I don’t know about you, but in high school I never really learned how to revise a paper. We always did timed writings. I became accustomed to writing down all my thoughts in a somewhat organized fashion, never really thinking about the flow. Because of this, I had a steep learning curve when I came to college and was required to actually work months, not just 45 minutes, on a paper. This post is a compilation of a ton of information that I’ve received from my English professors since being in college!
There is a big difference between revising and proofreading. Proofreading is a final check of your writing. During this time you can look for misspelled words, grammatical errors, and any other general errors. Revising is basically reworking your piece of writing. This means reconstructing your sentences and paragraphs, clarifying your claim, and making sure your argument and supporting paragraphs/sentences are clear. This is where I struggled. I was so used to proofreading and not actually revising.
I typically take at least a week to revise any one of my essays. There are three different “levels,” so to speak, of revising your writing. I may spend two or three days reworking my organization, then I move on to paragraphs, and finally sentences. I start on my organization first to clarify my thoughts. Sometimes I may even change my entire thesis statement to better fit the paper.
Starting with the thesis statement, it is always good to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my argument? Try reading your thesis statement aloud. If you stumble or hesitate as you’re reading, this may be a sign that the thesis doesn’t flow properly. I also like to rewrite my thesis in another way.
- How long is the thesis statement? If you have more than 3 thoughts in your thesis, your essay may be a bit vague. Of course, that all depends on the length and depth of your essay. For example, if you have an 8 page paper, with three thoughts in your thesis, that is probably a good thesis, but if you have a 3 page paper with three or more thoughts in your thesis, you probably don’t go into enough detail.
- On the contrary, does your thesis not provide enough information? This is the opposite of number 2. Sometimes, your thesis ca be too vague. I typically do this in my first draft, allowing me to go back and fit the thesis to the remainder of the essay.
Once your thesis statement is the way you want, you can start looking at your paragraphs as a whole. Don’t start looking at sentences quite yet. In this step, we’re focusing on the main idea of each paragraph.
- Look at your first topic sentence:
- Read it aloud
- Does it state the argument you are planning to make?
- Review your supporting evidence:
- Do your supporting details support your topic sentence?
- Does the structure of the paragraph flow properly? (Ex. introduce support, state the supporting detail, and analyze the support)
- Consider the order of your paragraphs. Would your third paragraph make more sense if it was switched with the second paragraph? This will help with the flow of the paper.
Finally, after looking at and reworking your thesis and looking at your paragraphs, you can move on to sentences. When revising your sentences, it is important to think about:
- Repetition and Variety. Are any words repeated in the paragraph? What other words might work better? A dictionary and a thesaurus are your best friends.
- Wordiness. Do any sentences sound confusing? Try to be clear and concise.
- Choppiness. Avoid using too many short sentences. This disrupts flow and makes the writing sound less professional. Try and use transitional words to help avoid this.
- Informality. This is the one that I have the most trouble with. As a blogger, my blog has a very informal, personal tone to it. When writing essays for college, the writing needs to be formal and professional.
Here are some ideas to improve your sentences:
- Use active verbs and write in active voice.
- Remove words like “very, so, really, such” and words ending in “ly”
- Vary your sentence structure.
Using these techniques, revising your essays should be a lot easier. I would also recommend to always have someone read over your essay. Another set of eyes can go a long way. They will, hopefully, give you suggestions about your thoughts and organization. I hope this was helpful, and who knows, I may be doing more writing how-to posts in the future!
Looking for more revision tips? Check out A Wanderer’s Adventures’ “How to Turn In The Best Paper Ever.” What’s the best piece of revision advice you’ve ever been given? Do you have a system for revising your papers?