How to Revise an Essay and Make It Better Than Ever

Think revising and editing aren’t necessary? Check out this ad:

how to revise an essay

It looks like educational software ad writers don’t know the difference between “their” (possessive) and “they’re” (they are).

Would you feel confident purchasing educational software from a company that doesn’t know basic grammar (or perhaps simply doesn’t care enough to proofread its ad)? Probably not.

Why? Because simple typos are generally a result of sloppy work—and that’s what your professor is going to think if you turn in a paper with the same type of errors.

Typos and grammar errors are bad enough, but gaps in the content and logic of your paper are even worse. That means learning how to revise an essay is an essential skill.

So follow these six basic revision steps, and your paper will be better than ever!

How to Revise an Essay and Make it Better than Ever

how to revise an essay
“Reworking, rewriting, removing” by mpclemens, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

Before we dive into how to revise an essay, think about whether you’ll revise a digital copy or a hard copy.

If you revise a digital copy, you might want to save your first draft and make revisions on another copy. This will let you refer to your original ideas if you rewrite. (Just make sure to give the files different names, so you don’t accidentally submit the wrong version!)

If you revise a hard copy, grab a pen (and maybe a highlighter) to start marking up your pages. It can often be easier to catch typos and other errors when reading a printed copy (a lot of seasoned authors use this method). Don’t automatically dismiss this old-school way of editing before giving it a try.

Now that you’ve decided how you’ll work, here’s those six steps on how to revise an essay.

#1 Write and revise on separate days

Ever read a text and immediately after you send it realize that autocorrect changed “today” to “Thursday” and “dorm room” to “home room”?

Writing and revising all on one day is like that. When you’re writing, every word you type sounds like perfection. If you read your essay the next day, though, you’ll see that every word is far from perfect. You’ll likely have your share of typos and sentences that are barely comprehensible.

The point: don’t procrastinate.

Leave yourself enough time to revise. Write one day, and revise the next. You’ll be surprised at what you find!

If you absolutely don’t have time to wait a full day before you revise, at least wait a few hours.

#2 Read your paper out loud

how to revise an essay
“Reading a book” by Karoly Czifra, Flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Remember when you were a kid and you followed along with your finger as you read out loud? I bet you may have even paused to sound out words in your favorite book. It helped, didn’t it? Why? Because it helped you comprehend the words, their meaning, and the meaning of the story. You could hear the words being spoken.

While I’m not suggesting that you necessarily need to follow along the page or screen with your finger (but you can if you like), I am suggesting that you read your essay out loud so that you hear how your paper sounds. It’s easier to hear awkward wording and spot typos if you read aloud.

#3 Start big

When people think of revision, they often think of correcting spelling errors, typos, and other grammatical errors. Though these are all part of the revision process, there’s more to revision than just changing some punctuation or moving around a few words.

You need to look at the content and the development of your paper too.

And you should always complete revision of these larger concerns (content and development) before looking for smaller concerns, such as word choice, grammar errors, and typos.

Here’s why: Let’s say you spend 10 minutes working on one sentence that you just can’t seem to get right. You change the wording three times and move the comma twice in an attempt to craft the perfect topic sentence for your paragraph.

If you spend all that time writing one sentence, what happens if you then revise the content of your essay and end up cutting the entire paragraph because it doesn’t support your argument?

Yep, you wasted 10 minutes on one sentence. That 10 minutes would have been better spent working on your key arguments, rather than working on punctuation and wording.

Here’s a quick list of questions to ask yourself as you revise content:

#4 Consider style

Once you’ve revised the content of your paper, consider style. Style refers to things such as tone, voice, or redundancy.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Make sure you’re writing in the correct voice. Are you allowed to write in first person? Should you write in third person? (Third person is usually preferred in academic essays.)
  • Examine the tone of your paper. If you’re writing an academic essay, don’t use slang and jargon. They’re too informal. Instead, use academic word choices. For instance, “back in the day” could be replaced by “previously” or “in recent years.”
  • Watch out for word repetition and unnecessary redundancy. If you’re writing about the death penalty, it can be easy to write the term over and over again simply because it’s the topic of your paper. To avoid such repetition, try using synonyms, such as capital punishment, execution, or legalized killing.

You might also consider a thesaurus, but use it cautiously. Even though the words might have similar meanings, they likely have different connotations.

For example, if you look up the word “quiet” in a thesaurus, you’ll see the word “speechless” as a synonym. Clearly, these two words don’t mean quite the same thing and can’t always be used interchangeably.

#5 Go small

Now that you have the content and style in place, it’s finally time to look at those smaller issues—grammar, spelling, and typos.

I know you have spell check, but trust me when I tell you not to rely on it. Sometimes spell check misses things or auto-corrects to something it shouldn’t. For example, if you spell “definitely” wrong, spell check might change it to “defiantly.”  This is definitely not what you want!

The Final-Final Revision

how to revise an essay
“Racers cross finish line in 5K run for Navy Chief birthday” by Official U.S. Navy Page, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

Even after all this effort, sometimes it’s not enough to revise your own work.

While arguments might make sense in your own mind, they might not be as clear to others. Sometimes, you can even miss small grammar and wording errors because your mind reads what you meant to say, not what you actually typed.

Need more convincing? Read Why Self-Editing is Killing Your Writing.

And finally, the last step in learning how to revise an essay…

#6 Have someone else read your writing

Having others look at your work means they see it from a new perspective. They’re reading as your audience, not as the writer, so they will see and understand things differently.

In some English courses, you’ll have the opportunity to have your classmates read your work. If you’re not in an English course, you might have another friend (hopefully one who is good at writing) read your paper. You might also visit your school’s writing center.

Know who else can provide expert feedback and help with the revision process? The editors at Kibin! Let us take a look at your paper to help make it better than ever.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.