Revision Practices


This reflective writing activity is predominantly used for revising drafts, but it can be useful in writing and thinking about other texts you read for class—your peers’ and other authors’.

  1. Choose a draft that you’d like to develop.
  2. Reread the draft, marking (underline, highlight, star, etc.) places where you think your writing is working. This could be a sentence that expresses a thought-provoking idea, a strong or startling image, a central tension, or a place that could be explored in more detail. These places are the “hot spots” of your draft.
  3. Copy one of these hot spots onto the top of a clean page; then, put your draft aside. (If you are working on a computer, copy the passage and paste it to a new document). If the passage is long, you can cut it out of the original or fold the draft so only the hot spot shows.
  4. Now write, using the hot spot as a new first sentence (or paragraph). Write for fifteen to twenty minutes, or as long as you need to develop your ideas. Don’t worry if you “lose” your original idea. You might be in the process of finding a better one.
  5. Repeat the process as often as feels right. (shoot for 3-4 times)
  6. Now put your piece back together. You might want to just add the new writing into the piece or substitute it for something you can now delete. You might even take out large sections of the original writing and reorganize the rest around your new writing. Consider how your conception of the “whole” of this draft changes with the new material.
  7. In your author’s note or writing plan, focus on two things. 1) Write some directions for what you want to do with this writing the next time you work on it. What do you have to change about the text to include the new writing? 2) Reflect upon your revision process. What did you learn about your topic/your text from this process? Did you pursue a tangential idea? Deepen or extend an original idea? Change your perspective on the topic? Realize that you are really interested in another topic altogether?

From UNL Composition Program’s The Writing Teachers’ Sourcebook, 2006

Glossing for Revision Ideas

Read carefully through your draft, glossing each paragraph.

  • First determine what the paragraph says. What idea are you trying to get across? In the margins write a paraphrase (the same ideas in different words) for the paragraph. A paraphrase as a part of the glossing activity is a direction-finder, a summary, another way of saying something. What are key words or phrases that help you understand what the paragraph is saying?
  • Next, ask yourself how that paragraph functions as a part of your overall piece. What is the paragraph doing? What purpose does it serve? How can you tell?


  • Copy your glosses onto another piece of paper. Look at what you’ve got in terms of arrangement or organization. What is happening to the development of ideas? Do your ideas develop in a logical way? Are their other ways to organize your piece that would be more effective? Are there possible directions for this draft to take, places where it isn’t accomplishing what you had hoped? Experiment with rearranging the glosses into different outlines.
  • Ask yourself: What difference does it make to the meaning of the text and to potential readers if you arrange ideas differently? How does it change the conceptual framework?
  • Write a plan for revision based on what you’ve learned from thinking through various organizational strategies.

Author’s Notes

An Author’s Note gives responders the context they need to have in order to know how to respond to your writing. It should include the following information:

  • A statement of the purpose and audience of the text. (E.g.: This is a proposal for a corporate client whom I’m trying to persuade to consider our product.)
  • A statement of where the text is in the process of development. (E.g.: first draft, ninth draft, based on an idea I got last night, second half of a draft you’ve already seen.)
  • Your own writer’s assessment of the piece. (E.g.: I like this because . . ., I’m worried about this because . . .,I know this part needs work, but I’m not sure, I really like x and want to incorporate more of this idea but don’t know how, etc. . .)
  • A sense of the revision strategies you have already tried. (E.g.: I had my roommate read this piece and she suggested these changes. I have tried hotspotting and glossing and they lead to ____. I have tried outlining my paper and I see gaps between my first and second idea but don’t know where to go from here.)
  • The kind of response you want, specifically. (E.g.: I am having trouble understanding the process of evolution. Can you point to places where my explanation doesn’t make sense? The first paragraph on page 3 isn’t working for me, what are some strategies I can use to revise? I want to you to look at my overall organization do you understand my main points? I want you to look at my word choice and paragraph structure, specifically on page 1 and 3. etc.)

Author’s Notes are the primary way you, as the writer, establish the kind of response your writing receives. Using Author’s Notes means knowing ahead of time where you are with a piece and what kind of plans you have for it. As you become more accustomed to thinking about your drafts in this way, Author’s Notes become easier to write and more effective reflection and response tools.

Peer Response Groups

All writers get feedback on their writing at some stage in the process. This section offers advice as you give and get feedback in small-group or whole-class formats – or just with a single, trusted reader.

Eventually, you might find that you prefer seeking input at very early stages, when you are still generating ideas. Or, you perhaps you will come to prefer having most of your drafting completed and the text fairly well organized before you look for some feedback. Although we often tend to forget this, it’s also true that we often gain insight into our own writing by reading and responding to others’. It is helpful to think about how a piece of writing is or is not working, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. As you study and assess the way another writer is approaching a project, you might return to your draft with a fresh perspective.

Small Peer Response Groups, Template #2 (For Drafts in Early Stage of Development)
We offer here more questions than you could usefully answer in a single peer review session. The idea is that you can pick you and choose–either collectively as a class, or individually as a writer seeking particular kinds of focused response.

  1. What is the controlling idea of the piece? What makes you think this is the most important idea? How does the writer highlight this idea and build around it?
  2. Is this idea worth putting “out there”? Why? It is somehow different from what others have been saying? What might it add to the discussion of this subject? What could be the effect(s) of sharing this idea with readers?
  3. Whom does the piece address? Is this the right readership for this piece? Are these readers best able to address or think about the issues raised? Will they be interested in the piece? Why/why not?
  4. What other ways are there of thinking about this subject? What has the writer not considered about this subject? What have others been saying about it? How can the writer show that the position in this piece is more appropriate or useful or just plain right than others?
  5. Does the form seem appropriate for the intended readers, and this idea/purpose? Why or why not? Comment on the expectations readers are likely to bring to this piece because of its form (Example: Readers of pamphlets will expect a readable design and quick, concise chunks of information...)
  6. How do the different parts of the piece affect you, especially as you imagine yourself as one of the intended readers for the piece? (“As I read the third paragraph, I am frustrated/relieved/ interested/confused...”)
  7. What would you (again, imagining yourself as an intended reader) like to hear more about? What could you stand hearing less about? Why? Which ideas could be extended or recast? How?
  8. What assumptions does the text make? Are they fair? Accurate? Do they need to be supported? If so, how? If not, what makes you think that readers will be inclined to accept them?
  9. Are all of the ideas relevant to one another and to the controlling idea? Is it clear that all of the ideas belong in the same piece? Give an example of how two ideas are either connected or disconnected in the piece.
  10. Are the sources well chosen for this readership/purpose/message? Are they authoritative but accessible? Does the writer’s use of sources suggest that she/he is knowledgeable about the subject and has something important to add to the discussion? Have you read or heard anything that you think the writer might want to consider?
  11. What kind of “moves” does the text make (addressing counterarguments, using examples, citing statistics or authorities, etc.)? What kind of appeals (emotional, logical, ethical) are being made here? Are they appropriate to the readers? Which seem most effective? Which least?

Small Peer Response Groups, Template #3 (For Drafts in Later Stage of Development)

  1. Is the audience clearly indicated in the piece? How? How are readers drawn in and kept reading? Is the form right for these readers? Why/why not?
  2. Are the purpose and the message (controlling idea) clear in the piece? Do they speak to that audience? Is it clear what the writer wants to audience to do/think/believe after reading this piece?
  3. What is distinctive about this piece? Does it show creativity? Does it add to the existing conversation about this topic? Explain or give an example.
  4. Are the “moves” and appeals made in the text appropriate to the audience? How so/not? Are the intended readers likely to find the idea/argument/story compelling/persuasive? Why/why not?
  5. Is the piece focused? Are there places where the cohesiveness of the piece breaks down, where the focus is lost? Give examples of where ideas are connected or disconnected in the piece.
  6. Is the piece well organized? Show how/not. Point to specific parts of the text where, for intance, the order of paragraphs works well or doesn’t -- or where sentences build nicely on each other or don’t.
  7. Is the language appropriate to the audience? Give two examples, either way. Are there grammatical/mechanical problems that need to be addressed? Do you know how to fix them? If not, can you at least point them out? Is the piece well proofread? Are there obvious spelling or typing errors?

Adapted from Chris Gallagher and Amy Lee’s Claiming Writing: Teaching in an Age of Testing (forthcoming, Scholastic Publishers)

Writing Peer Reviews

Some General Guidelines for Providing Effective Response:

  • Respond directly to the writer’s note; be the kind of reader the writer needs.
  • Offer honest feedback that is true to your experience of the text, but which respects the writer’s control of the project. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think, but always frame your response in respectful ways. There is a difference between respectfully aggressive readings (which are supportive and generative) and disrespectfully mean-spirited readings (which are discouraging and deadening).
  • Be mindful of where the piece is in its development. For instance, don’t closely edit a piece that’s early in the drafting process.
  • Give the writer a sense of what you think the piece says, and how you think it works.
  • Give the writer a sense of how you experience the piece.
  • Ask the writer probing but supportive questions about the text and its subject; aim to keep the writer thinking hard about the nature of her/his task.
  • Help the writer imagine potential audiences/purposes for the piece. If the writer knows the audience and purpose for the piece, try to read it with those in mind.
  • Aim for both “global” responses that speak to the whole piece and more “local” responses that point to specific places in the text.
  • Help the writer see her/his piece from other perspectives.
  • Offer the writer a response s/he can handle; don’t overwhelm the writer, but be substantive in your response.
  • Offer the writer concrete suggestions for revision – send her or him back to specific places in the text to do some work.
  • Above all, aim to send the writer away from the response session excited about her/his project, and confident that s/he knows where to take it next.

Things we want to hear:

  • Summarizing/Saying Back—Here is what I see this saying…
  • Glossing—Here is a word or phrase that condenses this paragraph or section…
  • Responding—As I read this paragraph, I…
  • Pointing—What seems most important here is... What seems to be missing here is…
  • Extending—You could also apply this to… What would happen if you...
  • Encouraging—This section works well for me because…
  • Suggesting—If I were you, I would add… You could move that paragraph…
  • Soliciting—Could you say more here about...
  • Connecting—In my experience, this… That’s like what x says… I saw some research on this…
  • Evaluating—This opening is focused, well-developed, catchy…
  • Counterarguing—Another way to look at this is…
  • Questioning—Why do you say…

Things We Want to Hear Only on Mostly “Finished” Pieces:

  • Editing—you need a comma here …

Things We Don’t Want to Hear:

  • “I like it.”
  • “I hate it.”
  • “It’s ok.”
  • “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
  • “How can you actually believe that crap?”
  • “This has nothing to do with the paper, but this reminds me of when I . . .”

Strategies for Peer Review


Giving the writer time to talk through their writing

Early on and again as fresh ideas or ways of seeing a piece of writing develop. Time to talk is particularly useful in the most formative stages of the composing process, before the writer has too  m much concern about audience. It can also be useful when writers have too much concern about audience too early in the process and are stuck.


Sometimes it is very helpful to read aloud or talk through a piece of writing in the company of others who are simply listening deeply. Silence is particularly useful when a writer would like to know what their writing sounds like in the presence of others, but isn’t ready yet for listeners’ perceptions or comments.

Active Listening

Writers in process need to know both that they are being heard and that they are being understood. Active listening is saying back, in your own words, what you understand the writer to be saying. Active listening is useful throughout the writing process, but particularly when a writer is groping for, exploring, or testing ideas. Active listening can also be useful when a writer is trying to work out a complicated idea or argument.

Skeleton Finding

This feedback strategy is directed toward the organization or structure of a piece of writing. Here readers narrate to the writer what they hear as the central points or backbone of the writing and describe what they perceive to be the supporting points. Skeleton finding is helpful when writers have disjointed pieces and haven’t yet seen how to put them together or discovered the organizing them. It can also be useful when writers are working on organizing and are trying to discern which assertions and supporting points should go where.


Pointing involves letting writers know which words, phrases, or images stand out. Pointing doesn’t involve saying why or how a reader was affected; rather, pointing is intended to give the writer a sense of the reader’s experience of their work. Pointing can be helpful when writers need confirmation that they are making an impression, but are not yet ready for more directive or evaluative feedback.

Movies of the Mind

Movies of the mind involve the reader narrating to the writer, very specifically, their experience of reading or listening to the writer’s text (what the reader thought or felt as they read and at what point in the text those responses were evoked). Movies of the mind help writers when they have a clear sense of what they want to say and why what they have to say is important to their readers. This kind of response helps writers when they are ready to know whether or to what degree their writing is producing the kind of effect for which they are striving.


Giving suggestions involves offering the writer ideas or advice for revision. Suggestions need to come later in the composing process, when writers already have a clear sense of ownership of their work. Suggestions need to be offered with an acknowledgement of the range of rhetorical choices available to the writer and with recognition of the potential effects of consequences of those choices.


Problematizing is a significant feedback strategy in which readers help the writer to see other perspectives (particularly opposing perspectives). Problematizing may also involve helping writers to see logical gaps or fallacies in their work or a failure of ethos in the work at hand. The point of problematizing is not to defeat the writer, but to give her a sense of a critical problem or issue which needs to be addressed if her text is to do its intended work. Problematizing is most useful after a writer has a strong sense of her argument and a rich draft. If it comes too late in the composing process, however, writers may struggle to be responsive to this kind of feedback in the revision process.

Criterion-based feedback

Criterion-based feedback is more evaluative than the strategies listed above. Here the reader encourages the writer to consider whether or to what degree the text is responsive to an assignment, grading criteria, or, in the case of public writing, to the needs and expectations of its audience given its purposes and the context in which it is being offered.

Proofreading and editing

This kind of feedback is absolutely necessary, but useless if offered before other, deeper revisions are completed. This is the last kind of feedback writers need before they turn in their work to an instructor or make their work public. The exception to this role comes into play if readers sense a pattern of error that impedes the ability of the writer to effectively communicate a complex or abstract idea; that is, when a writer’s struggle to produce a grammatically correct complex sentence seems to suggest that the idea is not yet clear to them.

Since these verbs have different connotations depending on the context in which they are used, you will want to be sure to re-read your sentence and choose the verb that is most appropriate for your intended purpose.

Sentence Patterns

In drafting, we focus so much on getting an idea down on paper or recreating a memory on paper that we often don’t pay attention to how our sentences work or how they are constructed. That’s just fine (good even!) in drafting. In the revising/editing process, however, we shift from considering the theme or argument of our text to analyzing the way our sentences are composed.

Go through a couple paragraphs of your draft and figure out how your sentences are put together by finding the subject and verb of each sentence. Many times we start sentences with the same word over and over (like “I” or “You” or “He/She”) and the verb immediately follows. Once you figure out what your particular patterns are (and this may take awhile—first to find the subjects and verbs and then to see the pattern), then try varying your sentence patterns.

For example, short, quick sentences might be good in an essay that has a fast-paced or suspenseful feel. Long, intricate sentences may be just right for an in-depth reflection. If each sentence has the same subject/verb structure, it might not be clear which sentence carries the most meaning in the paragraph or which ideas are subordinate to or embedded within an idea. Try adding introductory phrases or connecting two sentences. Try varying the sentence style in different parts of your essay. Your main goal is to make your paper appealing, interesting, and rhetorically effective at the sentence level.

Reading for Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation Issues

One way to make sure you catch most of the comma issues in your paper is to look at every comma you use. Read your essay just for commas. Every time you see one, stop and make sure you’ve used it specifically and in accordance with the punctuation rules you’re following. This is time-consuming, but it also works.

You can do this for any punctuation and even for point of view and tense. Read for semicolons or apostrophes or colons. Read looking for “you” (if your paper is supposed to be in first person “I”) and change the “you” to first person. Read and stop on every verb to see if they are all in the tense you have chosen for your paper. When doing this kind of editing/revising work, you can do several readings of your essay with a different reading purpose each time.