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The Ins and Outs of Revising

Every writer, no matter how experienced and successful, knows that revising writing is almost as important as writing in the first place. The simple truth is that writing almost never appears on paper in perfect, final form. It can always benefit from re-vision: seeing your writing again.

You can choose when to perform revision, depending on your personal writing preferences. Some people prefer to write the entire first draft, let it rest for a few days, then return with a clear eye to revise the entire document. Others prefer to revise individual sections of writing as they go. Consider trying both ways, and finding out what's most effective for you.

Here are several specific suggestions to guide you through your revision process:

  1. If you're not in the habit of making even informal outlines, reconsider. They are invaluable for making order out of chaos. Use full sentences for each outlined section to avoid confusing yourself. Try the cut-and-paste method, too, for revising your organization.

  2. Remember how important it is to achieve the same kind of objectivity and distance from your work that your reader has. Try to judge your work dispassionately, as a reader would judge it.

    a. Set your document aside for a time.

    b. Type it and print it if you haven't already done so.

    c. Read your draft aloud, either to yourself or to someone else. Or ask

    someone to read it to you while you follow with the text.

    d. Revise all the larger issues (The Big Picture) before you worry over

    individual words or phrases.

  3. Make sure your own purpose for your paper is clear to you, and that you

    have an equally clear sense of audience. Know exactly to whom you're

    writing, what you're trying to communicate, and why. Force yourself to cut everything that is not related to your main purpose; develop further any important ideas that you suspect are unclear.

    Study articles within your own discipline and notice the tone and approach most generally adopted by published authors. Strive to present yourself as they do. If your discipline favors an author who sounds authoritative, then present your case with an "I can prove this is true" attitude. If, however, you are advised to be cautious, you'll need to use more conditionals (could, may) and qualifiers ("under optimum conditions").

  4. Practice stylistic analysis. If you admire a particular writing style, then try to figure out specifically what you like, and start doing it yourself. Look for:

      • length of sentences
      • types of sentences
      • number of sentences in paragraphs
      • terminology used
      • use of transitions
      • use of punctuation
      • amount of subordination vs. coordination
      • order and arrangement of material within sections
      • placement of main idea, hypothesis, objectives.

  5. Get as much feedback from others as you can. Consider forming a peer

    reader group to help each other. If you're interested in comments about

    something particular about your writing, make a list of questions targeted

    to that area. You may want to submit these questions to your professors

    to elicit their responses.

  6. Try not to think of your writing in terms of "good" or "bad." Focus instead on "effective" or "ineffective" as useful terms that will help you think about the needs of your readers.

  7. Learn when to stop revising! You can actually reach a point where you are no longer able to see your own work clearly. Then you'll be contradicting #2 and losing your objectivity. Stay objective and simply strive for clarity. If you no longer know what you're revising, return to #2.

  8. Keep in mind that good writing develops over time, just as the writer grows and develops with time.

A Small Checklist for Style
_____ Always ask yourself, "Who did what?" in each sentence. Identify actors and actions when a sentence is garbled and make sure they occupy the appropriate place in the sentence.
_____ "Put at the beginning of a sentence ideas that you have already referred to" and that your reader will easily recognize (Williams 40).
_____ "Put at the end of your sentence the newest, the most surprising, the most significant information you want to stress, perhaps the information . . . you will expand on" next (Williams 40).
_____ Place transitional words and phrases towards the beginning of your sentences.
_____ Eliminate unneccessary nominalizations (e.g. "There is a need for further study" can be replaced by "The staff must study. . .").
_____ Examine use of the passive and active voices.
_____ Set off crucial ideas in sentence structures that emphasize them.
_____ Reduce strings of relative clauses (introduced by who, which, that - etc.) Consider breaking a long sentence into two or more separate sentences.
_____ Eliminate multiple subordinate conjunctions in the same sentence (these usually concern time, cause, purpose, condition, comparison, place, and manner).
_____ Rewrite multiple independent clauses linked together with coordinate conjunctions. Try some subordinate clauses for variety.
_____ Try using semicolons and colons if you habitually avoid them.
_____ Consult following sheet for removing "verbiage."

Monitor your use of "there is/there are," and other forms of the verb to be and to have. Overuse will make your prose feel motionless.

_____ Check for agreement.
_____ Try to avoid separating the subject and verb by a long clause or phrase in between.
_____ Make sure that the reader knows the antecedent for a pronoun.
_____ If you're using charts and tables, make sure you refer to them in the text, and that you use the appropriate reference number (Table I, etc.).
_____ Arrange your sources chronologically to aid in organization and reference. Number sources to correspond to outline or to page numbers of your draft.
Appendix A

Verbiage: Wordiness and Circumlocution

Scientific writing must be concise to be clear; readers should not have to interpret away words and phrases that do not contribute to meaning. The wordiness is often due to empty phrases, which sound meaningful, but are usually familiar fillers or cliches. Some form the opening of sentences, weakening them by their vacuousness. Some of these wordy phrases are listed together with concise alternatives that might be equivalents.


accounted for the fact that: because 

a majority of: most 

a number of: several, some 

a very limited number of: few 

an innumerable number of spines: many spines 

are of the same opinion: agree 

as it were: [omit]

as shown in Table 3: see Table 3, (Table 3)

as yet: [omit] 

ascertain the location of: find 

conducted inoculation experiments

on: inoculated

created the possibility of: made possible 

decreased number of: fewer

definitely showed: showed 

despite the fact that: although

due to the fact that: because

exhibited good growth: grew well 

give rise to: result in, cause

goes under the name of: is called, is termed 

greater number of: more 

has been the subject of study: has been studied 

has the capability of: can 

lacked the ability to: could not

large number(s) of: many

large proportion of: much, most

lesser extent, degree: less, smaller

made a count: counted

not as yet: not yet 

owing to the fact that: because 

referred to as: called, termed 

pertaining to: about 

prior to: before 

relative to: about 

serves the function of transferring: transfers

similar in every detail: the same, identical 

small(er) number of: few, fewer

species in which spines are lacking: spineless species, species without spines 

sufficient number of: enough 

subsequent to: after

take into consideration: consider 

tenacious in character: tenacious 

the fact that: that 

throw more light on: make clearer 

the analysis in question: this analysis, the analysis 

the fact that: because 

the treatment having been performed: after the treatment

was of the opinion that: believed, thought

Prepositional Phrases

along the lines of: like, similar to 

at about: about 

at some future time: later 

at the present moment (time), at this time (moment), at this point in time: now, at present, currently

by means of: by, with 

due to the fact that: because 

during the course of: during, while 

during the time that: while 

for the purpose of studying: for studying, to study 

for the reason that: because 

from the standpoint of: according to 

in a considerable number of cases: often, frequently

in a few cases: infrequently

in a position to: can, may

in a satisfactory manner: satisfactorily

in all cases: always, invariably, (usually) 

in an adequate manner: adequately

in case: if 

in case that: if, when

in this case: here

in close proximity to: near, close to

in connection with: about, for

in a very real sense: actually

in excess of: more than 

in most cases: mostly, usually

in nature: [omit] 

in no case: never (state what was not found] 

in order to: to

in question: (omit, can use studied]

in regard to: about

in relation to: about

in respect to: about

in terms of: for, with

in the case of: for, in

in the context of: about

in the course of: during 

in the event that: if 

in the near future: soon

in the present communication: here, in this paper

in the vicinity of: near

in view of the fact that: because 

of great importance: important, very important 

of large size: large 

of such strength that: so strong that 

on account of: because 

on the basis of: because, from, by 

on the part of: by, with 

on the grounds that: because 

on the order of: about

on the other hand: however, but

through the use of: by, with

to bear in mind: [omit], to recall 

with a view to: to 

with regard to: about, in, to, for 

with reference to: about [omit] 

with the exception of: except 

with the result that: so that

Introductory Phrases and Clauses

As a consequence of: Because

As already stated: [omit]

As a matter of fact: In fact, Indeed

As can be seen from Figure 5, the tissue:Figure 5 shows that the tissue; The Tissue . . . (Figure S); The tissue . . . (see Figure 5).

As far as these observations are concerned, they: These observations show

As far as this particular species is concerned, it: This species

As for these experiments, they are: These experiments are

As of now: Now

Be that as it may: Regardless, Nevertheless

As regards these measurements, they: These measurements

As to whether: Whether

At the present writing: Now, Currently

Concerning these results, it must be borne in mind (remembered) that: These results, Recall that these results

For the purpose of this research, it was found necessary to make three replications: Three replications were necessary

From the standpoint of: [omit]

Considering all the evidence: The evidence

Despite the fact that: Although

If conditions are such that: if

In a considerable number of cases: Often, Frequently

In connection with this procedure: This procedure

In spite of the: Despite the

In the case that, In the event that: If, When

In this connection, it may be stated that: [omit and make statement]

In view of the fact that: Because,

It appears that: apparently, (make statement and qualify verb]

It has been reported by Green: Green has reported

It has been found convenient: For convenience

It has long been known that: [omit, include in statement if time known is important]

It is abundantly clear that, it is dear that:Clearly

It is apparent therefore that: Therefore

It is at this point that: Here

It is also of importance that: Also

It is believed that: (omit; incorporate as verb in statement of belief)

It is important to note that: [omit], Note that

It is noted that if: If

It is noted that the main effect: The main effect

It is noteworthy: [omit]

It is observed that the situation: [specify observation]

It is obvious that: Clearly, Obviously

It is of interest to note that; it is interesting to note that: [omit]

It is often the case that: Often

It is possible that the cause is: The cause may be, [incorporate cause in verb]

It is seen ultimately: Eventually, Ultimately

It is the intention of this writer: The purpose is. The intent here is

It is the purpose of this research to address:This research addresses [state purpose]

It is this that: This

It is thought by various investigators:

Various investigators think, Some think

It is worth pointing out that: (omit, make statement with intensive], Note that

It may, however, be noted that: However

It may be said that: Possibly, Perhaps

It seems likely that: Perhaps

It seems to the present writer that: [omit and make statement; if personal opinion is important, use I (we) think]

It should be noted (mentioned) that: [omit and make statement]

It should be emphasized that: [omit, make statement in emphatic form]

It was demonstrated that: [omit, state what was demonstrated]

It was found that: [omit, state what was found]

It was observed that the tissue: The tissue

It will be seen upon examination of Figure 5 that: Figure 5 shows, . . . (Figure S)

It would appear that: Apparently

It would thus (further) appear: Therefore, Furthermore

It is reported in the literature that: [omit, give report and cite source(s)]

Owing to the fact that: Because

The question as to whether (if): Whether, If

There can be little doubt that this: This is probably, Undoubtedly this

This is the value that: This value

With regard to the question of fusion: Fusion

With this in mind, it is clear that: Clearly