ERIC Identifier: ED379664
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Lehr, Fran
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading
English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Revision in the Writing Process. ERIC Digest.
Although Donald Murray (1982) argues that writing is rewriting, students
often see revision not as an opportunity to develop and improve a piece of
writing but as an indication that they have failed to do it right the first
time. To them, revision means correction. This attitude is attributable partly
to textbooks, in which revision is often defined as the act of "cleaning up" or
"polishing" prose, and partly to instructional practices that treat revision as
cosmetic changes rather than as rethinking one's work (Sommers, 1982). Revision,
however, is the heart of the writing process--the means by which ideas emerge
and evolve and meanings are clarified. This Digest hopes to provide information
that can help in changing students from "correctors" to "revisers."
WHAT IS REVISION?
Revision is often defined as the last
stage in the writing process (prewriting, writing, and revision). Sommers
(1982), on the other hand, sees revision as "a process of making changes
throughout the writing of a draft, changes that work to make the draft congruent
with a writer's changing intentions."
HOW MUCH DO STUDENTS REVISE?
For the novice writer,
however, revision appears to be synonymous with editing or proofreading. An NAEP
(1977) study found that students' efforts at revision in grades 4, 8, and 11
were devoted to changing spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Students seldom
made more global changes, such as starting over, rewriting most of a paper,
adding or deleting parts of the paper, or adding or deleting ideas (Applebee, et
al., 1986). Even older college students appear to follow this model of surface
changes. Yoder (1993) examined journalism students' attitudes about revision and
the kinds of changes they made as they revised. She also found that surface
level changes predominated over meaning changes.
HOW CAN TEACHERS HELP STUDENTS TO REVISE?
students to revise or just to spend more time revising will not necessarily
produce improved writing (Adams, 1991). Direct teacher intervention, however,
seems to produce positive results. Hillocks (1982), for example, examining
teacher comment, prewriting instruction, and revision, discovered that
instruction focused on specific goals and skills "coupled with the presence...of
revision" improved the quality of the writing produced by seventh and eighth
graders. Robinson (1985) found that children in grades 2-6 produced better
stories when they revised in response to teacher questions directed at specific
content. In another study, Dale (1994) found that collaborative writing seemed
to move ninth grade students toward "more thoughtful, sophisticated writing
Sommers (1982) found that teacher comments on college students' writing were
usually text-specific and, therefore, not helpful. Further, the comments often
took students' attention away from their own purposes and focused it on those of
the teacher. Sommers suggests that teachers provide more specific comments and
design writing activities that allow students to establish purpose in their
Calkins (1986) recommends that students discuss positive rather than negative
aspects of their writings. "Why not," she asks, "ask them to find bits of their
writing--words, lines, passages--which seem essential, and then ask them to
explore why these sections are so very significant?"
Publishing student writings can be a powerful means of motivating revision.
Publication instills pride and provides an incentive to produce good work.
According to Simic (1993), "acknowledgement of good writing, whether it is peer
or adult, helps build an awareness of the importance of writing." Giving
students the opportunity to share their writing through hardback books,
newspapers, or newsletters, or through oral presentations to other students
shows them that quality matters, "and that quality is achieved through revision"
(Balajthy, 1986). Additionally, Balajthy recommends providing students with
in-class time for revision and allowing flexibility in due dates as a way to
encourage students to engage in more extensive revision.
CAN COMPUTERS IMPROVE REVISION SKILLS?
The ease with which
students can manipulate text with word processing programs has prompted
increased computer use in the writing classroom as a means of promoting student
revision. However, the research on whether computers lead students to revise
more frequently or more effectively is somewhat inconclusive. In her study of
the effects of word processing on the revision strategies of advanced college
freshman writers, Hawisher (1986) found that students using computers did not
revise more than those using pen and paper, nor were there differences in the
quality ratings of the two writing groups. Working with interested tenth and
eleventh graders, Kurth (1986) discovered that while word processing motivated
students to write and promoted group discussions, it did not affect either the
length of compositions or the amount and quality of revisions made. Daiute
(1986) found that seventh and ninth graders who used computers made revisions
involving longer segments of their draft texts, but the same students revised
less frequently when using computers than when using pen and paper.
More positive findings are reported by Flinn (1986), Womble (1984), and
Owston (1991). Flinn found that sixth graders using computers to revise
compositions wrote longer papers and received slightly higher holistic scores
than those using pen and paper. However, the most striking differences between
the groups had less to do with computers than with an instructional emphasis on
fluency, word choice, and mechanics. Womble observed that students using word
processing tended to work longer on their writing, to make more changes in the
text, and to develop a better sense of audience than they did when writing in
the traditional manner. Studying eighth graders who were very familiar with
computers and word processing, Owston found that papers written on the computer
were rated significantly higher than those written by hand. Scorers did not know
in which manner the papers had originally been written, but they consistently
judged the computer written papers superior on all scales of judgment. Data
indicated that students continuously revised and edited their work at all stages
of the writing process, with most of the revision done in the initial drafting
session, making the traditional distinction between draft and final versions of
a piece less meaningful.
Perhaps, as Tone and Winchester (1988) have argued, the computer offers real
facilitation of revision "to writers who know how to compose on one." This would
back up Owston's (1991) findings, and with the current proliferation of personal
computers allowing for a larger segment of the population available for study,
more conclusive data as to the computer's effectiveness should soon be
It appears, however, that revision, whether done with computers or with pen
and paper, will go beyond correction only if teachers emphasize the whole text
over its parts. When this happens, students discover the power of writing as a
means of shaping ideas and clarifying meanings rather than as a way of
correcting errors or fulfilling a class requirement.
Adams, Peter (1991). "Revising: An Approach for
All Seasons." Writing Notebook, (9)2, 11-12. [EJ 435 687]
Applebee, Arthur N., et al. (1986). "The Writing Report Card: Writing
Achievement in American Schools." Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service;
Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. [ED 273 994]
Balajthy, Ernest (1986). "Do Writers Really Revise?" Paper presented at the
Conference on Language and Literacy (Geneseo, NY).[ED 274 997]
Calkins, Lucy (1986). "The Art of Teaching Writing." Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann. [ED 263 613]
Daiute, Colette (1986). "Physical and Cognitive Factors in Revising: Insights
from Studies with Computers." Research in the Teaching of English, 20(2),
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Flinn, Jane Zeni (1986) "The Role of Instruction in Revising with Computers:
Forming a Construct for 'Good Writing.'" St. Louis, MO: University of Missouri.
[ED 274 963]
Hawisher, Gail E. (1986) "The Effects of Word Processing on the Revision
Strategies of College Students." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
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Comment, and Revision in Teaching the Composing Process." Research in the
Teaching of English, 16(3), 261-78. [EJ 268 134]
Kurth, Ruth J. (1986). "Using Word Processing to Enhance Revision Strategies
during Student Composing." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
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Murray, Donald M. (1982). "Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on
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Assessment of Writing." Denver: Education Commission of the States. [ED 141 826]
Owston, Ronald D., et al. (1991). "The Effects of Word Processing on Student
Writing in a High Computer Access Environment." Technical Report 91-3. York,
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Robinson, Ann (1985). "The Effects of Teacher Probes on Children's Written
Revisions." Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University. [ED 276 053]
Simic, Marjorie (1993). "Publishing Children's Writing." ERIC/REC Digest. [ED
Sommers, Nancy (1982). "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and
Experienced Adult Writers." Washington, DC: National Institute of Education. [ED
Tone, Bruce, and Dorothy Winchester (1988). "Computer-Assisted Writing."
ERIC/REC Digest. [ED 293 130]
Womble, Gail G. (1984). "Process and Processor: Is There Room for a Machine
in the English Classroom?" English Journal, 73(1), 34-37. [EJ 291 267]
Yoder, Sue Logsdon (1993). "Teaching Writing Revision: Attitudes and Copy
Changes." Journalism Educator, 47(4), 41-47. [EJ 459 139]