I went through over sixteen years of school without understanding the difference between revising and editing. In fact, I didn’t really do either. My editing and revising was limited to what I accomplished while writing the first draft of the paper, which was exactly the same as the final draft that I submitted. I got positive feedback on my writing and never felt a need to alter my writing process.
What I didn’t realize was that the hours I spent agonizing over an introductory paragraph or a single sentence could have been a great deal less stressful and time consuming. Writing should simply be a matter of getting your thoughts down on paper. The polishing should occur during the revising and editing stages of your paper. But what’s the difference between these two steps, and what’s the big deal?
Just to be clear, both the editing and revising process can (and usually should) occur multiple times throughout the course of writing a paper. My problem was that I was so hung up on editing and revising as I wrote that I would miss out on great ideas while agonizing over comma placement or phrasing. Editing addresses the mechanics of the paper, including typos and grammar. The revising process is often a great deal more difficult, because it involves looking at the actual information presented in your paper. I once had a professor say that you knew your revision process was going well when you were getting rid of good material. It’s often extremely difficult to get rid of a piece of great information, but if it doesn’t relate to your thesis or the rest of your paper, it shouldn’t be included and will distract the reader rather than further your argument.
Both editing and revising should be taken quite seriously, as they can dramatically impact the way your reader interprets your writing, but they shouldn’t interfere with you putting down your ideas on paper. So the next time you feel stuck on a paper, just start typing. Worry about the fine tuning later.