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Richard Lanham, Revising Prose (Scribner's, 1979)


The process of rereading a text and making changes (in content, organization, sentence structures, and word choice) to improve it.

During revision, writers may add, remove, move and substitute text (the ARMS treatment). "[T]hey have opportunities to think about whether their text communicates effectively to an audience, to improve the quality of their prose, and even to reconsider their content and perspective and potentially transform their own understanding" (Charles A. MacArthur). See Observations, below.

See also:


From the Latin, "to visit again, to look at again"


  • "Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost."
    (William Zinsser, On Writing Well. 2006)

  • "[R]evision begins with the large view and proceeds from the outside in, from overall structure to paragraphs and finally sentences and words, toward ever more intricate levels of detail. In other words, there's no sense in revising a sentence to a hard shining beauty if the passage including that sentence will have to be cut."
    (Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life. Story Press, 1996)

  • "Writing is revising, and the writer's craft is largely a matter of knowing how to discover what you have to say, develop, and clarify it, each requiring the craft of revision."
    (Donald M. Murray, The Craft of Revision, 5th ed. Wadsworth Publishing, 2003)

  • Fixing the Mess
    "Revision is a grand term for the frantic process of fixing the mess. . . . I just keep reading the story, first on the tube, then in paper form, usually standing up at a file cabinet far from my desk, tinkering and tinkering, shifting paragraphs around, throwing out words, shortening sentences, worrying and fretting, checking spelling and job titles and numbers."
    (David Mehegan, quoted by Donald M. Murray in Writing to Deadline. Heinemann, 2000)

  • Two Kinds of Rewriting
    "[T]here are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you've already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you're trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If [F. Scott] Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself he might have said, 'Rewrite from principle,' or 'Don't just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.'"
    (Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. Random House, 2013)

  • A Form of Self-Forgiveness
    "I like to think of revision as a form of self-forgiveness: you can allow yourself mistakes and shortcomings in your writing because you know you're coming back later to improve it. Revision is the way you cope with bad luck that made your writing less than excellent this morning. Revision is the hope you hold out for yourself to make something beautiful tomorrow though you didn't quite manage it today. Revision is democracy's literary method, the tool that allows an ordinary person to aspire to extraordinary achievement."
    (David Huddle, The Writing Habit. Peregrine Smith Book, 1991)

  • Peer Revising
    "Peer revising is a common feature of writing-process classrooms, and it is often recommended as a way of providing student writers with an audience of readers who can respond to their writing, identify strengths and and problems, and recommend improvements. Students may learn from serving in roles of both author and editor. The critical reading required as an editor can contribute to learning how to evaluate writing. Peer revising is most effective when it is combined with instruction based on evaluation criteria or revising strategies."
    (Charles A. MacArthur, "Best Practices in Teaching Evaluation and Revision." Best Practices in Writing Instruction, ed. by Steve Graham, Charles A. MacArthur, and Jill Fitzgerald. Guilford Press, 2007)

  • Writers on Revising
    - "We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time."
    (Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage. Random House, 1981)

    - "Beginning writers everywhere might take a lesson from [Lafcadio] Hearn's working method: when he thought he was finished with a piece, he put it in his desk drawer for a time, then took it out to revise it, then returned it to the drawer, a process that continued until he had exactly what he wanted."
    (Francine Prose, "Serene Japan." Smithsonian, Sep. 2009)

    - "Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”
    (Bernard Malamud, Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work, ed. by Alan Cheuse and Nichola Delbanco. Columbia University Press, 1996)

    - "I rewrite a great deal. I'm always fiddling, always changing something. I'll write a few words--then I'll change them. I add. I subtract. I work and fiddle and keep working and fiddling, and I only stop at the deadline."
    (Ellen Goodman)

    - "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."
    (James Michener)

    - "Writing is like everything else: the more you do it the better you get. Don't try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. Accept imperfections. Get it finished and then you can go back. If you try to polish every sentence there's a chance you'll never get past the first chapter."
    (Iain Banks)

    - "Revision is very important to me. I just can't abide some things that I write. I look at them the next day and they're terrible. They don't make sense, or they're awkward, or they're not to the point--so I have to revise, cut, shape. Sometimes I throw the whole thing away and start from scratch."
    (William Kennedy)

    - "Successful writing takes great exertion, and multiple revisions, refinement, retooling--until it looks as if it didn't take any effort at all."
    (Dinty W. Moore, The Mindful Writer. Wisdom Publications, 2012)
Pronunciation: re-VIZH-en
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