7.4 Polishing the Draft


This section of Ch. 7 will cover the following topics:

  • the difference between revision and editing
  • revising for clarity
  • revising for quality

You may think a completed first draft means you are finished.  Experienced writers know that draft is just half-way to the finish line.

Revising and editing are the final two steps in the writing process, and completing those steps successfully are the difference between substandard work and excellent writing.

  • When you revise, you add, cut, move, or change information to make your ideas more accurate, more interesting, or more convincing.  The goal of revision is clarity.
  • When you edit, you fix problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Then you format the document according to the guidelines set by your instructor.  The goal of editing is correctness.

This section of Ch. 7 covers revision. The next section will cover editing.

Step 4: Revising


The essay “The Maker’s Eye” by Donald Murray provides great insight into the revision process.  A link to the essay is in Ch. 8.

The word “revision” tells you what to do: “vision” is seeing, and you will look carefully at your draft during this step.  When you revise, your job is to look critically and find things to improve.

Many people hear the words “critical” and “criticism” and think of negative feelings that make them blush or grumble.  However, as a writer, you need to be critical of yourself in a positive way.  You need to train your eye to see problems and learn to trust your ability to fix what needs fixing.  “Critical” also means “important and crucial.”

When revising, look at organization, clarity, and writing quality.

First Revision: Organization

All the ideas in each paragraph and the entire essay should be arranged in a way that makes logical sense.

The following tasks do not have to be done in order.  In fact, mixing up the order might help you focus better.  Look at one of the body paragraphs, then skip back to the introduction, then skip forward to the conclusion, then do a different body paragraph.  That way, your mind can focus on one segment at a time.

  • Read the introductory paragraph.  Ask yourself if it is as strong as you can make it.  Is it engaging?  Is the thesis clearly stated?
  • Read the topic sentence of each body paragraph and ask yourself if it is tied to the thesis.
  • Read each body paragraph and ask yourself if you have provided adequate details and examples to explain the topic sentence, without repeating yourself.
  • Be sure the body paragraphs are logically organized.  Read the three topic sentences, one after the other, and ask yourself if the order is effective.  Would your point be clearer if you changed the order?
  • Read the concluding paragraph.  Does it provide a sense of closure rather than just repeating what has already been said?

Second Revision: Pruning

Trees grow well with sufficient sunshine and rain.  Sometimes, though, they grow so vigorously that their roots invade the foundation of the house, branches knock against windows, and leaves fall into rain gutters, clogging them.  To ensure the tree remains attractive and healthy, it often needs pruning.

That is true about writing too.  Many student writers are worried about not having enough to say.  A more serious problem with student writing is wordiness.  Three common problems in student writing are focus, transitions, and clarity.

Problem #1: Focus

Sometimes writers cannot resist a good digression.  Even though you might enjoy such detours, unplanned digressions usually harm a piece of writing.

Read the following paragraph twice.  The first time, include the words that are lined out.  The second time, skip them.  Notice the information about the shopping experience gets the reader off track.  The paragraph is clearer and more focused without the digression.

Buying a television can be confusing. The first important decision as the shopper walks around the sales floor is whether to get a plasma screen or an LCD screen. The salespeople may give you decent info. Plasma flat-panel television screens can be much larger in diameter than their LCD rivals. Plasma screens show truer blacks and can be viewed at a wider angle than current LCD screens. But be careful and tell the salesperson you have budget constraints. Large flat-panel plasma screens are much more expensive than flat-screen LCD models. Don’t let someone make you buy more television than necessary!

It takes time to learn to prune your own writing.  But practice makes perfect.  As you revise, see if you can spot digressions.

Problem #2: Conciseness

Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will appeal more to their audience and better fit their purpose in a given piece of writing.

The sentence above is much clearer without the crossed out words and the meaning is the same.  Our goal is not simply to make sentences shorter; it’s to make them stronger.

Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for in your draft.

  • Sentences that begin with “There are” or “It is”
    • Wordy:  There are two major experiments that the Biology Department sponsors.
    • Revised:  The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.  (move the subject to the front of the sentence)
  • Sentences with unnecessary modifiers
    • Wordy:  Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the legislation.
    • Revised:  Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the legislation.  (“extremely famous” and “well-known” mean the same thing)
  • Sentences in the passive voice or with forms of the verb “to be”
    • Wordy:  It can be said that using a GPS device is something that is a benefit to drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
    • Revised: Using a GPS device can benefit drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
  • Sentences with round-about phrases
    • Wordy: The e-book reader, which is a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.  My grandfather bought an e-book reader, and his wife bought an e-book reader, too.
    • Revised: The e-book reader, a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.  Both my grandparents have bought e-book readers.

Here are some wordy phrases to avoid; use the simpler, clearer option:

Wordy Concise Replacements
a majority of most
at this point in time now
based on the fact that because
during the course of during
in connection with about
in order to to
in the event that if
a number of some/many
at the conclusion of after
despite the fact that although
on a daily basis daily
so as to to
prior to before
take into consideration consider
until such time as until

George Orwell, a perceptive and deliberate writer, once wrote, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”  Student writers often think fancier words are better just because they are fancy.  They aren’t.

Fancy Words Plain Replacements
accompany go with
accomplish do
advise tell
attempt try
benefit help
demonstrate show
due to because of
finalize end/finish
furnish provide, give
initiate begin
perform do
utilize use
Problem #3: Appropriateness

College essays should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation and should be accessible and appropriate for any reader.

  • Avoid slang and language that is overly casual.  Write about “men,” “women,” and “children” rather than “girls,” “guys,” and “kids.”
  • Avoid contractions.  Contractions such as “can’t” and “aren’t” are considered casual speech.
  • Avoid clichés.  Overused expressions such as “rule of thumb” or “skill set” have been used so often they are empty of meaning.
  • Use specific rather than overly general words.  Find concrete synonyms for “thing,” “nice,” “bad,” “interesting,” and other such words.
  • Use nonsexist language.  Replace male-gender words with non-gender words when possible (“chair” instead of “chairman,” “police officers” instead of “policemen”).  Alternate “he” and “she” or use genderless plurals like “they.”
  • When referring to people with disabilities, put the person first (“a woman who is blind” rather than “a blind woman”).  A disability is something a person has, not what a person is.

Thorough and detailed revision is what differentiates weak writing from strong writing.  Professional writers know this and dedicate the majority of their time to revising.

How long should you spend on revising?  As long as you can.  This step can take longer than all the other steps combined.

Exercise 1

Revise your essay.  Polish it, prune it, make it clearer and stronger.

Then, cut-and-paste the introductory paragraph from your first draft and the introductory paragraph from this revised draft into a Word document to submit to the instructor.  In a few sentences, explain the changes you made.

Remember that a revision is not simply the first draft with a few mechanical corrections.  There should be obvious differences in content, organization, and clarity between the two versions.


  • Revising and editing are the stages of the writing process when you improve your draft.
  • A polished essay is clearly organized and concisely worded.
  • Revision takes time.


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