Revising? start strategically


Whether you are revising your own writing or responding to reviewer feedback, you need to work out what to do. But you also need to work out where to start.

You may have made a revising plan or written out a list of reviewer recommended changes with your proposed actions next to them. That’s good. But you aren’t finished thinking about revising just yet. There is still the task of working out your re-writing strategy.

It is important to find the best place to begin revising. Choosing somewhere to start does have the immediate effect of making the task seem more manageable. But there is another reason for being selective. Revising one aspect of a text often has knock-on effects on other aspects of the writing.

To avoid getting in the situation where you do a whole lot of work and then find that the last thing you do makes a lot of what you’ve already done completely superfluous, you need to choose your starting point very carefully. It is debilitating and frustrating to go down your list of changes, make a series of small adjustments and then come to something which is much bigger and which wipes out pretty well all of the modifications you have just made. It is crucial to locate the textual alterations that will affect the entire piece.

So, rather than simply start at the top of your list of changes, you need to find the most significant. The improvement that makes the most difference is likely to be something that affects the whole text – changing the structure of the paper to make the argument proceed logically, using a different theorisation, writing a new introduction which sets up the problem differently and which will match the conclusion. But sometimes a change may appear small but have considerable re-writing heft –  for example making a small section less stodgy and more lively opens up and steers revising the whole text.

If you aren’t entirely sure about where to start and what to start with, choose a smallish number – no more than 4 – things to begin with and get them done. This may be revising one section of the text rather than the whole, or it may be following a thread throughout. When you have completed your initial number of changes, go back to your list of revisions and make another selection.

But it may be, as you were working on the first four things, that you can also see a need to start elsewhere. Being flexible, not assuming you just start at the top of the list and work your way down, and continuing to diagnose your writing while you are revising, is a sensible. And often time-saving.