18 Questions For Revisions That Work

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So…you’ve been working hard to improve your writing.  You have been establishing a writing process, incorporating invention and planning before you draft.  More importantly, you have committed yourself to the real work of writing – revision.  You are looking at your drafts through your reader’s eyes, adjusting overall organization, word choice, even page design to enhance communication.

Even though your writing passion is focused on personal projects, you find yourself applying your new skills at the office, too.  Your emails have become more focused and efficient, and the professional writing you do exhibits increased purposefulness.

In short, you’ve become known as “the writing maven” at work.  And as soon as your colleagues recognize your skill, they begin to ask your advice.  The problem is, what works for you writing-wise may not work for your colleagues.  Not all good writers are good reviewers, just as not all good writers are good writing teachers.  It’s a different angle.

So what is a newly-crowned writing maven to do?  The following checklist will help you evaluate your colleague’s work systematically and ensure that your feedback is helpful.

First, spend some time communicating your overall reaction to the piece.  It’s helpful to focus on the writing’s positive aspects first.  As you know, writing is an intensely personal experience, even if you’re writing at work.  Consequently, people often don’t distinguish criticism of their writing from criticism of them: their intellect, their insight, their viewpoint.  Focusing on the positive builds a base of good feelings that makes subsequent constructive criticism easier to deal with.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is the first thing you noticed about the piece?
  • What did you understand the writer’s purpose to be?
  • What are the draft’s greatest strengths?
  • Are there large-scale weaknesses to be addressed?
  • What one change would improve the piece most dramatically?

Next, you’ll consider the piece in detail.  As you give feedback, remember to point to specific examples rather than making general statements.  Speaking in the abstract about a person’s writing encourages misunderstanding.  Specific examples, on the other hand, show the writer what you’re telling them. 

Some of your feedback will focus on issues of content:

  • Is there anything in this draft that you don’t understand?
  • Are there places in the piece where you need more information?
  • Does this piece cover too much conceptual ground?  Too little?
  • Does any point need to be illustrated or explained more fully?
  • Did the writer fulfill his or her stated purpose?  Is there anything that the piece promises but doesn’t provide?
  • Can the writer work with the current draft, or does this piece need a complete rewrite?

Other feedback will focus on the piece’s organization:

  • Does the introduction compel the reader’s interest?  Does it present the piece’s main point in an engaging manner?
  • Does the paper have one main idea, or several?
  • Would the main idea stand out better if material were removed or added?
  • Could the draft’s ideas be arranged more effectively? 
  • Can you follow the piece’s logic easily?  Are any transitions needed?  Where?
  • Does the writer present a consistent point of view?
  • How might the writer strengthen the conclusion?

Finally, some comments might focus on the piece’s strategic goals:

  • Is there any material in the piece that might offend its target readers?  What about the material might be objectionable: tone, word choice, evidence?
  • Does the draft contain any unnecessary material? 
  • Does any part of the draft bore you?  What could the writer do to maintain the reader’s interest?
  • Is the piece too abstract in parts?  Where should the writer give specifics to combat this?
  • Does the draft contain specialized language that needs to be defined for the readers?

With these questions as your guide, you’ll be able to blow your colleague away with your reviewing prowess.  Now it’s time to put those writing skills to work on a raise request.

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