Your Friend, Revision


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

January 29, 2020 

Your Friend, Revision

“My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn't work, or what simply is not alive.”

— Susan Sontag

We know the feeling because we've been there ourselves:

You have this thing to write. You know what you want to say. But when you sit down to write, the ideas don’t come out right.

You read your work and cringe: “Gah! This doesn’t make sense! That’s not at all what I meant to say!”

Frustration mounts. You just want to be done.

If you ever feel this way, do not despair. You're actually on the right track. That not-so-perfect first attempt is a normal and valuable part of the writing process. You've created the clay; now you can mold it into something worthwhile.   

We call this shaping process revision, and revision is a writer’s best friend.

What strategies can help me revise?

Professional writers sometimes spend several days or weeks revising a single piece of writing. Unless you’re working on a big project, you won’t have so much time. These four strategies can help you quickly turn a vague or uninspiring draft into clear and effective writing. 

1. Cut unnecessary details.

Unneeded details only obscure your meaning and force readers to mentally do the cutting that you didn't. Be merciless. Cut verbosity and remove repetition.


On Thursday, April 4, starting at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, crews will be resurfacing the north parking lot with a new layer of blacktop because the old blacktop needs resurfacing. We hired Blacktop Masters because they are excellent and had the best bid. My cousin works for them and can vouch for them. On that day—in the morning and all through the day—please park in a different parking lot that is not being resurfaced by Blacktop Masters.


On Thursday, April 4, crews will resurface the north parking lot. Please park elsewhere throughout that day.

2. Add necessary details.

Remember that your reader needs answers to six basic questions—who, what, where, when, why, and how.


Note that the room is reserved.


Note that the Perkins Room is reserved for repairs throughout August 6.

3. Reorganize details that are out of order.

An organized document is like an organized kitchen—even strangers can easily cook in it. As the writer, you need to create an organized document in which your readers can easily think. Place steps in chronological order, reasons in order of importance, causes before effects, and so on.


Please submit your entry form and fill it out.


Please fill out your entry form and submit it.

4. Rewrite material that is poorly worded.

Revision literally means "seeing again," so you need to get some distance. You need to read what you actually wrote rather than what you meant to write. Watch for awkward wording, ambiguous passages, dangling and misplaced modifiers, incomplete comparisons, choppiness, and other sentence problems. Go through your sentences many times so that readers have to go through them only once.


The matter of fact is that Rankin Technologies will offer sandwiches and chips to meeting attendees in paper sacks.


Rankin Technologies will offer sack lunches of sandwiches and chips to meeting attendees.

What other tips can help me revise?

Read with Fresh Eyes   Before you begin revising, step away from your writing: Grab some coffee. Go for a walk. Work on another project. Then return to your work with fresh eyes.

Don’t Fine-Tune . . . At Least for Now   Did you notice that none of the strategies above involved grammar, punctuation, or mechanics? If you concentrate on those micro-level concerns, you might miss the forest for the trees. Instead, concentrate on macro-level improvements to the ideas, organization, and voice of your writing. Save correctness for a separate editing step.

Recruit Help   Ask a colleague to read your work. Does your reader have a clear sense of the subject and purpose? Are any parts confusing? Do any spots need more information? Another pair of eyes will help. 


Play the Editor!

Copy the sample paragraphs into a document. Then practice the suggested revision strategies. Scroll to the bottom to see our recommendations and feedback.

1. Revise the paragraph by cutting unnecessary details.

The annual agency holiday party for the agency will occur on December 20 at the Clifton Museum from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m at night. This annual event that only happens once a year will include a catered meal, refreshments, and prizes—for you and a guest. There will be food and drinks, so bring your hunger. You can also bring one guest. Please make sure that you RSVP by responding to this email before 5:00 p.m. on Friday before the end of the business day.

2. Add details to answer the reader's main questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

It includes a silent auction.

3. Reorganize the details for clarity.

Notify Teri Gardner about your interest. Twelve spots are available. An exclusive private tour of the Clifton Museum will be given prior to the holiday party. The first twelve people who respond will receive the tour spots.

4. Rewrite the sentence to remove the awkward phrasing.

We also plan to announce the agency awards, the winners of which will get awards that have prizes also as part of them.


Get More Support

Refer to the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips for guidance throughout your writing process.


Editor’s Answers

1. This wordy, repetitive paragraph forces the reader to work for meaning by mentally cutting the unnecessary details. Here is one possible revision:

Please join us for the agency's annual holiday party on December 20 at the Clifton Museum from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. This event will include a catered meal, refreshments, and prizes—for you and a guest. Please RSVP for the event by responding to this email before the end of the business day on Friday.

2. This sparse sentence doesn't begin to answer the reader's main questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Here is one potential rewrite:

The holiday party will also include a silent auction. You will be able to view items in the banquet hall, with bidding closing at 9:00 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Children's Hospital Cheer Fund.

3. Think of what your readers need to know and in what order.

An exclusive private tour of the Clifton Museum will be given prior to the party. Twelve spots are available, and the first twelve people who respond will receive the tour spots. Notify Teri Gardner about your interest.

4. When you find an awkward sentence, paraphrase it aloud. Often your paraphrase will fix the problem. Here is one potential rewrite:

We will also announce the winners of the annual agency awards and present prizes.