What is Revision?

What does it mean to revise? Revising certainly does not mean fixing style, grammar, and mechanics. That is editing. Revising also does not mean cutting and pasting, or moving things around, or fleshing out transitions.  That is also editing.

"To revise" means "to look at again," "to re-see," "to revisit" (from the Latin revisere).   Revision entails the review and, often, alteration of one's very thinking--of such elements of one's argument as thesis, agenda, analysis, evidence, and terminology (see "Twelve Elements of the Scholarly Essay."  Sometimes revising and editing overlap: sometimes one can modify or enhance one's argument without starting from scratch. Often, however, trying to effect such change while working with what is already on paper or on the screen can make an essay worse by rendering it incoherent or contradictory. Hence, revising often means rewriting a paper on a blank screen or blank pad of paper.  One mark of a good writer is a willingness to revise, where necessary, by starting from scratch.

Such revision does not imply that the effort one has put into one's draft is in vain.  Rather, it means that one has found out which way to go by finding out which way not to go, while at the same time learning what one needs to learn about one's topic to write effectively on it.