How to Revise & Edit Print & Nonprint Texts

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Whether writing a traditional essay or creating a video or website, it is important to know how to revise and edit your work. And to revise and edit effectively, you need to know the difference between higher-order and lower-order concerns.

Writing and Rewriting

Many great writers have spoken about how the act of rewriting is key to their work. Vladimir Nabokov once said, for example, ''I have rewritten -- often several times -- every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.''

And this is true regardless of what kind of text you are creating. It is true for a traditional essay or a work of creative writing like a short story, but it goes for nonprint texts like websites, videos, and visuals as well. It is in the act of revision and editing that you shape the raw material of your first draft into a a coherent and effective work.

Regardless of what kind of text you are creating, it is important to know the process of revision and editing, and perhaps even more important, to understand the difference between the two. In this lesson, we will first discuss this difference and then apply it to print and nonprint texts.

Revising and Editing

Many people think the words 'revise' and 'edit' mean the same thing, but in order to be an effective writer, it is important to know the difference. The difference comes down to what are known as higher-order concerns and lower-order concerns. Writers and writing teachers use these categories to prioritize the act of rewriting.

Higher-order concerns refer to what you are trying to say. These include elements such as your thesis or main idea, development of your ideas, consideration of your audience and purpose, and organization of ideas. When you are rewriting with a focus on these elements, this is revising, because it often involves substantial changes to the work. You may delete a whole section that is not relevant or change the entire focus of the composition.

They are called higher-order concerns because you want to start with them when you are rewriting. After the higher-order concerns are addressed, you can move on to lower-order concerns and editing.

Lower-order concerns mainly focus on how something is presented. It includes issues of presentation like grammar and punctuation, word choice, formatting, and documentation of sources. Editing is the act of rewriting with a focus on lower-order concerns. As opposed to revision, which often involves major overhauls of the whole text, editing is more an act of 'cleaning up' the text and making it as presentable as possible to the audience.

Revising and Editing Print Texts

As we already discussed, when writing a print text, like an essay, short story, or legal brief, you always want to start with higher-order concerns. After finishing a rough draft, reread the text but ignore any grammar, spelling, or other lower-order concerns. Instead, focus on questions such as:

  • Is my main idea clear?
  • Does the body of the text support my main idea?
  • Is the text engaging to its intended audience?
  • Are there any parts of the text that don't seem relevant to the main idea?

If possible, it is also a good idea to have someone else (a friend, classmate, coworker, etc.) to read the text with these same questions in mind. After doing this, it is time to go back and rewrite the text to address the issues you and/or your readers noticed. It might take several drafts before all of the higher-order issues are to your satisfaction and the revision is complete.

When the revision is complete, it is time to turn to editing and the lower-order concerns. It is time to read your text again, but this time ignoring the argument and focusing on the sentence-level concerns like:

  • Are there any awkward sentences?
  • Are there any vague word choices?
  • Are there any grammatical errors?
  • Is the document formatted properly?

A good way to focus on just the lower-order concerns is to start at the end of the draft and read backwards, sentence-by-sentence. Then you can ignore the content and focus just on the sentence-level issues.

As with revising, you may go through several rounds of editing, but once the document looks free of lower-order errors, you have a final draft that is ready to submit!

Revising and Editing Nonprint Texts

The act of revising and editing nonprint texts follows the same principals as for print texts but presents some unique issues.

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