Personal tools
  •  
You are here: Home English Introduction to Writing: Academic Prose Revising Drafts

Revising Drafts

Document Actions
  • Content View
  • Bookmarks
  • CourseFeed

Revision literally means to "see again," to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective. It is an ongoing process of rethinking the paper: reconsidering your arguments, reviewing your evidence, refining your purpose, reorganizing your presentation, reviving stale prose. Writing is a process of discovering, and you don't always produce your best stuff when you first get started. So revision is a chance for you to look critically at what you have written to see

  • if it's really worth saying,
  • if it says what you wanted to say, and
  • if a reader will understand what you're saying.

What steps should I use when I begin to revise?

Here are several things to do. But don't try them all at one time. Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session.

  • Wait awhile after you've finished a draft before looking at it again. The Roman poet Horace thought one should wait nine years, but that's a bit much. A day--a few hours even--will work. When you do return to the draft, be honest with yourself and don't be lazy. Ask yourself what you really think about the paper.
  • As the Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers puts it, "THINK BIG, don't tinker" (61). At this stage, you should be concerned with the large issues in the paper, not the commas.
  • Check the focus of the paper: Is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the topic too big or too narrow? Do you stay on track through the entire paper?
  • Think honestly about your thesis: Do you still agree with it? Should it be modified in light of something you discovered as you wrote the paper? Does it make a sophisticated, provocative point, or does it just say what anyone could say if given the same topic? Does your thesis generalize instead of taking a specific position? Should it be changed altogether?
  • Think about your purpose in writing: Does your introduction state clearly what you intend to do? Will your aims be clear to your readers?

Back to top

What are some other steps I should consider in later stages of the revision process?

  • Examine the balance within your paper: Are some parts out of proportion with others? Do you spend too much time on one trivial point and neglect a more important point? Do you give lots of detail early on and then let your points get thinner by the end?
  • Check that you have kept your promises to your readers: Does your paper follow through with what the thesis promises? Do you support all the claims in your thesis? Is the tone and formality of language appropriate for your audience?
  • Check the organization: Does your paper follow a pattern that makes sense? Do the transitions move your readers smoothly from one point to the next? Do the topic sentences of each paragraph appropriately introduce what that paragraph is about? Would your paper work better if you moved some things around?
  • Check your information: Are all your facts accurate? Are any of your statements misleading? Have you provided enough detail to satisfy readers' curiosity? Have you cited all your information appropriately?
  • Check your conclusion: Does the last paragraph tie the paper together smoothly and end on a stimulating note, or does the paper just die a slow, redundant, lame or abrupt death?

Back to top

But I don't want to rewrite my whole paper!

Revision doesn't necessarily mean rewriting the whole paper. Sometimes it means revising the thesis to match what you've discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger arguments to defend your position, or coming up with more vivid examples to illustrate your points. Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having the teacher trash your final paper.

Back to top

But I work so hard on what I write that I can't afford to throw any of it away.

If you want to be a polished writer, then you will eventually find out that you can't afford NOT to throw stuff away. As writers, we often produce lots of stuff that needs to be tossed. The idea or metaphor or paragraph that I think is most wonderful and brilliant is often the very thing that confuses my reader or ruins the tone of my piece or interrupts the flow of my argument. A writing teacher once told my class to "Kill your babies." Sorry for the grim image, but she meant that writers must be willing to sacrifice their favorite bits of writing for the good of the piece as a whole. In order to trim though, you have to have plenty of material on the page. One trick is not to hinder yourself while you are composing the first draft because the more you produce, the more you will have to work with when cutting time comes.

Back to top

But sometimes I revise as I go.

That's OK. Since writing is a circular process, you don't do everything in some specific order. Sometimes you write something and then tinker with it before moving on. But be warned: there are two potential problems with revising as you go. One is that if you just revise as you go along, you never get to think of the big picture. The key is still to give yourself enough time to look at the essay as a whole once you've finished. Another danger to revising as you go is that you may short-circuit your creativity. If you spend too much time tinkering with what is on the page, you may lose some of what hasn't yet made it to the page. Here's a tip: Don't proofread as you go. You may waste time correcting the commas in a sentence that may end up being cut anyway.

Back to top

How do I go about the process of revising? Any tips?

  • Work from hardcopy; it's easier on the eyes. Also, problems that seem invisible on the screen somehow tend to show up better on paper.
  • Another tip is to read the paper out loud. That's one way to see how well things flow.
  • Remember all those questions listed above? Don't try to tackle all of them in one draft. Pick a few "agendas" for each draft so that you won't go mad trying to see all at once if you've done everything.
  • Ask lots of questions and don't flinch from answering them truthfully. For example, ask if there are opposing viewpoints that you haven't considered yet.

Sources

Revising Drafts

Back to top

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Revising Drafts. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/English/introduction-to-writing-academic-prose/revising-drafts.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License