Many people use the words revising, editing, and polishing interchangeably when describing the writing process, but they are distinctly different tasks. For our purposes, we’ll think of revising as the process of changing and improving your content, organization, and coherence. When we examine polishing, we’ll address that in terms of editing mechanics, spelling, typos, and format. With these definitions in mind, it makes sense to revise before polishing. After all, the content and message are the most important parts of any writing project.
During this step of revising, you’ll be moving ideas around, adding new information, deleting parts, and changing how you’ve worded different sections. Because of this focus, you won’t need a lot of different digital tools, but the ones that you do use will be invaluable. Let’s take a look at your main options.
Main Revision Tools
- Cut/Copy/Paste: These tools will be your mainstay while revising, and they offer one of the greatest benefits in using a digital tool to write: Removing, adding, or moving things is nearly effortless with these functions. They allow you to quickly try out different phrasing options or a different sequence of ideas. As was mentioned during the drafting stage, keyboard shortcuts can make this process even quicker and easier than using the toolbar buttons. On a PC or Chromebook, you’ll use the Control key, while on a Mac, you’ll use the Command key:
- Control/Command + C = Copy
- Control/Command + X = Cut
- Control/Command + V = Paste
- Highlight, Click and Hold, then Drag and Drop = Move
- Undo/Redo: This is a favorite tool for most writers. Hit the back “undo” arrow to reverse your latest keystrokes. If you decide that you liked your revision better, simply hit the forward “redo” arrow.
- Version History: Version history lets you review and recover ideas from a previous draft. If you are collaborating with others, version history often lets you see who made each edit. Google Docs lets you name each version, and you can find this feature under the File menu. Microsoft Word 365 has their version history under the File and Info menu and allows you to open a previous version in another window.
- Track Changes: This feature is especially useful if you are having someone else give you feedback. Any changes that they make are tracked, so you can undo them if you don’t want to accept their suggestion. Microsoft Word offers this feature under the Review tab. In Google Docs, you will need to use either the version history or share the document in “suggesting” mode.
- Suggesting Mode: In this mode, changes appear as suggestions in the margin. This is another great feature for facilitating peer revision. The writer can choose to accept or decline these suggestions.
As illustrated in this image, word processing programs offer key revision tools, such as comments, cut/copy/paste, and drag-and-drop relocation of content.
Peer and Collaborative Editing
When revising your writing, it is very beneficial to get insight from others. Oftentimes, we can get tunnel vision and not see beyond our initial ideas. We might miss our blind spots or simply lack the content knowledge needed to make necessary changes and improvements to our writing. There are several digital tools and settings that can make collaborative editing much more efficient and effective.
- Sharing Documents: Both Microsoft 365 and Google Docs allow you to share your document with others. You can choose to allow others to view or edit the document. Google Docs also offers a “suggesting” mode, where peer changes become suggestions that can be accepted or declined, as well a “comment” mode, where editors can highlight text and add comments in the margin.
- Peergrade: This is a free online tool that allows students to give and receive peer feedback on writing assignments. Students upload their work, anonymously critique another student’s work, and the teacher can view the analytics on a teacher dashboard.
Scaffolds and Supports
Not everyone is equally skilled at providing positive, constructive feedback. This is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Therefore, during peer feedback, it’s helpful to provide scaffolds and frameworks that help guide your students through the process. Below are a few strategies that you can use.
- Provide a checklist and/or rubric. To provide quality feedback, students need to know the criteria upon which the writing will be evaluated. With a checklist or rubric, students can check for specific areas of writing and provide more targeted feedback. This is also a critical tool for targeted self-evaluation.
- Suggest an editing key. You might want to provide specific editing markups for the students to use. For instance, you might suggest a highlighter color-coding system:
- Yellow: This part is confusing or unclear to me.
- Green: This is fantastic!
- Blue: Should this be moved to another location?
- Pink: This idea needs to be supported with more detail.
- Purple: Should this part be omitted?
- Encourage comments. The comments feature allows you to give more specific feedback. Even with a color-coding system, comments can provide additional context and clarity. In this quick 2-minute video, Catlin Tucker shows how you can set up comment shortcuts to save you time when grading or providing teacher feedback. This strategy can also be used by your students. This approach is especially helpful if you find yourself continually making the same comments, like, “Does this fit better somewhere else?” or “Can you expand on this or add an example?”
- Provide video or audio feedback. Sometimes, the subtleties of a message get lost when that message is only shared as text. To make feedback faster and to make that feedback more personal and understandable, consider having students share via video or audio recordings. Screencasting software programs like Loom (Tips), Screencastify, or Flipgrid (Tips) are simple to use and can be shared with a simple link. A big benefit to screencasting is that peer editors can “show” the paper while they are offering suggestions and feedback. This makes the feedback clearer and more meaningful. Audio feedback is also powerful. Google Chrome extensions like Talk&Comment (Tips) or mote can help to streamline audio sharing. Paste the link into a comment, and a media player appears for quick and easy access to the audio note.
- Set up virtual conferences. If you are in a remote- or hybrid-learning environment, you might consider setting up a virtual writing conference with your students. Personalized writing conferences are excellent ways to help students improve their writing. By meeting with them in real time, you can answer their questions, ask probing questions to help them reconsider parts of their work, and offer the moral support that students often need during revision. Videoconferencing software like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams all allow your students to share their screens with you, so you can look at their writing together. Videoconferencing can also be a good option for students who are absent from school or need to connect with a peer outside of class time. These sessions can even be recorded, so the writer can review specific comments later. Of course, before recording a videoconferencing session, be sure to check with your local district policies regarding this type of recording.
The revision process is a challenging mental exercise. During this stage, we are literally “re-visioning” our work. We are attempting to look at it with fresh eyes in an objective way in order to rethink our line of reason, improve our organization, and strengthen our supporting information. A digital workspace with relevant revision tools will not do the work for us, but that workspace and those tools will make the work easier and more efficient.