A FEW HINTS ON REVISION
When we decide to revise
an essay, the first step is to proof-read it and correct mistakes. But that's
only the first step. Revision should be a much larger process, a process of
looking at your essay as a whole. You need to consider a variety of elements:
information; audience; form; structure; development; style; and voice.
Below are some questions
and suggestions designed to help you look at your essay from both a micro and
macro standpoint; use them in conjunction with section 3 of the Bedford Handbook,
which focuses on revision. Don't forget that really great essays often go through
several incarnations -- they are revised not once, sometimes not twice, but
many times. And the final product may look very different from the original
Questions for Revision
- Does your introduction
announce your thesis or point toward it in some way?
- Is your thesis clear,
interesting, and well-written? Do you prove it?
- Can you state the main
point or identify the most important image in each paragraph?
- Does the main point
of each paragraph help support and advance the thesis?
- Are the paragraphs adequately
developed? Are they coherent and cohesive?
- Are the transitions
between paragraphs fluid, in terms of prose and content?
- Does the main point
of each new paragraph move beyond the main point of the one before? In other
words, does your argument/analysis develop logically and clearly throughout
the paper? Would it be better if you reorganized the flow of information?
- Do you use any deliberate
strategies of development in your essay, on the paragraph level or on a larger
scale? Are they used effectively and appropriately?
- Does your prose flow
together, using a variety in sentence structures? Do you use any rhetorical
effects for emphasis?
- Is your prose concise
and your word choice vivid and precise? Have you eliminated ineffectual or
- Does your essay go off
on any tangents or include any irrelevant material?
- Have you addressed any
significant opposing opinions with a convincing rebuttal or qualification?
- Who is the audience?
Is the essay's tone appropriate for that audience? Is your tone consistent
throughout the essay?
- Does the conclusion
reaffirm, reflect upon, or extend the main point of the essay? Does it give
your essay enough sense of completion and closure?
- Do you have a good title?
Does it reflect the content and emphasis of the essay?
- Have you gotten rid
of all spelling mistakes and grammatical and punctuation errors?
- Have you included page
numbers and citations if you quote from outside material?
- Have you reread the
assignment to make sure that you have completed all of its components?
- Read your essay out
loud - or have someone read it to you. When you listen to it, you probably
will hear mistakes and inconsistencies that you unknowingly might skip over
when silently reading to yourself.
- Take a break and gain
some critical distance. Put your essay away for a few hours, or even a few
days, so that you can come back to it fresh.
- Look at the peer review
questions and answer them for your own essay.
- Don't be chained to
your monitor. Print out your draft, making notations for revision by hand.
Then go back to your computer and add them in. Believe it or not, we conceptualize
information differently on paper vs. on a screen.
- Use your computer to
help you look at your writing in different ways. Take a paragraph and divide
it into distinct sentences, which you line up one under another. Look for
patterns (repetition: deliberate or accidental?), style issues (variety in
sentence structure?), and fluidity of transitions between sentences.
- Take into account feedback
-- even if it initially doesn't seem significant to you. You might not decide
to act on the advice you've received, but at least consider it before dismissing
- Revise out of order.
Chose a paragraph at random and look at it on its own, and only then in relation
to its context. A variation on this idea is revising backwards. Sometimes
our conclusions are the weakest simply because we always get to them last,
when we're tired; do your conclusion first for once.
- Always improve on yourself.
Just because someone's read your essay and hasn't noted problems in a specific
sentence or paragraph doesn't mean that you shouldn't approach that sentence
or paragraph with a critical eye and try to think of ways to make it even
- Finally, avoid the cut-and-paste
version of revision. It's a good idea to correct mistakes or prose problems;
however, don't just change them without considering the impact that the revision
makes on the rest of the essay. Sometimes it is possible just to add a missing
comma or substitute in a more precise verb, but often you need to revise more
than just the isolated problem so that the sentence/paragraph/essay as a whole
continues to "fit" and flow together.