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6 Revision Techniques You’ve Probably Never Heard of (or Used!)

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Revisions and rewriting are vital elements in the writing process. Like a blacksmith hammering a hunk of metal into a sharp-edged blade, revision is how writers sharpen, tighten, and strengthen their rough drafts. That said, rewriting can also be overwhelming and daunting. The good news is that writers have many options for how to undertake this critical component of the writing process. Here are six tactics to make the rewriting process easier and more effective.

1: The Layer-by-Layer Technique

This strategy involves making multiple passes through the text, focusing on different aspects of the writing each time. We’ve written on this theme before when discussing how to formalize revision processes: there are different kinds of editing (developmental, mechanical, line editing, copywriting, etc.), and each can be handled in separate passes. Alternatively, the first pass might focus on structural issues such as organization and flow. The second pass could home in on clarity and simplification, removing jargon and complex sentences. Subsequent passes might look at style, tone, and finally, grammar and punctuation.

The key is to keep each pass simple and focused. The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, in a guide to revisions, advises against trying to revise everything all at once. “Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session,” they say. This layered approach helps by breaking down the overwhelming task of rewriting into manageable, focused stages.

2: The Hands-Off Technique

In this strategy, the original author hands off the rewriting task to a colleague or writing partner. This fresh set of eyes can often spot issues that the original writer might have missed and can bring new perspectives to the text. The original author and the new writer can then discuss the changes, going back and forth until they refine the document into its final form.

This collaborative approach enhances the quality of the text and helps maintain objectivity. One of the hardest aspects of revising is when the writer has to remove something that’s genuinely well-written but just doesn’t work in the context of the larger document. The emotional attachment to the text makes cutting or changing the work painful, even if the revision will strengthen the work as a whole. Having someone with no such emotional attachment participate in revisions can make this easier on the original author.

A variant of the hands-off technique is the distance technique. Here, the writer takes a deliberate break from the document—for as long as they practically can and still meet their goals. This distance allows the writer to return to the text with fresh eyes and a new perspective, making it easier to spot errors and areas for improvement that were not initially obvious.

3: The Reverse Outline Technique

This one comes from East Carolina University: “As you reread your paper, create an outline as you go. Do not look at your original outline but follow the flow of your written paper.” The idea is that, by summarizing each paragraph or section post-draft, writers will be able to see a clear map of what they’ve actually written. This map can then reveal structural flaws and areas of redundancy that aren’t as apparent in the full text. Similarly, it will reveal any sections that need to be further fleshed out. From this reverse outline, writers can then reorganize content more logically and ensure that each section contributes effectively to the overall message.

Also be sure to compare the reverse outline to the original outline if you have one. It’s fine—and expected—for the reverse outline to vary from the original, but the comparison can reveal if gaps or unnecessary changes from the original vision for the document.

4: The PowerPoint Technique

This approach is more labor intensive, but can also be more eye-opening than other techniques. In essence, you want to turn your document into a PowerPoint presentation with only a single paragraph or even a single sentence per slide. At this stage, you only need to copy and paste. So why PowerPoint?

  1. It makes it easy to move slides or groups of slides around. This is a great technique if the main issue with the document seems to be organizational or structural and you want to experiment with re-ordering the flow of content.
  2. This technique forces the author to look closely at every part of the written document and will bring extraneous, repetitive, or otherwise unnecessary “fluff” into stark relief.

5: The Highlighting Technique 

One colorful way to revise: highlight the heck out of the document. Use different highlight colors (either in your word processing software or on a printed copy) and highlight different elements of the paper. As with the layer-by-layer technique, what you choose to highlight can vary.


  • You highlight thesis statements in one color and supporting evidence in another.
  • If, using a small number of external sources repeatedly, you give each source a dedicated color to see if you’re referencing a single source too often.
  • Highlight internal research in one color and external sources in another.
  • Highlight full quotes in one color, paraphrasing in another, and original thoughts in a third.
  • If a single document is making several points, arguments, or requests, highlight each in a different color to see if you’re overemphasizing one area and underemphasizing another.

6: The Revise-As-You-Go Technique

Some writers swear by this method: write a little, revise a little, repeat. If it works, it can be one of the most time-efficient approaches to revising material because the first full draft should end up being close to final. However, this technique can be treacherous. “There are two potential problems with revising as you go,” warns UNC. “One is that if you revise only as you go along, you never get to think of the big picture.” The other is that ongoing revisions amount to continuous tinkering, which can stifle both creativity and forward momentum, slowing writing production and resulting in a duller document.

These strategies, used alone or in combination, can make the rewriting process more systematic and less stressful, ultimately leading to clearer, more compelling, and effective documents.

To learn more – and pick up more strategies for improving the start-to-finish writing (and rewriting) process at your organization – contact Hurley Write for a custom, no-obligation consultation.

6 Revision Techniques You’ve Probably Never Heard of (or Used!)

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Prefer to chat? Call us at 877-249-7483

(172 Reviews)