Revising

Before you decide to turn anything in—an online response, a homework, or a paper, you MUST RE-VISE (which literally means to see it again) it at the global level to ensure your overall product is strong. Below are some questions you should ask yourself before turning in your work. They will help you to assess whether you are meeting your assignment guidelines, the strength of your argument, the quality of your organization, and the clarity of your ideas. Not every paper has some of the features listed below, but these questions are meant to help you think more deeply about your writing in general. These questions can be adapted to suit your needs.


Assignment

  • Is your essay topic suitable? Is it narrow enough? How can you tell?
  • How does your work achieve its purpose and how does it not?
  • Is every requirement on the assignment sheet met?

Argument

  • Examine your introduction. What other information is needed for an outsider to fully understand the argument?
  • Evaluate your thesis to determine if it communicates the topic, focus, and purpose. If not, what details are missing?
  • How are the main ideas developed and connected to the thesis statement?
  • For each body paragraph, how can the support be more specific and relevant?
  • Examine your supporting points and evaluate them individually. Are there enough points to satisfy your readers? What information/appeals is/are missing?
  • Why are you using those sources and facts, and is there information that would better convince your audience?
  • Are you convinced? If you aren’t, then your audience probably won’t be, either. Try and determine which parts of your essay need to be revised to better persuade you and your readers.
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your paper and address the weakest areas.
  • In the conclusion, what else needs to be said to give the audience a sense of completion?

Organization

  • Does your structure fit the assignment’s criteria and genre?
  • How does your introduction prepare your reader for the rest of the essay and is it effective?
  • Do your body paragraphs express main ideas in topic sentences?
  • Are the transitions and other techniques used to connect ideas within and between paragraphs effective and why?
  • Where do you repeat any ideas unnecessarily? What revisions to your organization would strengthen your paper?
  • Are blocks of text broken up into paragraphs, and how can you improve that balance?
  • Does the transition communicate the relationship between ideas and the context? How so?

Clarity

  • Which details and content are dedicated to the purpose of the paper, and which details stray from the purpose?
  • Are there places where I contradict myself, and how can I separate my ideas from my expert’s?
  • What remaining questions might the reader have about my content?
  • Does everything in the paper make sense overall?
  • How have I convinced, explained, or analyzed the content? Does it match the assignment’s purpose?
  • Which places are difficult to read out loud and understand?
  • Review the sources used to ensure you are representing them accurately in your paper.

We have several strategies you can use to more effectively revise your essay, along with an example of a paragraph that has been revised so you can see what a difference good revision can make in your writing.

Revision Strategies

  • Save multiple drafts of your paper with different file names to give you more confidence to play with your paper. For example, “Wiseau Project 2 First Draft,” “Wiseau Project 2 Peer Review Draft,” “Wiseau Project 2 Final Draft.”
  • Try different structures, order, and new quotes/paraphrases. As you test out different approaches, you may find one that works better than what you had.
  • Test your thesis to see how it plays out in your paper’s structure. Write your thesis on a sticky note and have it at your side as you read back through your paper to see if your body paragraphs work toward proving your main idea.
  • Continually ask yourself “so what?” With each supporting point examined, is there a communicated purpose for that point or is a thought process explained to show the readers how you came to particular conclusions?
  • Play devil’s advocate to get into the head of your audience or opponents against your ideas.
  • When working too long in one assignment, our brain seems to focus on one way without stepping out of that box. Return to your assignment after a long break or the following day to imagine possible new ways of writing.
  • Construct an audience profile to understand your reader. Then, once that’s fresh in your mind, read back through your draft and put yourself in your reader’s shoes. See if that audience would be convinced by what’s written.
  • Try out strategies like reverse outlining to review the structure of your paper. Review the headings, subheadings, and first sentences of your paragraph.
  • Let someone else read it: Invariably, when you ask someone you trust to read your paper, they will provide you with valuable insight, or they will come up with questions that you have yet to answer. Ask the volunteer/s to play devil’s advocate. The more you are “put on the spot,” the more that you will be able to hone your arguments.

To show revision in action, below are two introductions written for a paper that asks authors to write about how a particular film impacted them.

Example

First Draft

When I was in high school, there was very little my dad and I could bond over. We argued over politics and boyfriends, but watching movies was always the safest way for us to bond since we had similar taste in films. Every weekend, we would throw in a VHS or DVD, make a batch of popcorn, and become absorbed in a new universe. During my sophomore year during a particularly heavy snow storm, my dad put A Beautiful Mind into the DVD player. It was a typical movie my dad would love to play; it was about John Nash, a mathematics genius and his life. At first, I felt the movie was rather slow. The few bright points were when characters like Charles and Parcher would appear in John Nash’s life. Since I knew very little about the film going in, I was completely shocked at the revelation that John was hallucinating some of my favorite moments. Watching Nash endure treatment for his mental illness affected me more than I was willing to admit. I was terrified of what I was seeing, but I didn’t understand exactly what frightened me about it. Perhaps it was because the John Nash I was seeing seemed so normal only to realize he was suffering from something he couldn’t control. Although I was initially uncomfortable with the idea of someone suffering from a mental illness, A Beautiful Mind stuck with me and helped me develop my views and understanding of mental illness.

This original introduction does introduce the topic and contains a thesis at the end. However, this paragraph has some weaknesses:

  • The beginning of the paper is full of details that are not important to the topic.
  • The film isn’t introduced until too late.
  • Film details are introduced awkwardly.
  • The author’s reactions to the events in the story are not very descriptive. They tell us about the responses, but there isn’t anything that helps the reader visualize and understand the responses.

Revised Draft

When my dad and I first set out to watch A Beautiful Mind, I was a sophomore in high school and had very little knowledge about the film. I knew it was about a famous mathematician named John Nash, but beyond that I had few expectations. At first, I had a hard time getting into the film. Outside the house, the wind howled through the cracks in the house and dumped snow into every crevice. The storm was easily more interesting than jerky, awkward John Nash. As the movie progressed, I was drawn to characters like Charles and Parcher. Whenever they appeared on screen, I knew something interesting was about to happen. I didn’t realize that these characters were both hallucinations in Nash’s mind. Through Nash’s treatment and stay at the mental institution, I kept waiting for that moment where Nash would be vindicated and prove to everyone he wasn’t hallucinating. When it became clear it was in fact all in his head, I felt chilled as if the winds from outside were blowing straight through me. I grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and began hiding during moments when Nash’s mental illness negatively impacted those around him and even left the room when I thought he was going to drown his own son in the bathtub. When the film ended, I drew the blankets closer to my chest, as if to protect myself from mental illness and those who suffered through it. In that moment, I was frightened of the concept of mental illness, but as I grew up, A Beautiful Mind stuck with me and I was able to develop my views to a deeper understanding of mental illness and how to help those who are struggling with it.

This revised introduction improves on the weaknesses previously stated by:

  • Removing unnecessary details
  • Reordering where the details appear.
  • Connecting the storm to the author’s response to the film.
  • The author’s perspective about what is frightening is more clearly articulated.
  • The thesis is more specific on how the author’s views developed.
  • Notice the changes made are not just correcting a word or two—revision is a process to reimagine your work.