Revision: Take It One Step at a Time

Revision is one of the most misunderstood parts of the writing process.

When you ask students to revise their writing, they often think you are asking them to correct their spelling mistakes and write it over neatly. This is editing. (See “Editing and Revision: Defining the Difference.”)

One thing that many writers, adults and students alike, do not recognize is that good revision is a journey and involves taking things one step at a time. It is very difficult to revise a piece of writing when you are focusing on multiple qualities at once.

Perhaps the reason writers are sometimes reluctant to embrace revision is because they get overwhelmed with how much it involves. They don’t know where to begin.

To make revision more manageable (and more enjoyable), it is important that writers break the revision process down into chunks, focusing on only one quality at a time.

Here are some ways we can revisit our writing to revise it, depending on the type of writing we are doing. The writer chooses ONE area to focus on at a time. This is not a checklist — all of these qualities do not need to be checked off before a piece of writing is finished being revised. Some writing projects will involve more extensive revisions and revisits, and others will involve less. It is up to the writer and the task.


  • Character: Is the character well developed? Is dialogue used to reveal character traits? Do each of the characters stand out as being different from the others?

  • Sequence: Do the events happen in an order that makes sense? Is anything left out that the reader won’t be able to figure out on their own? Is there a solid beginning/middle/end?

  • Problem/Solution: Is there a problem in the narrative? Is it introduced at an appropriate time? Are there multiple attempts at solving the problem? Is the problem solved by the end?

  • Power of Three: Can the Power of Three be used somewhere, such as three attempts to solve a problem, three characters, events happening in groups of threes? (See “Balance Your Writing with the Power of Three")

  • Dialogue: Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it move the story forward? Does it reveal something about the characters or setting or is it just blabber?