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Revising or Rewriting

Let's define terms

This guide does not distinguish between revising and editing. Both are used to refer to minor changes in language or organization that will add to the clarity, conciseness, tone, or general effectiveness of the writing.

When we speak of rewriting something, we mean that the original version must be cast aside. No minor adjustments will make it acceptable. The writer must start from scratch and come up with a new version.

Why edit?

The purpose of editing is not simply to polish what may already be a good piece of writing. Rather, it is to make the improvements necessary if the writing is to do its job well. The primary purpose of editing is to clarify. It accomplishes this by:

1. condensing writing (compressing meaning into fewer words), 2. relocating words, sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, or 3. inserting or substituting words that will be clearer to the reader

or that will make the writing read more smoothly. Some people liken editing to pruning. Good pruning is not so much a matter of cutting out major stems and branches as of cutting a twig here and a small branch there, until a clean, vigorous bush emerges, stripped of all small, unproductive branches.

So with revising or editing. Crisp, clear writing results not necessarily because of major revisions but because of the cumulative effect of minor revisions, not one of which was, in itself, important.

The beginning gardener may be appalled by the appearance of the pruned bush. It may look stark and ugly to him because, unlike the experienced gardener, he is unable to see the strength and vigor that results from pruning. The writer who is unaccustomed to editing may, at first, be similarly appalled. He may think his edited writing is naked and scrawny. Experience will show him that it has new strength and vigor.

Since editing is an important part of writing, you improve your writing skill as you improve your editing skill.

Tips on editing

The points to watch for during your editorial review are the subjects of

later units on effective paragraphs, the language of writing, effective sentences. The suggestions here will be covered more fully in those sections.

Compressing meaning into fewer words-One of the easiest ways to say something in fewer words is to use active verbs instead of passive. Instead of saying, “It was recommended by the Director,” compress the words to “The Director recommended.” Watch for wordy expressions, such as “in the event that" instead of “if.” Prepositional phrases often expand into word wasters. Check for words that say the same thing twice“brief brochure,” for example, or “repeat it again.” Watch for waste words in such expressions as "give consideration to” instead of “consider.”

Relocating words—Check for misplaced modifiers—those that say something you never intended. These modifiers may be single words, phrases, or clauses; they may have such technical names as “squinting” modifiers or "dangling" modifiers. To correct any of these errors, by whatever name they use, put the modifiers as close as possible to the words they modify.

Subjects and verbs often get widely separated, especially in long sentences. Try to keep them together. Often you will find that by bringing the subject and verb together you have made the sentence more direct and “head-on.”

Inserting or substituting words—Words that detract from tone need to be watched. Check to be sure you have not used words with connotations that are unpleasant or words that imply judgmental instead of factual statements. Often you may want to substitute a specific word for a general one. A word that may be clear to you as the writer may be unknown to the reader. Check your words to be sure they are clear from his standpoint.

You will doubtless use all these methods as you edit your drafts. However, the one that you will use most is the first-condensing or compressing. In doing so you will delete some of your expressions or perhaps your material. The goal of editing is not so much deletion as compression—putting the same amount of information into fewer words.

What to rewrite

Edit your drafts, of course—that's the advantage of having difficult communication in draft. You can edit to your heart's content and turn in a finished document that you can be proud of.

But what about the finished letter or memo. When must it be revised — or, perhaps, rewritten?

Reviewers and originators alike have trouble with this question. We

discussed this in considering whether all communications can be expected to meet all standards.

Most agree, however, that the finished document must be revised or rewritten if

• it is not technically CORRECT
• it is so INCOMPLETE or UNRESPONSIVE that it will not

do its job
• an important point will not be CLEAR
• the TONE will offend the reader or represent the Service

unfavorably. Sometimes only a word, a phrase, a single sentence must be changed, inserted, or deleted to overcome the problem. But this fact does not lessen the importance of making the correction.

As you appraise other things you've written, you may decide that they will be acceptable. But you may itch to change them—to substitute a word here, shorten a phrase there. You can't yield to temptation. Work is piling up; time is short. Let these items go—but mark the corrections on the carbon you keep. And let the next letter or memo you write on that subject be the revision of the one that fell short of your expectations.

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In written communications we must depend on only two factors to get meaning across to readers:

(1) OrganizationMaterial organized into a pattern the reader

can recognize and follow.

(2) Language _Words which will be clear to the reader, con

cise within the bounds of courtesy, and ap

propriate for the situation. In this unit we will discuss language principles from three points: clarity, conciseness, and appropriate tone. You will recognize them as part of the Appraisal Chart.

For clarity:

-Use everyday words
-Avoid clear only if known (COIK) language or technical terms
- Use specific words
-Use words economically

For conciseness:

Practice word economy by:
-Reducing weighty sentence parts
-Shortening prepositional phrases
-Avoiding doublets
-Avoiding overuse of passive voice
-Avoiding roundabout expressions

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