I. Definition

II. History of Revision

III. Research on Revision Practices

IV. Components of Good Revision


For the past 20 years, researchers that specialize in composition studies have been interested in determining what constitutes good revision. More specifically, they sought to determine the impact successful revisions had on improving the overall quality of writing. Researchers designed specific studies that compared the practices of experienced, professional writers to that of inexperienced students. Through this comparison, previous arguments that developed through research were reiterated. Students must be able to distinguish between surface and global revisions, revise throughout the entire composing process, have an understanding of their purpose, write and revise targeted towards a specific audience, and most importantly be self-invested in their work. Revision is one of the most overlooked and understated components of the composing process.


Revision is defined as the process of making changes whether minor or major, at any point of the writing process. Types of revisions have been structured into two categories: global and surface changes. Global revisions alter the meaning of the text whereas surface changes do not. Revision has been considered to be a cognitive problem-solving process. It is a task that demands the writer to make alterations to their work to fit their internalized, intended final text. This process can occur before the writer's thoughts are articulated, the text is written, or after the text has been constructed. Nancy Sommers, a notable researcher of composition studies defined revision as, "as a sequence of changes in a composition- changes which are initiated by cues and occur continually throughout the writing of a work (Sommers 324)." Through studies, researchers continue to alter their understanding and definition of the complex, abstract revision process.


Composition teachers for years have been troubled by the denouncement and punitive perspective of revision. The basis of their studies was their desire to understand why students revise the way they do, more specifically when they revise and what kind of revisions they make. In 1980 Flower and Hayes made progessive movements away from the linear model that was once widely accepted. They focused their model on the cognitive actions that take place during the composing process. This model had three parts: the task environment, the writer's long term memory, and the writing processes. Through this model, composition instructors would be better able to teach students revision's role as a recursive process, not an after thought. Flower and Hayes continued to alter this model and in 1981 they added three processes: planning, translating, and reviewing with reviewing being further broken down into evaluation and revision.

Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia contributed to the work done by Flower and Hayes in 1983 by developing  their model:COD which stands for compare, diagnose, and operate. This model explains a writer's process of comparing the actual text to their mental text. When there are discrepencies present, there is a need for revision. The internalized and the actual text are compared, differences are recognized and diagnosed, and than the writer is expected to operate and adjust the issues.

Flower and Hayes made modifications to the CDO model in 1986 and 1987 by adding two substages: 1) processes, "which involved reading to evaluate, selecting a strategy, and executing the revision and 2) knowledge, which included task definition, criteria for planning and text, problem representation, and revision procedures (Becker 29)." These inclusions were meant to demontrate the need for writer's intention to be aknowledged and included in the model. Late 1980's models were constructed with a heavy emphasis on writer knowledge and intention

Revision research shifted in the 1990s when new models were created to analyze the interconnectedness of working memory, long-term memory, and succesful writing. Hayes sought to connect a writer's critical reading skills and their ability to properly revise. Three specific critical reading skills he cites include, content comprehension, task definition, and text revision. This information is further supported by the research done by Nancy Sommers that contrasted revision practices of student and experienced writers. The stronger the reader, the stronger the writer due to clear writer intention and audience awareness. Composing with these two concepts in mind drives the writer to match their text to their intended audience.

In 2002, Alice Horning published her book Revision Revisited which asserted good writing, especially revision is, "contingent on well-developed metarhetorical, metastrategic, and metalinguistic awareness (Becker 36)." She further breaks down four basic writing skills that are dependent on awareness as 1) collaboration 2) genre 3) text and content and 4) tools. The subjects at the center of Horner's research were experienced, professional writers which suggests that their expertise correlates to years of practice and high lexical skills.




Faigley and Witte's Taxonomy

Faigley and Witte's essay, "Analyzing Revision" provides a detailed breakdown of the different types of revisions. More specifically they make distinctions between surface and global changes. Surface changes are changes  that do not impact the meaning of the text. Surface changes are broke down into two subcategories: formal and meaning preserving changes. Formal changes include alterations to punctuation and spelling, also including changes to tense and word plurals. Meaning preserving changes adjust attributes of the text but do not alter them or affect the meaning in anyway. This can be on the word, sentence or paragraph level through additions, deletions, substitutions, and/or reordering text.

Text-based changes are global changes, they affect the meaning of the text. The two subcategories for text-based changes are macrostructure and microstructure. Both of these changes can be in the form of additions, deletions, substitutions, and/or reordering of the text. Macrostructure changes affect the summary of the completed text whereas microstructure changes alter the meaning of the text but do not affect the summary of the text.



Nancy Sommers

Nancy Sommers’s essay Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers touches on the how and when issues students have with revision. At the time this essay was published it was already widely understood that students frequently made more surface changes. Sommers discussed the feelings of confinement students had based off their adherence to the linear model. The linear model engrains the importance of a thesis and rigid paragraph structure in the minds of students. The problem with this is that students write their thesis before they even know what it is they are trying to say, causing their paragraphs to lack substance and the quality of writing to suffer. Experienced writers, however, continually shape and strengthen their argument as they are writing. They don’t feel restricted because they continually work back and forth as they go. Experienced writers are not afraid to redefine the meaning of their piece. Their vision might change at different points throughout, however their desire to meet their audience’s needs remains constant.


Writers should be constantly striving for consonance between their goal and the reader’s goal. Jill


Dissonance- Resolution Process of Revision in Writing and Critical Reading

Fitzgerald uses a chart constructed by Flower, Hayes, Carey, Schriver & Stratman to highlight the similarities between the cognitive abilities of critical reading and revising. Readers will continue to read a text if there is no identified disconnect present. If however, their is an issue of understanding the process is interupted. The same experience occurs for writers as well. If the text they are composing fails to match the internalized text they wish to produce, they must make the appropriate alterations.


Proper teacher instruction is vital in order for students to improve their revising skills. A significant portion of the studies published were dedicated to uncovering a connection between teacher instruction and quality of revision skills. When teachers focus mostly on grammatical and stylistic errors, they fail to challenge their students to take a second look on the overall quality of their piece. Teacher feedback should pose thought provoking questions that force the writer to take a second look on their ability to convey their thoughts.  If teachers’ expect students to make global changes, than they too must incorporate that into their classroom environment. Peer feedback has been regarded as more successful in leading to global revision changes because of the demands it puts on the writer. When students are workshopping their pieces they are able to see if their audience does not understanding the meaning or their purpose. Revision guides can narrate this practice. Michael Flanigan and Diane Menedez published two different types of narrative guides in their essay Perception and Change: Teaching Revision whose purpose was to implement facilitated classroom discussions on student drafts. They explicitly state they require students to,

“discover intention and meaning and their effects, to describe those discoveries for the writer, analyze why and how the writing affects the reader, to evaluate the effectiveness in terms of the writer’s purpose and written context, and finally to recommend strategies for change (257).”

This correlates to Jill Fitzgerald’s dissonance- resolution process. Writers should be constantly striving for consonance between their goal and the reader’s goal. Peer feedback enables this to happen because writer and reader are working together. It also eliminates the teacher from being viewed as the ultimate authority; a factor that intimidates the writer and hinders their progression.


In order to successfully revise, students must have an understanding of two specific things: who their audience is as well as their purpose in writing. Having these two understandings in mind will enable them to detect an issue in their text and properly correct it. When a disconnect occurs between a reader’s understanding of the author’s intention, there is a need for revision. As students write they should be constantly evaluating if these two components of their task are being met. Am I clear with what I am trying to say? Do the reader’s comprehend what it is I am trying to articulate? These questions should be introduced by teachers at a younger age.


Becker, Anne. "A Review of Writing Model Research Based on Cognitive Processes." Revision: History, Theory, and Practice. Ed. Alice S. Horning. West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor LLC, 2006. 25-50. Print.

Faigley, Lester, and Stephen White. "Analyzing Revision." College Composition and Communication 32.4 (1981): 400-14. JSTOR. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.

Fitzgerald, Jill. "Enhancing Two Related Thought Processes: Revision in Writing and Critical Reading." The Reading Teacher 43.1 (1989): 42-48. JSTOR. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.

Fitzgerald, Jill. "Research On Revision in Writing." Review of Educational Research 57.4 (1987): 481-506. JSTOR. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.

Flanigan, Michael C., and Diane S. Menendez. "Preception and Change: Teaching Revision." College English 42.3 (1980): 256-66. JSTOR. Web. 1 Oct. 2012

Sommers, Nancy. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers." 1980. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2009. 323-33. Print.