Give Your Writing a Revision Sweep

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

For the past week, I've been proofing and correcting articles written by my high school Intro to Journalism students. In most instances, like many professional writers, my students still struggle with the revision process.

"Nothing is perfect the first time," I chime. Are you listening?

Students shake their heads knowingly, but the next draft doesn't improve. What's a teacher - and a writer - to do?

I hand out a "sweep list", highlighters, and an article to each student and have them follow this six-step program. You may find it tightens your storytelling, too.

  1. Follow the stylebook. The class uses its own stylebook for formatting, headlinges, grammar and usage, etc. When a writer submits a piece, the publication or publisher expects you to follow certain rules. For example, when I write for the newspaper, I'm expected to follow the AP Stylebook. When I submit poetry or fiction, many expect the piece to follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Best advice: familiarize yourself with the publication to which you are submitting and get up close and personal with the style guide.

  2. Use your grammar text. My preferred text is The Little, Brown Handbook. It's thorough and addresses questions dealing with every aspect of writing.

  3. Highlight to be verbs. Too many times, to be verbs indicate passive voice. And even if they don't push a sentence into passive mode, drop the helper verb and push it into a tighter, straightforward, stronger sentence.

  4. Avoid pronouns. Pronouns tend to cloud a sentence by making an unclear reference. Make sure each incidence of pronoun use makes sense!

  5. Keep dialogue tags simple. Beginning writers like to pepper a quote with flowery dialogue tags. In journalism, the KISS method works best. A simple "said" carries a sentence/quote.

  6. Evict adverbs. Writers rely on the -ly words, but in a number of instances, the adverb does not add new information to the piece. Adverb overload slows the timing and rhythm. Use sparingly and for impact.

Revising and strengthening a story doesn't need to be a difficult process. A sweep list may make your nonfiction article or flash fiction piece squeaky clean! Or, at least impress an editor.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at


Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Nice straightforward checklist for sharpening our writing. Thanks!

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