Skills to Develop
- Identify the process of seeking input on writing from others
- Identify strategies for incorporating personal and external editorial comments
- Identify methods for re-seeing a piece of writing
- Identify higher order concerns for revision
Taken literally, revision is re-vision — literally re-seeing the paper in front of you.
The act of revision centers heavily around the practice of questioning your work. As you read through this section, and consider your own habits when it comes to revision, consider this list of guiding questions from The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.
SUBJECT, AUDIENCE, PURPOSE
- What’s the most important thing I want to say about my subject?
- Who am I writing this paper for? What would my reader want to know about the subject? What does my reader already know about it?
- Why do I think the subject is worth writing about? Will my reader think the paper was worth reading?
- What verb explains what I’m trying to do in this paper (tell a story, compare X and Y, describe Z)?
- Does my first paragraph answer questions 1-4? If not, why not?
- How many specific points do I make about my subject? Did I overlap or repeat any points? Did I leave my points out or add some that aren’t relevant to the main idea?
- How many paragraphs did I use to talk about each point?
- Why did I talk about them in this order? Should the order be changed?
- How did I get from one point to the next? What signposts did I give the reader?
PARAGRAPHING (ASK THESE QUESTIONS OF EVERY PARAGRAPH)
- What job is this paragraph supposed to do? How does it relate to the paragraph before and after it?
- What’s the topic idea? Will my reader have trouble finding it?
- How many sentences did it take to develop the topic idea? Can I substitute better examples, reasons, or details?
- How well does the paragraph hold together? How many levels of generality does it have? Are the sentences different lengths and types? Do I need transitions? When I read the paragraph out loud, did it flow smoothly?
SENTENCES (ASK THESE QUESTIONS OF EVERY SENTENCE)
- Which sentences in my paper do I like the most? The least?
- Can my reader “see” what I’m saying? What words could I substitute for people, things, this/that, aspect, etc.?
- Is this sentence “fat”?
- Can I combine this sentence with another one?
- Can I add adjectives and adverbs or find a more lively verb?
THINGS TO CHECK LAST
- Did I check spelling and punctuation? What kinds of grammar or punctuation problems did I have in my last paper?
- How does my paper end? Did I keep the promises I made to my reader at the beginning of the paper?
- When I read the assignment again, did I miss anything?
- What do I like best about this paper? What do I need to work on in the next paper?
— from A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers by Erika Lindemann
Respond and Redraft
There are several steps to turn a first (or second, or third!) draft of a piece of writing into the final version. There is no way to get to that wonderful final draft without all the steps in between.
Professors often ask for draft essays in order to guide you as your writing develops. As you progress from 1st to 2nd draft, or from 2nd (3rd or 4th) to final draft, seeking input from others can help you get a fresh perspective on your work.
Find a Trusted Reader
A survival tip for college is to develop relationships with people whose opinions you trust. You’ll want to be able to draw on these people to give valuable, helpful, supportive feedback on your writing.
As you first get started with college classes, you’ll likely participate in peer reviews for essay assignments. Show your appreciation to your classmates who offer you helpful feedback. Note which of your classmates whose writing you admire. Try to continue working with these people as much as possible.
Also take advantage of your school’s Writing Center, if possible. Most tutoring centers will welcome talking with you at any stage of your essay-writing process. Note: tutors won’t just “fix” a paper draft. They will talk with you about what areas you are concerned with, and offer strategies to help focus YOU as YOU revise your paper.
Finally, your professor will likely be happy to talk over a draft with you, as well. Some classes will require you to turn in a rough draft for a grade and instructor comments, but most won’t. Nonetheless, your professors expect you to write multiple drafts, and will welcome a visit during office hours to talk about how to make your paper as strong as it can possibly be.
Respond to your reader’s comments
Whether you received comments from your professor, your friends, or a peer review, your edits are a way to respond to their questions and comments. Was your reader confused by what you thought was a really good point? Edit your paragraph so that your idea becomes clearer. Use specific pieces of evidence, such an important quote or statistic, to strengthen the paragraph. You can even try responding to the comments aloud–and then write them down in your draft in appropriately “academic” language.
Redraft your essay
Really going from draft to final version requires rethinking the flow of logic in your writing. For instance, you might realize that a sentence buried on the 3rd page of your paper would be an excellent “hook.” To use it well, you will need to redraft, moving it to the opening and altering the rest of the material on page 3 as well.
Redrafting means looking again at how each piece of your argument fits together in the whole.
- Shift paragraphs around–don’t worry about losing your train of thought.
- Delete unnecessary information–or if you think it fits better elsewhere, re-place it.
- Outlining your paper as it stands in the current draft can be very helpful for figuring out how you are presenting your ideas and can make it much easier to see where you need to reorder your information, add more support, or delete unnecessary material.
- If you are a visual person, try a craftsy approach. Print your essay out (single-sided) and cut it into paragraph-long pieces. Shuffle the pieces around so that you’ve mixed up their original order entirely. Then individually read and place the pieces/paragraph in the order that the ideas connect. As you tape or pin the parts together, you might find that the paragraphs are coming together in different ways than in your original draft.
Higher Order Concerns
You’ve written a draft of your paper. Now your work is done, so you should just turn it in, right? No, WAIT! Step away from the computer, take a deep breath, and don’t submit that assignment just yet.
You should always revise and proofread your paper. A first draft is usually a very rough draft. It takes time and at least two (or more!) additional passes through to really make sure your argument is strong, your writing is polished, and there are no typos or grammatical errors. Making these efforts will always give you a better paper in the end.
Try to wait a day or two before looking back over your paper. If you are on a tight deadline, then take a walk, grab a snack, drink some coffee, or do something else to clear your head so you can read through your paper with fresh eyes. The longer you wait, the more likely it is you will see what is actually on the page and not what you meant to write.
What to Look for in the First Pass(es): Higher-Order Concerns
Typically, early review passes of a paper should focus on the larger issues, which are known as higher-order concerns. Higher-order concerns relate to the strength of your ideas, the support for your argument, and the logic of how your points are presented. Some important higher-order concerns are listed below, along with some questions you can ask yourself while proofreading diting to see if your paper needs work in any of these areas:
- The Thesis Statement:
- Does your paper have a clear thesis statement? If so, where is it?
- Does the introduction lead up to that thesis statement?
- Does each paragraph directly relate back to your thesis statement?
- The Argument:
- Is your thesis statement supported by enough evidence?
- Do you need to add any explanations or examples to better make your case?
- Is there any unnecessary or irrelevant information that should be removed?
- Large-Scale Organization:
- Could your paper be easily outlined or tree-diagrammed?
- Are your paragraphs presented in a logical order?
- Are similar ideas grouped together?
- Are there clear transitions (either verbal or logical) that link each paragraph to what came before?
- Organization within Paragraphs:
- Is each paragraph centered around one main idea?
- Is there a clear topic sentence for each paragraph?
- Are any of your paragraphs too short or too long?
- Do all the sentences in each paragraph relate back to their respective topic sentences?
- Are the sentences presented in a logical order, so each grows out of what came before?
- The Assignment Instructions:
- Does your paper answer all aspects of the writing prompt?
- Have you completed all of the tasks required by the instructor?
- Did you include all necessary sections (for example, an abstract or reference list)?
- Are you following the required style for formatting the paper as a whole, the reference list, and/or your citations? (That last question is technically a lower-order concern, but it falls under the assignment instructions and is something where you could easily lose points if you don’t follow instructions.)
When reading through your early draft(s) of your paper, mark up your paper with those concerns in mind first. Keep revising until you have fixed all of these larger-scale issues.
Your paper may change a lot as you do this – that’s completely normal!
You might have to add more material; cut sentences, paragraphs, or even whole sections; or rewrite significant portions of the paper to fix any problems related to these higher-order concerns. This is why you should be careful not to get too bogged down with small-scale problems early on: there is no point in spending a lot of time fixing sentences that you end up cutting because they don’t actually fit in with your topic.