henry T. Lewis acknowledged the shortcomings of researchers, saying that “No aspect is quite so dismal as anthropologists’ lack of knowledge of indigenous uses of fire for transforming and maintaining natural environments.” [D8] (Lewis 1982, 3) As George Wuerthner points out, each ecosystem responds to fire in its own way (Wuerthner 2006, 89). [D9] In the past, researchers have tended to minimize or dismiss the effects that communities being studied exerted on the land they inhabited, particularly hunting and gathering societies because it was argued that these communities do not produce or control resources (Lewis 1982, 4). In the last few decades, this has begun to change, although debate continues with some researchers continuing to assert that lightening strikes are responsible for the majority of wild fire evidence (Wuerthner 2006, 9) [D10]
[D5] What is the role of fire in the African landscape – What does the evidence suggest? Show the contrast between the two ecosystems. This is the start of a topic sentence for this paragraph. This paragraph will discuss fires in Africa.
[D8] This belongs later in the paper, since it is a key piece of evidence for the argument about lack of information about how fire has been used for land management. It does not add to the discussion of European and western societal views.
[D10] This seems to be a sub argument that is not central to the ideas of the colonizers and should be removed from this paragraph. Instead, there should be a sentence here about how these new arrivals ignored the knowledge of the native inhabitants and lead to fire prevention practices and land management policies that were not effective
The second revising of the draft, the student considered these questions:
- Is the word choice interesting and effective?
- Are the sentences interesting and relevant?
- Is the tone appropriate?
- Are there effective transitions between ideas?
Introduction and History
The use of fire by native peoples to change ecosystems or portions thereof is almost universal (Steven Pyne [D1] World of Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth from blm.gov website) When I viewed [D2] the two videos Fires of Spring and Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa’s Savannas, it illustrated [D3] the use of fire as a land management system in two different communities. [D4]
In North America, First Nations communities have long used landscape burning to clear land, enhancing the growth of desired plants and encouraging the presence of animals (Turner 1999, 185). A variety of landscapes, [D5] from tundra in the north, to muskeg and the boreal forest which stretches south to the prairie grasslands and west to subalpine and montane forests in British Columbia, researchers have identified a series of concentric arcs of biotas and fire climate zones emanating in rings from the Hudson Bay (Pyne 2007, 18). Evidence of natural occurring fire, from carbon deposits in lake sediment, shows that fire was shaping the landscape as soon as vegetation appeared after the most recent glacial period (Murphy 1985, 33). In addition, Pyne [D6] notes that even before humans, fire relied on and shaped the plants and landscape as much as the landscape and plants relied on and shaped fire behaviour [D7] (Pyne 2007, 21).
In Africa, savannah grassland is another ecological [D8] zone prone to wildfires . Here to there are signs that fire, people, plants, and animals co-exist in complex and sometimes misunderstood relationships. Wild fire affects the behaviour of grazing animals, altering foraging patterns as fresh growth becomes available in burned areas (Archibald et al. 2005, 95) and also promotes the “patchiness” of the savannah, as the young trees that are most likely to survive wild fires are those closest to the protection of existing clumps of older trees (Hochberg et al. 1994, 225). The role people play in this ecosystem is just beginning to be understood. [D9]
Early European arrivals in the area that is now Alberta viewed fire primarily as a destroyer (Murphy 1985, 33), as did French colonizers in Guinea (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). The views of the new arrivals, often neglected to fully appreciate the extensive knowledge of fire-ecology of the native inhabitants, which was particularly suited for the local regions. This led fire prevention [D10] practices and land management policies that have met with mixed success.
[D2] While it can be appropriate and effective to speak in the first person during a research paper, in this instance, it seems to shift focus from the information to the experience of the writer. However, the experience of the writer doesn’t come up anywhere else or aid the thesis, so taking it out will probably provide a more professional tone and a more focused introduction.
[D3] Instead of using the past tense of the verb, omit, “it” and use “illustrate” instead. This is typically the sort of thing you do in the editing phase, but this is an example of the phases being non-linear. While you shouldn’t focus on editing until after revising, it’s OK to make occasional edits in other phases if it occurs to you.
[D4] So what? Why does my reader care??? Add, a comment about how government officials and policy makers have viewed the traditional use of fire. The thesis statement requires both a topic and position.
[D6] Transition added. In addition, Pyne notes that. . . ‘Makes note’ is also reduced to just ‘notes’ for conciseness. The transition “in addition” clarifies that this information adds to or complements the previous information. If this transition were omitted, the reader may think it’s part of the same information or even meant to contrast previous information.
[D7] There needs to be a transitional sentence here; what is the connection between fire behaviour and the next topic sentence about African wildfires? Maybe, it should read: In addition, Pyne notes that even before humans, fire, in the form of wildfires, relied on and shaped the plants and landscapes as much as the…
[D9] Says who? Perhaps Western researchers are just beginning to understand the role of humans in this ecosystem, but the whole point of the paper is that many Indigenous Peoples have, to a significant extent, understood the human role in fire ecology for thousands of years.
This third revision considers the following questions:
- Does the draft read smoothly? (This may lead to changes in transitions and wording that could have been caught in previous revisions but weren’t; it’s often useful to check for the same or similar thing multiple times, especially after changes have been made)
- Does the paper adhere to conventions around discussing Indigenous Peoples and their Traditional Knowledge?
- Does the introduction grab attention, introduce the topic, and then bridge/transition to the thesis statement?
- After last revisions are made, do the topic sentences still accurately represent their paragraphs and clearly support the thesis?
Fire Control or Fire Prevention
Wildfires are nearly as old as land vegetation and have, from a human perspective, always altered Earth’s landscapes [D1]. But like many ancient, natural phenomena, wildfires have been studied, coexisted with, and even manipulated by humans for millennia, primarily by Indigenous Communities [D2]. This Traditional Ecological Knowledge [D3] is beginning to inform modern land management strategies as demonstrated through the two case studies: Fires of Spring and Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa’s Savannas. These studies show the shift from a colonial misunderstanding of the Traditional use of fire, toward policy makers who implement Traditional Fire Ecology Knowledge into current practices to better coexist with the environment. [D4]
In North America, Indigenous communities have long used landscape burning to clear land, enhancing the growth of desired plants and encouraging the presence of animals (Turner 1999, 185) [D5]. From tundra in the north, to muskeg and the boreal forest which stretches south to the prairie grasslands and west to subalpine and montane forests in British Columbia, researchers have identified a series of concentric arcs of biotas and fire climate zones emanating in rings from the Hudson Bay (Pyne 2007, 18). Evidence of naturally occurring fire, from carbon deposits in lake sediment, shows that fire was shaping the landscape as soon as vegetation appeared after the most recent glacial period (Murphy 1985, 33). In addition, Pyne notes that even before humans, wildfires relied on and shaped the plants and landscape as much as the landscape and plants relied on and shaped wildfires (Pyne 2007, 21). [D6]
In Africa, savannah grassland is another ecological zone prone to wildfires. Here there are signs that fire, people, plants, and animals co-exist in complex and sometimes misunderstood relationships. [D7] Wild fire affects the behaviour of grazing animals, altering foraging patterns as fresh growth becomes available in burned areas (Archibald et al. 2005, 95) and also promotes the “patchiness” of the savannah, as the young trees that are most likely to survive wild fires are those closest to the protection of existing clumps of older trees (Hochberg et al. 1994, 225). Western researchers are just beginning to understand the role of humans in this ecosystem. [D8]
Early European arrivals in the area that is now Alberta viewed fire primarily as a destroyer (Murphy 1985, 33), as did French colonizers in Guinea (Fairhead and Leach 1996, 29). [D9] The views of the new arrivals often neglected to fully appreciate the extensive knowledge of fire-ecology of the Indigenous inhabitants, which was particularly suited for the local regions. These lead fire prevention practices and land management policies have been met with mixed success. [D10]
[D1] This sentence not only hints at the topic, but also has potentially startling information for your reader. Your reader may not know that wildfires and vegetation have coexisted since before human history, or perhaps haven’t thought about it that way.
[D3] Gregory Younging’s book Elements of Indigenous Style (2018) recommends capitalizing any words used to denote Indigenous Traditional Knowledge. Other changes are made to adhere by Younging’s recommendations and write about Indigenous Peoples accurately and respectfully. “First Nation” was changed to “Indigenous” to account for Inuit and Métis communities and any other Indigenous communities not included in the “First Nation” label. “Native” was changed to “Indigenous” to differentiate clearly between native flora/fauna and Indigenous Peoples.
[D4] This thesis statement now deals with both the topic, which is the use of fire as a land management system, and the position, which is how government officials and policy makers have viewed the traditional knowledge of two different Indigenous Communities.
[D6] This both concludes this paragraph and transitions to the next, by indicating that these are universal behaviours, not a niche phenomenon experienced by one Indigenous Community. The wording was also changed and condensed to enhance clarity and flow.
[D8] Transitional Sentence #2. Changed “researchers” to “Western researchers” to more directly indicate the switch in topic from Indigenous to Colonial and avoid the assumption that”‘research” is a Western invention.