Chapter 8: Revisions and Editing
American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Barker, R.L. (2003). The social work dictionary (5th ed.). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
Strunk, W., Jr., & White, E. B. (1979). The elements of style (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
University of Chicago Press. (1993). The Chicago manual of style (14th ed.). Chicago: Author.
Zinsser, W. (1990). On writing well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction (25th Anniversary ed.) New York: Harper Collins.
National Center for Health Statistics
Bartleby (includes Bartlett’s Quotations)
Purdue University Online Writing Lab (a fabulous resource for writing, with information on grammar, spelling, style, and creating a variety of business documents)
Revising Your Writing
Following are some suggestions and ideas to help you as you revise your writing:
Before revising your own writing, it is important to distance yourself from it for a while to allow you to read it with a more objective eye. If possible, set the document aside for at least 12 hours.
Otherwise, try to at least take a lunch break or work on something completely different for an hour or so to allow your brain to refocus. This allows you to assume to role of the reader rather than that of the writer.
Include the Right Details
Understand what your reader wants or needs to know. This will help you design your message to accomplish your goal.
Be sure to answer all questions your readers may have as they read the document and afterwards.
Be specific about your purpose for writing this document, and let the purpose be known to the reader.
Check your document to make sure it includes all the information necessary to accomplish your purpose. At the same time, include only the information essential to your readers’ purpose and understanding. Do not overload readers with unnecessary or obvious information, which could distract them from your primary goal.
Identify what you want your readers to do when they finish reading the document, and be sure to include all the information they will need to easily take this action or make this decision.
Use Concise Language
Use only the essential words to get your message across to readers.
Incorrect: Distribution of all brochures is one of the Association’s primary goals.
Correct: The Association must distribute all brochures.
Do not use “wordy” language to describe simple, easily understood concepts.
Incorrect: I have enclosed a pamphlet, which describes the effect of this program on page five.
Correct: Page five of the enclosed pamphlet shows the effect of this program.
Avoid “pouring out” ideas and facts rapidly, in a dense sentence or paragraph, because readers may have difficulty understanding or assimilating the information.
Example of too much information at one time (from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab):
Our deluxe models have chromium, rubber-insulated fixtures for durability, economy, and easy maintenance, and convenient controls to cut down on installation costs and necessary adjustments. They operate on AC or DC current, and incorporate the latest principles of electronic controls, which means flexibility in their use, better adjustment of the thermal units, less chance of error, and reduced labor costs per unit of production.
Use vivid and convincing words that are specific and descriptive. Avoid using vague terms, such as “contact” (prefer “call,” “write,” or “visit”) or “soon” (prefer “tomorrow,” “April 15,” or “one hour from now”).
Key your language to your readers’ level of understanding. Do not write for a general readership in the same way you would address a professional audience.
Tailor Your Tone to the Audience
Express your ideas in a way that makes readers feel you are courteous, helpful, and human. Avoid overly casual language, but do not be afraid to include your own voice in formal writing.
Identify readers’ needs, problems, circumstances, and likely reactions to your message.
Original: This program will benefit clients across all spectrums of practice.
Better: Because practitioners from a variety of practice specialties designed the
program, it is likely to benefit clients from virtually all walks of life.
Emphasize the reader as “you” rather than offering a “we” statement. Placing the emphasis on “you,” versus “I” or “we,” makes it more likely readers will feel you understand their needs and know they are important.
Original: We hope to have this report on your desk first thing in the morning.
Better: You will have this report first thing in the morning.
Avoid phrases that imply that your readers may be dishonest, careless, or mentally deficient.
Original: Obviously, if you were paying attention at the meeting, you would be aware that the office is closing early tomorrow.
Better: Remember, the office is closing early tomorrow.
Original: To make changes to your document, all you have to do is . . .
Better: To change your document . . .
Organize Your Writing
It is essential to organize your writing according to the response your readers are likely to have to it:
- If your readers’ response is likely to be favorable or neutral, use a direct approach.
- If your readers’ response is likely to be unfavorable or if they will need to be persuaded,
use an indirect approach, incorporating an explanation and necessary details before stating the decision or action required.
Be sure transitions clarify relationships between your sentences and paragraphs. Avoid throwing information together in a choppy fashion.
Compose your document so that paragraphs flow naturally into one another. Outlining beforehand is a good idea to help aid organization.
Use Conventional Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation
Read through your final draft carefully to be sure there are no errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. It is often a good idea to read through the document once for each of the above, and then once for organization and content.
Have someone else read your final draft, checking the document for any errors/omissions in spelling, grammar, punctuation, content, and organization.
Prior to editing your document, it is important to ensure that it is as professional and accurate as possible. Look up items you are unsure about rather than assuming that an editor will “fix it” for you or that readers will not care about “little” mistakes.
Errors in written letters, reports, articles, and other documents may make readers question your reliability; distract them from your intended goal; and detract from your own, and the Association’s, professional image.
Use the following checklist when revising your writing:
- Run a spelling and grammar check. Do not automatically accept every spelling or grammar suggestion, however. Many times spell check misses errors or suggests incorrect words, and, depending on your writing style, the grammar check is not always accurate.
- Single space after sentence punctuation, including periods. It is not necessary to double space between sentences.
- Use bold font for headings and italics for foreign or words being defined. Never type in ALL CAPS.
- Write out “percent” instead of using the % symbol. (Writing for Social Work Research [see chapter 4] is the only exception—that journal uses “%” rather than the written-out form.)
- Indent paragraphs ½ inch on the first line.
- Reference lists should be double spaced, with a ½-inch “hanging indent” (the first line of each entry aligned with the left margin and lines below it indented ½ inch).
- Be sure to check the style guide for appropriate APA style for your reference lists. When in doubt, it is better to include more information than not enough.
- Use positive phrasing rather than negative:
Incorrect: Social workers are not receiving adequate pay.
Correct: Social workers receive inadequate pay.
- Eliminate “there is” and “there are” whenever possible:
Incorrect: There are a lot of useful tips in this book.
Correct: This book contains many useful tips.
- Use a noun after “this,” “these,” or “those”:
Incorrect: Susan put those on the top shelf.
Correct: Susan put those binders on the top shelf.
- Avoid asking questions. State answers instead:
Incorrect: Why, then, do people continue to prefer dogs to cats?
Correct: People tend to prefer dogs to cats, experts say, because . . .
- Whenever you can say something in fewer words, do so:
Incorrect: The newsletter had two more articles in it this month.
Correct: The newsletter contained two more articles this month.
- Delete “the” and “their” whenever possible:
Incorrect: Sunbathers must remember to put on their sunscreen.
Correct: Sunbathers must remember to put on sunscreen.
- Eliminate unnecessary words like “very” and “extremely,” using better words if you want to convey more feeling:
Incorrect: My mother was very happy to see me at her party.
Correct: My mother was happy to see me at her party.
Correct: My mother was overjoyed to see me at her party.
- When speaking of a specific number, always use “more than” instead of “over”:
Incorrect: Over 50 people attended the picnic.
Correct: More than 50 people attended the picnic.
- Do not overuse “is,” “are,” “has,” “have,” and other variations of “to have” and “to be”:
Incorrect: The department store has a variety of merchandise.
Correct: The department store stocks a variety of merchandise.
- Make sure your nouns (names of people and things) and pronouns (him, her, them, they) agree. Singular nouns require singular pronouns. Plural nouns (groups) require plural pronouns:
Incorrect: To be sure you contact the correct person, you should look them up on the Web site.
Correct: To be sure you contact the correct person, you should look him or her up
on the Web site.
Correct: To be sure you contact the correct people, you should look them up on the
- Include credentials whenever appropriate. Be sure to specify PhD or MD in a first reference. After the first reference, it is all right to use “Dr.” According to APA style, do not use periods between the letters in credentials.
- Whenever possible (and appropriate) include a person’s MSW among his or her credentials, which highlights social work as a profession based on high educational standards.
- When in doubt, consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style Manual), The Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
- Double space all manuscripts submitted to NASW Press.