Revising and Editing Written Work

Let’s face it. Everybody’s first draft stinks. Good writing—not beautiful writing, just clear writing—requires that materials be revised. William Faulkner, after winning the Nobel Prize for literature, was asked how he felt being recognized as one of the world’s greatest writers. He responded, "I am not one of the world’s greatest writers, but I would have to be counted among the world’s half a dozen greatest re-writers."

To do a good job revising your writing, you often must get some distance from your own work. Try to complete a first draft as soon as you can. Then set it aside for a day or so. When you begin your revision, you will find plenty of room for improvement. You will want to review your paper for spelling. Even with spell checking programs, a misspelled word may not be identified if its incorrect spelling creates another word that does exist. Most writers review their text to place the entire work in one verb tense—just select one and stick with it. In time, you will learn to revise your work within a few hours of completing a first draft. Perhaps getting another person to look at your first draft is possible—provided that the person selected knows effective writing rules. By securing input and criticism, we can tighten papers into ones that are clear and thorough. Additional advice (with tongue in cheek) was offered by Ray Erwin (1985), a columnist for the newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher. He developed a set of ten "Un-rules" for news writers, though the guide applies generally:*

1.    Don’t use no double negatives.

2.    Make each pronoun agree with their antecedent.

3.     Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.

4.     About them sentence fragments.

5.     When dangling, watch your participles.

6.     Verbs has to agree with their subject.

7.     Just between you and I, case is important too.

8.     Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.

9.     Don’t use commas, which aren’t necessary.

10.    Try to not ever split infinitives.

11.    It’s important to use your apostrophes correctly.

12.    Proofread your writing to see if you any words out.

13.    Correct spelling is esential.

A fourteenth rule was later added by another writer:

14.    A preposition is a poor word to end a sentence with (Day, 1988, p. 155).

Things to Note in Revising Your Work:

There are some additional matters that bear attention when you get ready to revise your papers. Some of the most obvious will be listed here.


Get all your verb tenses moving in the same direction. Write in the present tense or the past tense, but choose one and stick with it. Avoid sentences such as: "Two concepts are distinguished {generally dealing with the present--thought in passive voice}, the first of which was {generally dealing with the past} most critical."


Comma splices have no place in formal writing. A comma splice occurs when two sentences are combined with a comma instead of a period, such as: "Communication is significant, people study communication their entire lives."  Make two sentences out of the statements.


Commas should not be omitted where they are required.


One-sentence paragraphs do not exist. Make sure each paragraph has at least two sentences.


Avoid unnecessary passive voice sentences. Most writers get into them by accident. Here is a way out. Look at all the words ending in
ing" and see how many you can eliminate. Hence, instead of "Students are studying interpersonal communication," consider "Students study interpersonal communication" or "Students currently study interpersonal communication."


Though popular in folksy popular songs, a statement such as "Me and my brother went to the movies" is grammatical, but incredibly rude and selfish. It is crass writing because it puts "me" first. The reader is likely to be turned off by such a self-centered writer. Instead, show some politeness toward others by using a phrase such as, "My brother and I went to the movies."


*There seems to be some confusion about the author to credit for these ideas. Rubin, Rubin, and Piele (1993, p. 216) give Day (1988) as the source for the "Ten Commandments of Good Writing." Yet, William and Mary Morris in editing the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage (1985, pp. 603-604) correctly identified Ray Erwin as the original source from which the statements were taken.



Day, R. A. (1988). How to write and publish a scientific paper (3rd ed.).
    Philadelphia: Institute for Scientific Information.

Erwin, R. (1985). "Un-rules" for news writers. In W. Morris & M. Morris (Eds.),
    Harper dictionary of contemporary usage (pp. 603-604). New York: Harper
    & Row.

Morris, W., & Morris, M. (Eds.). (1985). Harper dictionary of contemporary usage.
    New York: Harper & Row.

Rubin, R. B., Rubin, A. M., & Piele. L. J. (1993). Communication research: Strategies
    and sources
(3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.