Revising is re-vision--seeing your paper again. Revising is more than correcting spelling errors, it's finding clarity of thought. It could even be finding new thoughts you didn't have before you started the paper. You might find yourself getting rid of extra fluff.
As you were writing you were revising if you think about it. You had concerns about the paper as you were constructing it. Write those concerns down (make notes in the margin, highlight, make familiar marks) so that you can return to them. Identify what you think are strengths too and bring the rest of your paper to the level you are seeking.
Remember, "A work of art is not a matter of thinking beautiful thoughts or experiencing tender emotions but of intelligence, skill, taste, proportion, knowledge, discipline and industry; especially discipline," according to Evelyn Waugh, 1903-1966, English novelist, travel writer, and biographer.
When to Revise
Your first draft shouldn't be your final draft. No draft is ever perfect; there's always room for improvement. You have to have content to work with before you revise. You may want to allow yourself to finish a complete draft before you hamper the "creative springs" with revisions. After you have completed drafting your ideas and have established what you consider to be a complete product of the thoughts you intend to convey, then delve into the revision process.
Read carefully over your draft several times, with a different purpose in mind to check a specific problem each time (this is where it helps to know your common downfalls with writing). Look first for content (what you said), then organization (your arrangement of ideas), and finally style (the way you use words).
Listen carefully to your paper aloud for confusing statements or awkward wording. Listen for the paper's flow and pay attention to details one idea to the next. Each idea should come to some sort of conclusion while introducing the next idea, and each idea should relate to the one before it and the one after it.
Take time between readings. Allow yourself time to finish a paper (avoid procrastination if possible) so you can put it aside and read it fresh when you go back to it later, to be more objective.
Identify the specific problems with your weaker elements: content, organization, or style. Proofreading of mechanical errors, spelling, and punctuation will follow later.
The essential components of content are the intended purpose, sufficient support, and that all the details are related to the main idea of your paper.
- Achieving the intended purpose--does it provide explanation, details, argument, or narration?
- Providing sufficient support--does it need more detail, facts, examples to support the topic?
- Including relevant details--do you need to cut any irrelevant "fluff" information?
The importance of organization is to arrange ideas and details to make the most effective order, and to connect ideas to show a clear logic of thought process.
- Ideas and details are arranged in the most effective order--ideas and details should make your meaning more clear.
- Ideas are logical and clear--use of appropriate transition words to relay the connection of thoughts (such as "therefore", "for example") and any use of sentence combining techniques.
The power of your style will make the meaning clear, interesting for the audience with purpose, and insure the sentences read smoothly.
- Is the meaning clear--did you use vague or general terms where you need to be precise?
- Is the language interesting, appropriate for audience and purpose--is the language to be formal or informal, did you avoid slang and cliches?
- Is it smooth--did you use a variety of sentence structures?
Four steps to revising: add, cut, replace, and reorder. These are the words you can use in the margin of your paper as you read and make decisions to revise. If you know the standard editing marks you can make revision directly to the writing context. Standard Editing Marks (with additional common writing errors)
Questions you might ask of your final paper:
- Are you saying what you mean to say?
- Will your audience understand it?
- Will it accomplish the purpose?
If you want to be more critical of your writing, judge its readability, clarity, and interest to its audience.
The Recommended Exercises
- As you write, keep notes of questionable areas. An easy way to do this is to write the page number and a portion of the line of text that you find questionable.
- Read the paper aloud several times and listen for mistakes. Once you are satisfied with your "read aloud" revisions, ask a couple of other people to read it. You will be surprised by the feedback that you may receive.
- Divide your readings looking for content, organization, continuity, and style.
- Mark your paper where you want to add, cut, replace, and reorder. Sometimes it also helps to get out your scissors and literally cut up your paper into chunks so that you can rearrange at random to see what order looks and sounds best to you.
- Take time between readings. This might mean a short break to eat or walk the dog, for instance, or it might mean a longer break such as returning to your paper in twenty-four hours. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.
- Take time while reading. In other words, take time to reflect on your thoughts. Read one paragraph at a time, envisioning what you intended to say while keeping your audience in mind. Sometimes it is helpful to stare at a blank wall while reflecting instead of staring at your paper or computer screen. This will give your brain a chance for little cat naps, giving it an escape from the chaos of words, information, and eyestrain caused by staring at a computer screen (assuming that you are revising electronically).
Peer revision has added benefits over revising by yourself. Other people can notice things in your paper that you didn't. Some instructors set aside class time for peer review, but even if your instructor doesn't, it's a good idea to seek out feedback from a classmate, roommate, or anyone at all who can offer a fresh perspective.
If you're the one who wrote the paper, make sure you tell your peer what your biggest concern with the paper is. If you need help writing a conclusion, you don't want your peer to spend time circling grammatical mistakes in a paragraph you were thinking about deleting anyway. Remember, your peer isn't just there to catch your mistakes, she might have some ideas about new material you can add to make your paper more exciting.
On the other hand, if you're the one who is reviewing your peer's paper, think about what you'd want in her place. Ask if there's anything she's having trouble with. Be nice, of course, but don't be so nice that you aren't helpful. She may like to hear "Good job," but make sure to explain what you liked about the paper and where you think it could be even better. Remember, it's not about whether the paper is good or bad, it's about how it can be improved.
You have a responsibility to the student whose paper you are reading. Be familiar with the qualities and requirements of the assignment. Consider its merits and shortcomings to provide a complete evaluation and then ask those questions that ask the author about particular segments or certain evidence to support arguments to encourage discussion over the paper.
Possible list of peer revision questions:
- What is the writer's purpose?
- Does the writing include all the necessay characteristics of its particular type (cause-and-effect, narrative, research, etc.)?
- Is the writing organized logically?
- Has the writer used language that enhances her message?
- Is the writing unified/coherent?
- Did you point out the strength(s) or part(s) you found interesting?
- Is there any part that required more information?
- Is there any part that was irrelevant?
- Did you answer any questions the reader had about her writing?
Talking with someone else about your paper will always help you re-evaluate your content. Sometimes it reassures you that you've got it right; sometimes it reveals to you the places that need work. It is always a good idea to share your work before submitting the final draft.