As the goal says, this step turns a first draft into a finished document. You wrote the first draft continuously, not stopping to revise as you went along, so that you could maintain your momentum and sense of the whole. This strategy was practical for two reasons. You were building on prior thinking about your intentions, your readers and the structure of your document; and, second, you anticipated re-working your draft during this step.
Before beginning to verify and revise, however, you must make a strategic decision. You have to decide how polished the document should be and how much time to spend on it. Some documents must go out the door in the next five minutes or they are worthless. So be it. Do the best you can in those five minutes.
Fortunately, this is not always the case. Look at your priorities. If this document is going outside the organization, if it will be read widely, if it puts forward an idea that will be strongly associated with you, then make the time to polish it.
The approach presented here will help you weigh priorities in two ways. First, it focuses on features of your document in decreasing order of importance. If you run out of time, you will have the consolation of knowing you used the time you had to greatest advantage. Second, with practice, it will help you get a better grip on how long it will take you to bring a document from first draft to final form. Knowing that, you you can manage your time more effectively.
You can't look at every feature of a document at once. Some, like spelling and word choice, are small and require you to focus on details. Others, like overall purpose and organization, require you to step back and look at the whole document. You can't do both at the same time. You can't take in the whole landscape while looking at a flower you're holding.
To get around this problem, make several passes through the document looking at a different set of features each time. First, look at the landscape, the large structural and intentional aspects. Then at paragraphs, then sentences, and, finally, words. With each pass you will be consciously ignoring some features in order to focus on others. Thus, you will be managing your attention and your thinking as you follow a top-down strategy of verifying large, more important features before smaller, less significant ones.
Practice the procedures in each pass until you know them well. They are your tools for revision. However, as they become familiar, they will also change the way you write first drafts. You will begin to see as you write a sentence that is vague or a paragraph that rambles. And you will will begin to write drafts that need less and less revision.
The largest and most important features of any document are its purpose and structure. Be sure they are right before looking at paragraphs and sentences. If you haven't written the right document, clear sentences won't help. The same is true if the pieces don't fit together. Your Focus Statement and Tree are your tools for verifying and, if necessary, revising the purpose and structure of your document.
With this first pass, you insure that your document meets your largest intentions. If this is all you have time to do, you can send it off knowing it's well aimed and coherent. You have not wasted time polishing sentences and paragraphs that make the wrong point. Thus, looking at large structural features first is optimal both for realizing your priorities and for using your time effectively.
Having verified and perhaps revised the overall purpose and structure of the document, you are now ready to narrow your focus of attention in order to work on the basic building blocks of your document. These are usually paragraphs of prose, but not always. Some documents, particularly technical ones, may present basic units of information in other forms, such as bulletted lists, side-by-side comparisons, tables, or graphics. For convenience, we'll call all of them paragraphs except when we are explicitly talking about another form.
In this pass through your document, focus on these small structural units. Your task is to verify and revise two features: clarity of the main point and logical relationships among the sentences or other elements. Don't do extensive sentence editing now. You'll look at sentences in the next pass. For now, treat them largely as components you can order and reorder.
Think of the paragraph as a displacement in content. Readers begin the paragraph in one state of knowledge; they should finish it in a different state of knowledge. (If they don't, you have wasted your time writing the paragraph and their time reading it.) The sentences are the logical steps across that displacement. Thus, each paragraph has an input knowledge state, a sequence of logical steps, and an output knowledge state.
Think of a paragraph as a small pond, such as those in a Japanese garden. The input and output states are large stones on opposite shores. The sentences are stepping stones that form a logical path between them. Now look at the sequence of sentences in the paragraph. Is the path straight? Does it wander off to the side or into a dead end? Are the sentences/stones appropriately spaced, or are there gaps that may cause your readers difficulties?
If the stones are out of order, reorder them. You can, of course, revise them lightly to make them fit together in their new, logical order. But don't do heavy stylistic editing. Save that for the next pass. If you find gaps, fill in the missing sentences.
This procedure is highly intuitive. But it will help you visualize the logical structure of your paragraphs, the 'shape' and 'direction' of your thinking. You will see, literally, paragraphs that ramble or that leave out an important step in your reasoning. For now, treat the sentences largely as stones that you can pick up and move, whole. After you are satisfied that the logical flow of ideas is clear and even, then make it smooth in the next pass when you focus on sentences.
If the organizational structure of a document is its skeleton, the sentences are its flesh. The procedure in this step will help make your writing lean and emphatic.
There are many things that can be wrong with a sentence and as many ways to fix them. We suggest three procedures that will take care of most problems with individual sentences. The first will help you line up key ideas with key structural positions in your sentences. The second helps get rid of unnecessary words that dilute your meaning. The third will make your sentences more action-oriented.
By aligning the structure and content of a sentence, you assure that it states your main idea clearly and emphatically . A sentence with key ideas in other positions is likely to be indirect and, perhaps, unclear. A sentence with key concepts in key positions can hardly help from being direct.
In moving key words into key positions, you often remove unnecessary words that may also have been obscuring your meaning. Sometimes, that's all your sentences need. However, sometimes you need to trim them down to still fewer words, for clarity, for grace, or to meet a word limit. The next two procedures will help.
These procedures train your eye to spot the clear sentence buried within the unclear one and help you bring it to light. Practice these procedures during revision. Soon you'll notice that your writing has changed. As you write, you will begin to put your main point in the subject/verb/object or complement positions. You will be aware of extra words that clutter your meaning. And you will become conscious of is verbs that emphasize the wrong words or concepts in your sentences. As your awareness grows, you will write sentences that need less and less revision.
In this final pass, look at words. After you have gotten your structure, paragraphs, and sentences right, be sure your words are also right.
In this final pass, check technical terms first. Use the Readers Chart and Readers/Knowledge Matrix as guides. Be sure your most important readers know the terms you use. If not, work brief explanations -- a phrase or sentence, at most -- into the text, usually the sentence before the term occurs.
Consider the connotations of your words. A word with the right literal meaning but the wrong association can undercut a point. But words that subtly underscore the importance of a point or its link with something your readers value can help. Don't be afraid to use metaphors and analogies. Relating something unfamiliar to something familiar is always a good idea. This is particularly true for technical details; for example, relating a computer network addressing scheme to the postal addressing scheme. If you use an analogy, be sure to fill it in completely and be sure the concept is complex enough to justify the analogy. Don't overdo it.
Next check for gender-free nouns and pronouns. Many people are offended by references to he or him that are intended to include women as well as men. The most graceful way around this issue is to reword the reference as a plural. Refer to managers and engineers so you can use they and them. If this won't work, try to stick with noun- rather than pronoun-forms, such as the programmer's file rather than his file. If this still won't do, use double pronouns, his and her or his/her Your sentence may sound awkward, but you will probably offend fewer people.
Don't forget to check spelling. A misspelled word shouldn't matter all that much, but it does. It's like wearing a polka-dotted tie or having a spot of catsup on your jacket -- more a matter of manners or personal hygiene than substance. But readers' reactions to spelling errors are often very strong and very real. Spellcheckers help, but don't rely on them completely. We know a college student who turned in a paper on Melville's use of sinister calms without proofreading it. The typist had changed all the calms to clams. It got a strong reaction from the professor, but not the one intended. No checker will find such errors, so be sure to read the document through yourself and, if it's an important one, get a friend to read it through, as well.
Finally, read the paper aloud. Listen for words that you may have unconsciously repeated. Listen for unfortunate associations. Listen for awkward sentences. But above all, just listen. Be sure your document sounds like you want it to. Imagine your readers' faces and reactions as you read aloud. If your document doesn't sound like you would want to sound talking to them, then revise it.
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