The Difference Between Revising and Editing

Revising and Editing in Upper ElementaryWhat is the difference between revising and editing, and what strategies can teachers use to instruct on each?

In a nutshell…

Revising includes making improvements to the meaning of the words in the writing.

Editing is fixing errors in the mechanics of writing.

Revising focuses on word choice, clarity, and author’s intent.

Editing helps to improve authority and reduces distractions.

Many people confuse revising and editing and lump them into one skill set, but really, they are completely different.

Why should teachers instruct on editing and revising separately?

It took a long time for me to really wrap my brain around the difference between these two different writing skills and methods of providing feedback. I think it is because in high school my teacher used the same red pen to do all of her revising and editing. Most writing rubrics lump both skills together into one category, but it is possible to be great at one and only mediocre at the other, or even stellar at one and straight-up terrible at the other.

That is why we need to teach students the difference.

Often, due to a lack of time, teachers bundle revising and editing together in lessons, but each serves a distinct purpose and has a time and place. If students understand the difference and practice each in its own right, they are able to see that writing is much more complex than just knowing the appropriate time to use a capital letter in a sentence or when to use formal language vs. relaxed, colloquial jargon.

When the goal of the writing is to create a clear, coherent message, revising is the key skill that needs to be discussed with students. Editing should enter the conversation if grammatical or mechanical errors are present in the writing. If the goal is to help students refine their message, then revising needs to pull rank during feedback and peer review. 

ARMS and CUPS: A strategy for teaching revising and editing

Revising and EditingIn my class, we use a method called ARMS and CUPS. ARMS is a mnemonic device to support the revising process, and CUPS supports the editing process.

The mnemonic device for revising (or ARMS) is broken down like this…

ADD sentences and words

REMOVE unneeded words or sentences

MOVE a sentence or word placement

SUBSTITUTE words or sentences for others

The way I remember that ARMS goes with revising, is by thinking about lifting. If you were building a wall and were adding, moving, changing out, or removing bricks from the wall, you would need to have a lot of ARM muscle to make it happen. That is exactly what students are doing during the revision process. They are doing the heavy lifting necessary to create a message with a solid foundation and structure.

CUPS, on the other hand, is all about editing.

CUPS is broken down like this…

CAPITALS (sentences, names, places, months, titles, I)

USAGE (match nouns and verbs correctly)

PUNCTUATION (commas, semicolons, ending marks, quotation marks, etc.)

SPELLING (check all words using available resources)

Editing is all about the mechanical pieces that make up the message. It is not about taking out a whole sentence or adding a new idea, CUPS (or editing) really focuses on making singular changes throughout the writing to improve the mechanics. When a person’s writing is filled with punctuation, spelling, and usage errors, the message is often overshadowed by the flaws in the mechanics. That is why CUPS is easy to remember as the acronym associated with editing. We use the CUPS to carry all the little pieces that will make the writing stronger.

Revising and Editing with ARMS and CUPSIf you want to quickly implement the ARMS and CUPS strategy in your classroom, this ARMS & CUPS resource will help. This Revising and Editing resource includes one color copy of the ARMS and CUPS poster, along with a black line master, and a smaller version that is great for writing folders or notebooks. A visual display is also included that can be used in a pocket chart or on a bulletin board for easy reference during instruction. The student checklist and tri-folds are game changers when students are reviewing their own work or the work of others. 

Making these ARMS and CUPS charts easily accessible to students will remind them of the differences between revising and editing, but it will also give them a tool to help them focus as they read through their own writing, work with groups to revise or edit the writing of others, or even when giving or receiving feedback.

Color Coding: A strategy for helping students understand revising and editing

Many times teachers will provide feedback to students on writing, but often the revising and editing practices are meshed together into a singular mass of feedback. Instead, try giving feedback on each piece separately. If giving verbal feedback, this may mean that the feedback is provided to the student in two videos or in two distinct parts. However, if you are providing written feedback to the student, consider using two different colors of pens for each skill.

Like I mentioned earlier, students can be great at one of these skills and still be lacking in the other. If all of the feedback looks the same and is delivered in the same way, it is hard for students to distinguish their real areas in need of improvement.

When it comes down to it, we all want our students to be proficient writers, and we have the skills and resources to help them get there. Revising and editing are both an important part of our students’ writing development. When each is taught exclusively and with care, students will be able to help each other and themselves with more confidence.


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