Student Learning Through Digital Essay Editing and Revision Using Google Docs

Revising a rough copy is one of the most important aspects of writing a strong essay.  It’s not enough to know how to GO FROM OUTLINE TO ESSAY, one must be ready to revise, revise, and then revise some more.  Often times students find themselves struggling to add a paragraph or two to meet the wordcount, but with a strong essay, the struggle should be in the other direction.  Students should be aiming to remove at least 10% of their words between rough and final essay.

By showing students how to perfect their essay through digital editing and revision you will be arming them with the tools to become strong, confident writers.


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What is Digital Editing and Revision?

In the days before computers students would pass their assignment to a peer who would then highlight, mark up, and otherwise edit their paper.  This paper would then be handed back with a number of scribbles that, at times, made sense, and at other times took away from the original paper.

Teachers then expected students to sort through this mess and rewrite their paper based on these difficult to read suggestions.  Now, however, there is a much better option.  Digital Editing and Revision.  There are two main tools students can use for this process:  MS Word, or Google Docs.  Both pieces of software allow you to track edits, and add comments.  However, due to ease of access, and ease of implementation Google Docs is the recommended tool.


Enabling Digital Editing

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To enable Digital Editing in Google Docs, click on the pencil icon in the top right corner.  Then, you can choose one of the three options:

  • Editing (Allows straight changes to the document)
  • Suggesting (Allows edits, while keeping the original text)
  • Viewing (Allows reading, but not editing, the document)


Teaching Digital Editing and Revision

Once you show students how to open their Google Doc and switch to Suggesting mode, you can provide them with the sample text below.  Ask them to edit the work by literally typing over, and deleting pieces that don’t work.


Sample Text

Job security is soemthing that is lacking in the modern landscape becuause there are real problems with epople unable to find work.  The reason for this is because people dont like unions because unions take money from them but thats because people don’t understnad that unions can get them more money and other good stuff.  “As the power of unions decrease corporate policies have stripped worker rights” and “unionization allows for strong negotiations which increase both working conditions and wages.” If anti-union centament continues it will become harder for all workers.


Revision One: Fixing Spelling Mistakes

The first step should be fixing the spelling mistakes.  Note that when a word, or part of a word is deleted is appears as strikethrough text.  Strikethrough text is text with a line that runs through it.  This is an example of strikethrough text.

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Any changes appear in colour, while notes appear on the right of the screen alerting the author to the suggested changes.

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The author can choose to click the checkmark to immediately accept the change, or use the X to delete the change, and revert that part back to their original work.


Revision Two: Editing the Content

Once basic changes have been made, peer-editors can actually rewrite the paragraph, removing unnecessary words.  It can also be valuable for a teacher to rewrite one paragraph per student so that each student can see how their own words are best shaped into a stronger piece.

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Each suggestion can also be used as a comment thread.  Editors can explain their choices, and engage in ongoing dialogues with the author so that all parties fully understand that thought process behind changes.

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Revision Three: Adding Comments

There are times when the editor may want to point out an issue, or ask for clarification without actually changing any of the author’s words.  This can be done by highlighting the specific text in question and clicking the “Add a comment” button.

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Once comments have been added their selected text will be highlighted, and the comment will appear on the side of the page.  Similar to suggestions, these comments can also be used to host specific dialogues.

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Revision Four: Reducing the Word Count

After the first rounds of revisions (which can all be done as part of one round if need be) the original text should be reformatted into something similar to the example below.

Sample Text

Job security is lacking in the modern landscape as “corporate policies have stripped worker rights”.  Where once unions protected employees, there are now a strong anti-union sentiments strengthened by claims that unions take money from workers.  However, this stems from a lack of understanding that “unionization allows for strong negotiations which increase both working conditions and wages.”  and Anti-union sentiment erodes conditions for all workers.

The next step is to revise by removing words.  Padding your word count is something that should always be avoided.  Indeed, lowering your word count by 10% is the ideal choice.  This can be easily accomplished through the Suggestion mode.

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Comparing the Two Texts

Taking a moment to review the different stages of their work can allow the author to best understand what changes strengthened their piece, and how their ideas were sharpened through the transitions.


Original Version – 91 Words

Job security is soemthing that is lacking in the modern landscape becuause there are real problems with epople unable to find work.  The reason for this is because people dont like unions because unions take money from them but thats because people don’t understnad that unions can get them more money and other good stuff.  “As the power of unions decrease corporate policies have stripped worker rights” and “unionization allows for strong negotiations which increase both working conditions and wages.” If anti-union centament continues it will become harder for all workers.


Middle Version – 65 Words

Job security is lacking in the modern landscape as “corporate policies have stripped worker rights”.  Where once unions protected employees, there are now a strong anti-union sentiments strengthened by claims that unions take money from workers.  However, this stems from a lack of understanding that “unionization allows for strong negotiations which increase both working conditions and wages.”  and Anti-union sentiment erodes conditions for all workers.


Final Version – 55 Words

Job security lacks in the modern landscape as “corporate policies … stripped worker rights”.  Where once unions protected employees, strong anti-union sentiments are strengthened by claims that unions rob workers.  Stemming from a lack of understanding that “unionization allows … negotiations [to]increase … working conditions and wages.”  The Anti-union sentiment erodes conditions for all workers.


Viewing the Revision Process

One of the benefits of using Google Docs for student editing and revision is the ability to look backwards in time at the various changes that were made to the document.  This way the educator can check the suggestions, and changes that were made throughout the entire piece.  When assessing the revision stage, this tool is invaluable.

The first step is to click on the All Changes Were Saved in Drive text, which opens up the history window.

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From there, all changes can be viewed and previous versions of the document can be temporarily, or permanently restored.

History Window.png


What’s Next?

Students now have the information they need to succeed.  It’s time for a full release of responsibility.  The final article in this series will address THE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT, how to best format your handouts, and how to ensure your students are best able to put their skills into practice for the final assignment.



Navigate the Essay Unit

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