Revision is Essential for Quality Writing and Research
At the heart of the process approach to writing is revision. When writers revise, they assess the strengths and weaknesses of what they have written so far and change the content of the text in an effort to make it more rhetorically effective and interesting for the readers as well as more satisfying for the writer. Again, I repeat, the changes have to be in the content of the writing. Merely making mechanical changes, such as eliminating grammatical errors is not revision. When writers revise, they re-see their message and their approach to the very subject of the piece. A writer committed to revision has no shortcuts around it. Through revision, the text is changed developed, expanded or made more concise, and so on.
Revising a text requires a certain a mindset. Authors who are committed to the idea of revision need to get rid of the popular perception that good writers create their works when struck by genius and in one sitting. They need to understand and get accustomed to the idea that writing is not a “one-shot” activity. It is not a timed contest where you only get one try. Win now or bust. Write one perfect draft or lose the competition. Do your best now, under pressure, or receive a bad grade. But any kind of writing is a creative process, and, like all processes, it implies stages. It allows the writer the opportunity to improve over time, to make changes, to read and re-read what has already been written, think about it, discuss it with others, and improve it.
When writing within the process model, you usually produce only one draft. Once you found your sources, wrote down their summaries on note cards, and gave some thought to ways of arranging your material, you get one chance to write a paper. Writers who approach research as a process constantly evaluate and re-evaluate what they have written and, based on those evaluations, decide how to proceed with their research and writing.
To illustrate how revision might work in a process-based research project, let us return to the example about the death penalty paper. Again, I realize that this example is not perfect, but it is worth using it because of its familiarity to most college students and for convenience’s sake. A process-oriented writer is guided by the idea that once the first round of searches and the first draft are completed, the investigation is far from over. Such a writer has only begun to make his or her meaning and there is still much to be done.
As you experiment with the revision strategies below, remember that making changes to the content of your text is the essence of revision. As a writer, you should not get too attached to your current draft. Instead, you should be able to distance yourself from it, evaluate it as critically as possible, and re-imagine it in a new light. These revision techniques are designed to help you do just that.
Ask Focusing Questions
Focus in writing is the issue, or sub-topic that is at the center of a given text. For example, within a general subject, such as “surfing,” many different foci are possible. One writer may choose to write about the history of surfing, while another might decide to create an instructional manual teaching the basic techniques of the sport. Yet another may want to write a personal narrative about memorable surfing experiences, and so on. A first draft of a text is not always focused because, in a first draft, most writers explore the possibilities their subject has to offer and test the various directions in which they can take their writing. Therefore, one of the tasks you may face after you write the first rough draft of your work is to revise it for focus.
Searching and (Re)Searching
This method is about not settling for the first set of research sources you found and look for other and better ones between the first and second draft. Because writing is a recursive process, when you begin a research writing project, you never really know what you will find. So, once you have created a first exploratory draft of the project, you will ideally have new questions about your topic. To answer those questions, try to search for new sources, even if that will mean replacing the sources you found previously. To test this technique, try the following writing activity.
Explore "Writing Activity 2C: Gaining New Knowledge Through Revision" in the "Writing Activities" section of this chapter.
After completing the first draft of your research project that is probably based on your pre-existing knowledge about the subject and the first round of your searches, consider the following questions. Apply these questions to any research project you are currently working on. You can complete this activity on your own and with your own draft, or use these questions in a workshop group as a guide for discussion and responding.
- During your first round of searches, what new information, ideas and opinions about your subject have you discovered?
- Which of your research results were expected and which ones puzzled you, surprised you, and intrigued you and why?
- How does your current understanding of your subject differ from the one you had before you began your research?
- Look back at your original research questions. In the light of your new knowledge, can they be revised, clarified, or modified in any way?
- What additional research do you need in order to answer these revised questions?
- Do not commit to a fixed thesis or a fixed point of view at this point. You are still looking, still exploring.
This activity is an example of what Bruce Ballenger (2001) called “writing in the middle” (176). You are likely between the first and the second draft of a research project. You have completed an initial search, and now it is time to evaluate what you know and what else you need to find out. In terms of the process theory, you are well on your way of creating interesting and rhetorically meaning for yourself and for your readers. By researching, writing about your data, and constantly evaluating both your research data and your writing, you are creating that new and original system of beliefs about your subject which Doug Brent talks about and which I mentioned earlier.
Explore "Writing Activity 2D: Asking Focusing Questions" in the "Writing Activities" section of this chapter.
Explore "Writing Activity 2E: "Fat" Draft and Writing Between the Lines" in the "Writing Activities" section of this chapter.
Explore "Writing Activity 2F: Searching in the Middle" in the "Writing Activities" section of this chapter.
Explore "Writing Activity 2G: Cut and Paste" in the "Writing Activities" section of this chapter.