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Assignment 3: Revising Your Writing

Sections in Assignment 3:
Prewriting  |  Discussion  |  Writing the Essay  |  Revising  |  Peer Review  |  Rubric Student Example 1  | Student Example 2 Back to Assignment 3

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Edit and Revise for Effective Writing

All first drafts share certain characteristics that reflect the early stages of composition, when the writer is talking to himself or herself in an effort to sort out the subject matter and think it through. At this stage, the writer concentrates more on exploring the subject than on communicating it. Content takes precedence over form, here, and a focus problem is often the underlying cause of other problems. Half the battle of revising is knowing what to look for, which means knowing how to identify both problems and latent possibilities in the draft.  The major problems of most first drafts seem to cluster in following areas:

FOCUS

Early drafts usually have a broad or split focus, which means that they contain more ideas than can be thoroughly developed in the allotted space. Usually there are several related, but distinct, leading generalizations, any one of which could be the topic of a separate essay. If any of these generalizations cannot be modified or connected so that they become subordinate to, and help support, the main idea, they will have to be discarded.

ORGANIZATION

Problems with organization most often stem from a lack of focus, so once you have defined your subject better and narrowed your thesis sufficiently, you should be able to see where the draft needs to be reorganized. Impose an order on both the paragraphs and the ideas within each paragraph. Some organizational patterns are:

bulletOrdering by time or chronological order
bulletOrdering by space or spatial order
bulletOrdering by groups or types or classifying and comparing
bulletOrdering by importance or emphatic or climactic order

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Vary both your paragraph styles and the examples used within the paragraph.  Some types of examples to consider are:

bulletExtended, narrative, or anecdotal examples
bulletAllusions or references to books, historical facts
bulletGeneral examples categorizing a series
bulletSpecific examples illustrating the series
bulletComparisons or analogies
bulletDefinitions

GENERALIZATIONS

Early drafts almost always contain sweeping, general statements that either cannot be supported or cannot be developed without changing the focus of the essay. For this reason, you should extract all broad assumptions found in the first draft and question them, breaking them down and developing them separately, to see whether they have a place in the essay. If they do, you should subordinate them to the main idea and then support them with evidence, examples, or clearer explanations.

STYLE

Early drafts usually contain too many simple sentences (subject-verb-object) and a high number of coordinate sentences (independent clauses joined by and and but). These sentence structures do not lend themselves to the expression of complex ideas. The lack of sentence variety also makes the prose monotonous. Revision at the sentence level often consists in varying sentence structures and combining sentences in ways that show more specific relationships among the ideas and the logical connections that hold them together.

Early drafts may contain voice shifts, or inconsistent point of view. The third person and first person voice are appropriate for essays, depending upon the thesis and tone. Third person conveys a more academic, formal tone and is used for source-based writing. The first person is acceptable in the narrative style and to communicate a personal tone. Never use the second person (you) in an essay. Examine each paragraph for a consistent voice and point of view. Changing voice or point of view in mid-paragraph is confusing to the audience. See The Fiction Writer's Page: Narrative Voice for more detail.

Early drafts often lack strong transitions, too, because (again) the writer is not sure about how the points are connected. When revising, you should insert strong, precise transitions between paragraphs and sentences wherever they are lacking. Revising transitions always helps you in the end, because it forces you to examine the logic of your argument. See Selecting Appropriate Transitions for a helpful list of transitional phrases.

Grammatical errors fall under the "style" category, and you should always proofread, of course, for trouble spots. Remember: Nothing ruins a good essay so much as grammatical, spelling, and typographical blunders that could have been fixed easily.

Optional Revision Exercise   (applies to essay assignments)

Move the conclusion of your essay to where your introduction is. Conversely, move your original introduction where your conclusion used to be. Or try to rewrite the conclusion as the introduction, and the introduction as the conclusion. Revise your essay so it flows in a backward order. After you have revised your essay, reread your draft. Post on the on-line discussion page responses to the following questions: How does your essay sound now that your ending is your beginning? What changes in the body of your essay did you have to make? Were you able to uncover any new material or ideas?

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