How to Revise an Essay

Revising a hard copy of your essay makes errors easier to spot.
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The word revision means to “see again” -- from clarifying ideas to restructuring entire paragraphs, it’s a difficult, layered process. Revision provides you with an opportunity to determine if the content of your essay is worth reading and whether it’s understandable to the reader. No matter the type of essay you are writing, take a break before revising and focus on one or two aspects at a time.

1 Clear and Original Ideas

The ideas expressed in your essay should be clear, consistent and original. Finding inconsistencies may lead you to overhaul your main idea, which is perfectly OK. In a narrative essay, strive to show versus tell -- for example, instead of "It was a beautiful evening," write "The stars twinkled like gems in the sky." In an argumentative essay, the introduction should outline the context, scope and significance of the topic. The last sentence should be the thesis statement, stating your main argument as well as the supporting points. For all essay types, make sure the writing demonstrates an awareness of the target audience and develops main ideas with sufficient details and examples.

2 Organization and Structure

The type of essay dictates the appropriate structure, but a well-organized essay moves from general to specific and uses the introduction to address the topic’s who, what, where and why. In an argumentative essay, the thesis serves as a blueprint for the body of the essay, with the topic sentence of each body paragraph corresponding to each of the supporting points in the thesis. For example, a thesis statement for an argumentative essay about making pie crusts might read, "The key to a good-tasting pie crust is attention to detail: cold ingredients, not overworking the dough and using a combination of butter and shortening." As you revise for organization, pay attention to the transitions between ideas -- are they fluid and logical? -- and weigh the balance of ideas, ensuring that more important points get more emphasis and trivial points are not overemphasized.

3 Editing at the Sentence Level

Reading your essay aloud is the best way to check for sentence fluency, the rhythmic flow of language. To attain a variety of sentence patterns and a musical sound, you can reverse the order of sentences, combine sentences, divide compound sentences into two, and change the placement of phrases within a sentence. Use active voice to make your writing more concise and authoritative: "Don't overwork the dough" versus "When the dough is overworked, there are negative results." Similarly, use strong, precise verbs: “She kneads the dough” versus “She works the dough with her hands.” Use a thesaurus to find words that are fresh, vivid and exact, and look for instances where you’ve repeated words in consecutive sentences.

4 Research and Proofreading

If you are writing an argumentative essay that incorporates factual evidence from outside sources, reference the appropriate guidelines, such as MLA and APA, to make sure your in-text citations and Works Cited page are formatted correctly. To determine the credibility of your sources, consider the professional qualifications of the author, what the author's purpose is and the timeliness of the source. Check each quote against the original text, make sure that paraphrased quotes are cited and ensure that all quotes are introduced seamlessly into the body of the essay. The last and final step is to proofread for spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization and paragraphing.

Based in Chicago, Ginger O'Donnell has been writing education and food related articles since 2012. Her articles have appeared in such publications as "Dance Teacher Magazine" and "Creative Teaching and Learning." In addition, Ginger enjoys blogging about food, arts and culture on She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Webster University.