Structured Revision – How to Revise Your Work

Learn how to revise your writing in a strategic, professional manner Use structured revision practices to revise your work in a strategic, professional manner.  Learn about why structured revision is so useful to teams & collaborative writing.

You cannot climb a mountain without a plan / John Read

Related Concepts: What is Academic Dishonesty?; Academic Writing – How to Write for the Academic Community; Editing; Plagiarism; Proofreading; Revision; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning; Rhetorical Stance; Standard Written English; Style

Structured Revision – How to Revise

Some situations require substantive revision whereas others require moderate or light revision. For instance,

  • if you are writing an essay for class and it constitutes a major part of your grade, then you may need to spend considerable time revising it
  • if you are writing a proposal to a client for a big job, you know you cannot rest until your writing demonstrates that you understand the clients’ perspective
  • if you are writing an email to a friend, your discourse is likely to be more informal than if you are writing to an academic or professional audience.

Because every situation is difficult, there is no one single way to revise documents. However, this doesn’t mean you need to treat every writing task as if it’s a space walk. There are, in practice, a number of discourse conventions that define the discourse practices of writers in academic and professional writing contexts.

Rhetorical analysis involves questioning positionality — your rhetorical stance. | Photo Credit: “Russian spacewalk” by Astro_Alex, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Step 1: Engage in Rhetorical Reasoning

Your first step when developing a plan for revising a document is taking an honest look at the rhetorical situation:

What is the Rhetorical Situation?

As a first step in rhetorical analysis question

  1. Audience:
  2. Purpose:
    • What do you hope to achieve by writing this document?
  3. Topic:
    • What is your purpose? thesis? research question?

. composing and interpretation are dynamic, rhetorical, social processes.

, question is. What do they need from you? What is your purpose? thesis? What is your context? Is this

By engaging in audience analysis, you can learn the discourse conventions your audiences expects you to adopt in order to communicate with them.

that characterize the works of discourse community. For instance,

  1. In personal settings,
    • the evaluative criteria might focus on tone as it reflects sincerity, honesty, candor, authenticity, trustworthiness
  2. In workplace settings,
    • writers, speakers, knowledge workers adopt
  3. In school settings,

Step 2: Inspect the Document @ the Global Level

After you have reflected on the exigency, the call to write, you are ready to analyze the document at a higher-level of abstraction — the Global Level, or, what some people call the rhetorical level.

Begin your inspection by focusing only on the top-level elements, such as

  1. Letter of Transmittal
  2. Title Page
  3. Table of Contents
  4. Bio Page
  5. Abstract
  6. Executive Summary
  7. Purpose
  8. Statement of the Problem
  9. Research Methods
  10. Results (optional)
  11. Recommendations
  12. Scope
  13. Implementation Schedule
  14. Budget (guesstimate)
  15. Call to Action
  16. References

At this point, you’re looking for problems in the document’s organizational schema.

At a glance, does the title, introduction, and headings (along with the table of contents if one exists) answer these questions for the intended reader, listener, user . . . of the document: 

  1. What is this document about?
  2. What organizational problem or need is being address?
  3. What is the occasion for this report?
  4. What type of document is this?
  5. What will the document accomplish?
  6. Where in the document can I find answers to the questions I might logically have?

If you cannot answer these questions based on a quick skim, make notes about the problems you see.

At the global level, you’re likely to encounter

  1. Rhetorical Problems
  2. Structural Problems,
  3. Language Problems, and
  4. Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems.
Rhetorical Problems

For rhetorical problems, check to see if….

the “problem”is clearly stated
can be solved with this plan/document
meets the organization’s real needs
the argument
is aimed at the primary audience
is convincing
is clear
is well-marked
respectis shown to all people addressed or referred to
is shown to competitors (if applicable)
Structural Problems

For section-level problems, check to see if the…

introductionprovides context (e.g. makes the occasion clear) states the problem clearly and concisely forecasts content
has a clear and consistent plan

uses headings consistently and effectively

provides a clear conclusion. Here, we mean conclusion in the sense of a “judgment or decision supported by reasoning” and not “the final section.”
is in the proper section

has balanced development

is complete
visual/verbal marking
is clear and consistent for headings, topic sentences, lists (bulleted, numbered, or outline)
is used consistently throughout the document
visualsare coordinated to sections in which they appear (more generic visuals go with summaries or overviews, more specific visuals help support data and detailed discussions)

are marked consistently and clearly

are relevant to the section or point they are supporting
Language Problems

For language-level problems, check to see if….

headingsuse language that is appropriate for the reader
key termsare  consistent across sections
Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems @ the Global Level

For critical & analytical thinking problems, check to see if


is contextualized for readers.

When introducing evidence to support claims, is the evidence introduced in such a way that the documents intended reader will understand its Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose?

the types of evidence
is employed appropriately.

reflects the level of sophisticated required by its readers, listeners, users

evidence and types of evidence the report’s audience expects?
Anecdote, Anecdotal Evidence
Customer Discovery Evidence
Hypothetical EvidenceOpinion
Qualitative Evidence
Textual Evidence
Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems

For Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems, check to see if

The Problem Definitionis lucid with evidence of all relevant contextual factors.

is robust, addressing historical roots, causes and effects, stakeholders and disruptors
Research Methods
are appropriate to investigate the problem given time constraints
Recommendationsare based not on claims made by the writers burt r=
  1. Do the proposed solutions make sense given the problem statement?
  2. Is the recommendation a realistic solution?
  3. Does the Gantt chart and other planning documents seem reasonable?

Step 3: Inspect the Document @ the Section Level

Next, critique the document section-by-section.

The intended readers for the document should be able to skim a section and answer these questions for that section

  1. What is this section about?
  2. What is the function of this section?
  3. What topics does this section address?
  4. How does this section connect to the sections before/after it?

If you cannot answer these questions, make notes about the problems you see.

At the section level, you’re likely to encounter

  1. rhetorical problems
  2. structural problems, and
  3. language problems, as outlined below:
Rhetorical Problems

To find rhetorical problems, ask these questions:

  • Does the opening mislead readers?
  • Do the headings mislead readers?
  • Are the visuals and data appropriate for the target audience?
  • Does color or design mislead readers by focusing their attention on less important information?
Structural Problems

To find structural problems, ask these questions:

  • Is this section one that conventional report structure would place in this location? Is this where a reader would expect to find this section?
  • Does the heading adequately and accurately reflect the section’s contents (e.g. does the heading say the section is going to address a topic that the section does not actually address?)
  • Is space evenly allocated to each topic?
    • Are topics unbalanced?
    • Do key topics need to be addressed in more depth because readers will find them challenging?
  • Is color used consistently?
Language Problems

Keep an eye out for parallelism problems. Look at headings, opening paragraphs, subheadings, topic sentences, transitions, and visuals.

Language Problems concern how a text is composed — its dictiongrammar, use of mechanicssentence structure, and style of writing.  concern The Elements of Style, especially brevity, clarity,flow, simplicity, and unity

To find language problems, ask these questions:

Step 4: Inspect the Document at the Paragraph Level

Read the document paragraph-by-paragraph, placing check marks as you go.

Your goal is to analyze whether the paragraphs in the document are well formed and structured.

  1. Do the paragraphs conform to the reader’s expectations for the genre and media of the document?
  2. Are the paragraphs unified?
  3. Is there a logical progression across paragraphs, informed by the given to new contract?
  4. Does the document use the rhetorical moves you believe it needs to help readers better understand paragraph unity and paragraph transitions?
  5. Do the paragraphs flow? Is there a sense of coherence?
    1. Are the paragraphs following a coordinate order, deductive order, or Inductive order? Would you recommend a different order to improve flow?
    2. What recommendations, if any, would you make regarding paragraph transitions?

Step 5: Inspect the Document at the Sentence Level

Sentence-level Perspective

As you re-read your work or the work of others, place check marks next to:

  • Sentences you find tedious
  • Sentences you have to read more than once
  • Sentences you don’t quite feel right about

Are there any problems in the document with brevity; clarity; flow, coherence, unity; and simplicity?

What about grammar and mechanics?

GrammarModification Errors

Parallelism Errors
MechanicsComma Splice

Run-on Sentences

Sentence Fragment

How to Revise Co-Authored Projects

Revising a document you wrote yourself can be hard work. Revising a document written by a group can be even more difficult:

  • Once any text exists, it’s hard to get rid of either because writers don’t want to “lose” their hard work or are afraid of cutting important information by mistake.
  • Documents – and especially formal reports – address multiple types of readers, whose needs and ways of interacting with the document differ.
  • Documents that have been written by a team will have more problems with consistency than documents written by individuals.
  • Writers may disagree about what changes to make.

Structured revision helps a team prioritize its revision efforts. It also allows the team to make strategic decisions about what work can be done and should be done given the time available and the relative importance of the project. 

Ideally, when conducted for a team project, individuals will independently conduct structured revisions before sharing insights with one another. This approach can help you answer the following questions:

  1. What are the most significant problems in the document – and where are they located?
  2. How much time do we have for revisions and editing?
  3. Should we spend on our time on the top-level design of the document, the content of a particular section, or sentence-level problems?


Porter,  J. E., Sullivan, P. , and Johnson-Eilola, J.  (2009).  Professional Writing Online 3.0, 3rd ed. New York: Pearson.

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