Revise a text – 5 great tips

Greer Glover

Five tips to help you revise a text

Whatever you’ve written, the revision process is essential to improving the quality of your work.

Perhaps you’re looking to address readability and flow, or you need to trim the length so it fits a desired word count.

Or a particular section isn’t creating the emotional effect you’d intended, despite several revisions.

Whatever your reason, editing is considered essential for the good health of the text.

And because revision is part of the writing process – rather than an extra you do at the end if there’s time – here are tips to keep in mind to apply to anything you’re editing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. As long as you adopt the right process, you’ll be able to revise a text effectively.

When you’ve finished a draft, put a little space between you and the text

Looking over your own work is often the hardest and most tiring part of the writing process but it’s vital if you’re to spot errors.

It’s not always easy to see where sentences are ambiguous or contain punctuation mistakes. You’re too close to your own work and you know what’s coming next.

What helps is to put what you’ve written aside, returning to it a day – or days – later. Sometimes authors take weeks to return to a manuscript because they need time to revisit it feeling refreshed.

So, to be able to see more clearly what needs to be done, a little distance is vital when you revise a text.

But don’t wait too long – you don’t want to lose the thread of what you’ve written. You need a fresh take when you revise a text, not to start over.

Devote a focused and realistic amount of time to going over a passage, section or chapter – but don’t take forever

If you aim to keep editing until you’ve reached the natural end of a passage or to the end of a section or chapter, you’ll ensure your editing is consistent and the revised text flows.

Stopping and starting mid-section or mid-chapter can jeopardise the text’s overall cohesion and unity. Editing will be very stop-start and over time you’ll forget what you did and didn’t do. Also, you may begin to feel editing is arduous and unenjoyable and once that creeps in, it’s reflected in a flat editing style.

When you revise a text, tackling a required amount in any one go means the job gets done – but make sure you approach it with fresh eyes. Editing late into the evening isn’t a good idea.

Don’t feel you have to make many, or any, changes

Editing means knowing when to make changes to improve readability and flow. It means knowing how to shape a passage so it speaks to its reader.

It also means knowing when not to change something.

Remember that just because you can revise a text, it doesn’t mean you have to. Making minimal changes or by not touching a sentence or passage at all, can be just as effective to the work overall.

When you revise a text, knowing when not to make changes takes skill. It involves objectivity and patience. Don’t rush in and swipe a red line through the first thing you think doesn’t work. Consider it in the context of the piece as a whole.

Know when to stop editing

There’s a fine line between making changes to the text to improve it and making too many. If you make too many you can make it worse!

This is called over-editing.

Always keep in mind that as writing is subjective, you’ll never have the perfect piece and in fact, editing too much can strip sentences of their raw energy.

So after any substantial editing resist tinkering. Have the confidence to down tools and go away and consider the changes you’ve made. You may have taken your work as far as it can go.

As the author, there’s only so much you can see so it’s wise to get an editor to look over your work

If you’ve spent days, weeks or even months writing and revising a text, there’ll be a point when you won’t be able to spot the errors.

You’re too close to your work to see where you’ve gone wrong structurally, or at sentence level, never mind any mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

And you’re probably a little precious about retaining certain words and phrases, too. These words and phrased may need to be addressed.

This is when it’s useful to have a fresh pair of eyes look over what you’ve written, either in the capacity of a developmental edit, a line and copyedit, or proofreading.

Whether you’re planning to self-publish or you intend to go down the traditional publishing route – or you’re writing only for you – considering editorial professionals to revise a text will be beneficial.

A good editor will be impartial, objective and honest, and through careful editing, help you take your work to the next level.

And a professional edit also sends out the message that you’re serious about your work.

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Picture of Greer Glover

Greer Glover

Fiction Editor I Mentor I Writer