The Internet TESL Journal

Simple Steps to Successful Revision in L2 Writing

Catherine Coleman
englishtutor [at]
California State University (Long Beach, California, USA)

About This Handout

Often second language students struggle with the editing and revision portion of the writing process. They focus first on the grammatical issues in the paper and overlook important structural problems. This handout offers a systemic organized format that students can follow to analyze and revise their own work. For this handout, global revision consists of an overall analysis of the structure and content of an essay; surface revision consists of an analysis of the paper's grammar, punctuation, word usage, etc. at the sentence level. There are two sections under each revision category: the first, Questions to Ask, includes a list of questions that students can ask themselves about their essays; the second, Revising Strategies, provides specific methods that students can immediately employee in their writing.

Global Revision: Questions to Ask

The Introduction

The Thesis

The Paragraphs

The Conclusion

Global Revising Strategies

Pointing Finger

Copy the thesis onto a separate sheet of paper. Read the thesis and then read a paragraph. Do this for each of the paper's body paragraphs. Ask yourself:  Is the paragraph relevant to the thesis? Does it advance or prove the thesis? Is there any information within the paragraph that doesn't relate to the thesis? This strategy can also be used within each paragraph to check each paragraph's topic sentence and main points.

Topic Sentence Coherence

A strategy to test the overall coherence and balance of a paper is to copy the thesis of the paper and each topic sentence (generally the first sentence of each paragraph) and the paste all the sentences into one paragraph. Then read the paragraph. Do the ideas  flow logically or do they jump around randomly? Are all points of the argument covered adequately; is the argument balanced? Or does one section of the paper outweigh the rest? If the sentences seem out of order, the paragraphs will be out of order which will weaken the effectiveness of the paper.

Reverse Outline

This is another strategy to check the overall order of the paper's information. Read each paragraph and sum up the main idea in one or two words. Then look at the order of the words. Is the information presented in a logical manner? Are there gaps in the linear sequence of the argument? If so, it might be necessary to add information or even rearrange the paragraphs for clarity.

Color Coordinating

This is especially effective in comparison/contrast or pro/con argumentation papers. Use different color highlighters to identify the main points of the paper. Analyze the information by colors. Do they contrast color by color (point by point) or in large blocks (block comparison)?  Do the colors seem organized in a logical manner or do they appear random and confused? Would changing the colors (thus points or paragraphs) improve the structure of the argument?

Topical Analysis

For each paragraph, first identify the topic sentence, and then identify the subject, verb, and object in each sentence in the paragraph. Once this information has been accumulated, verify the logical progression of ideas from sentence to sentence as well as the relevance to the topic sentence.

Surface Revision: Questions to Ask

Word Choice

Verb Tense


Source Citation

Miscellaneous Questions

Surface Revising Strategies

Read Aloud

Reading the paper aloud slowly can often bring to attention large and small mistakes missed in the writing and typing process. Read each sentence and ask does it make sense? Is it awkward? Am I including words that are not actually written on the paper? Sometimes reading the paper out of order can help isolate problems. Try reading the paragraphs starting with the last sentence and then reading the previous sentence and so on; this can reveal problems in the sentences.

Isolate Specific Problems

Isolating specific problems can help give objectivity to one's personal work. One way to isolate specific things is to circle them on a paper draft and look at them one by one. For example: circle all commas and then go back and look at each comma asking if it is in the appropriate place with the correct usage. Another example would be to circle all verbs and then go back one by one and identify the tense and verify subject verb agreement.

Identify Repeating Words

This can be done several ways. One is to circle common words. Another is to highlight them. Another is to do a computer search within a document. Repeating a word or phrase intentionally is a valid writing style (parallelism), yet sometimes words are repeated unnecessarily. Identifying and changing over-repeated words such as overused transitions can strengthen a paper.

Look it up

Grammar check is usually, but not always correct. If there is any doubt as to the correctness of anything in a paper, an appropriate source should be checked. When in doubt, look it up.

Time and Distance

Resting a day or two between drafts especially the final draft can bring much objectivity to the revising process. As much as possible try to allow the final draft revision to be done a least a day before the paper is due. Then a quick final scan can be made of the paper before submitting it for a grade.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 5, May 2003