Revision definitely has to be one of the things that we do the most frequently
over at the writing center. I can’t speak for everyone else, but it makes up a
good 95% of the requests from the students that I would see on a day to day
basis. It can be hard to revise a paper – sometimes when you’ve spent countless
hours in front of a screen drafting your paper to the point to where the words
and topics are all blending together, revising it can be frustrating (at best)
and it is often hard to see where your own work needs to improve.
We at the Writing Center will always be there to provide a fresh set of eyes
when you are ready to spork yourself (or your professor) but there are also some
very simple techniques that I will give below to help you in the revision
process so that if we aren’t around, you have something that you can go by when
you are totally lost.
Use your prompt.
You may be surprised to see that Grammar is not the first step to revising your
paper. If you thought that it should be, even if you though it should be one of
the first three steps to revising your paper, PUT THE GRAMMAR CHECKER DOWN and
step AWAY. Grammar is the LAST thing that you do in revising your paper! THE
So we start elsewhere: and as silly as this may seem, it can be as simple as
using your prompt to begin to revise your paper.
The first point I need to address, however, is to define what a prompt is, as
some professors don’t use this term: basically, a prompt is a copy of the
instructions for the assignment that the professor has given you. Pretty much a
“this is what your assignment needs to be about; these are the specifics; this
is when it is due so now have at it.”
Some professors don’t give their students a physical piece of paper – some use
blackboard, and some just tell them what to do. If the case is that it is on
Blackboard, then SAVE THE DOCUMENT to your USB/flash drive or wherever you will
be storing your paper so that you can access the document whenever you are not
able to get online! If they have just told you what it is – then WRITE IT DOWN.
EVERY DETAIL. Be that annoying student, and ask your instructor to clarify, to
expand, to repeat themselves so that you can make sure you have EVERYTHING. It
is SO important to have the prompt with you while you are doing the assignment;
I can’t tell you how many students have missed something REALLY important that
their teacher wants from them because “I forgot I had to do that.”
A surprisingly low amount of people refer back to the assignment instructions
that their professor has given them while they are writing their paper, though
it can be exceptionally useful when revising. With regards to prompts, the most
important thing I tell people is to use it like a checklist. Get a highlighter
if you need to, and highlight all the key points (even the not-so-key points)
that your professor wants you to make and once you have written your paper (or
while you are writing your paper) check back to the prompt and make sure that
you have accomplished everything that your professor wants to see. If you have
everything they want – great. That means it is time to move on to the next step.
Do you have a clear thesis?
For those who are unaware, a thesis is really very simple: it is a thought, an
idea, an opinion, a stance, a point of view that you take throughout your paper,
no matter what kind of paper it is. A thesis, plainly put, is the reason for the
“SO WHAT?” that a reader could ask you. Whether you have a 10 page argumentative
piece or a 3 page narrative, chances are your professor wants to see that you
have a thesis, though the problem is that often times you can have trouble
knowing what your thesis is let alone whether it is clear or not!
This is the point to just ask yourself: So what? What is my point? What do I
want my reader to come away from this knowing/thinking/feeling?
For example: you are writing an argumentative piece, and your thesis could be
that you believe the sky is green. Easy. All you have to do is convince me, as
the reader, that the sky is green.
Step one is to check and make sure that every point you make throughout
the course of the paper is a) relating to your topic; and b) evidence to the
point that the sky is green. Is every point you make useful? Does it support
your argument? If what you want the reader to come away believing that the sky
is green, then EVERY point you make HAS to relate back to this, HAS to be able
to link back to this.
What is your other side?
This really isn’t an issue if you are writing a narrative, but if you are
writing something more like an argumentative or a research paper a big part of
your paper ought to be presenting the other side and arguing against it
effectively. Some simple points to think about:
What does the opposition say? Why? When revising your
paper, making sure that you have the opposition’s point of view (if it is the
right type of paper) can be vital to strengthening your own argument. WHY they
also say what they say can be very crucial also, as your reader will not only
want to know why they should side with your point of view, but why they do NOT
want to side with your opposition.
Have I presented their argument and effectively argued against it? Be
fair. It is NOT good strategy or the markings of a good writer to just tear
down or insult the opposition throughout the course of your
paper. In fact, 99% of the time that shows nothing but that your own argument is
so weak, that you have so few valid points to your own argument that you are
resorting to insulting the opposition. Can they have funny hair and bad breath?
Sure, but that doesn’t tell me why your opinion is the more valid one. The
strong points in your argument, and the weak points in theirs are what tell me
that your opinion is the more valid one. So keep it simple – don’t insult, don’t
bash, no matter how bad their hair and how smelly their breath. None of that
matters, only WHAT they are arguing and WHY it is wrong. THIS is what
will ultimately win you points and strengthen your own argument.
Take a Break.
If you are not running insanely behind, just stop. A few days is best, but if
you are pressed for time, even a few hours will help – and I’m not talking about
the hours in between passing out on your keyboard at 2am and waking up at 6 to
make your next class. A few conscious hours through the day, where you can work
on another subject, play a video game, read a book, shop, nap or whatever else
may take your fancy. It requires some planning ahead, but it really does help
to refresh your mind so that when you come back to your paper, you can see it
with a fresh (or almost fresh) set of eyes and you can spot a lot of
things you may have missed otherwise.
Fore note: Please, please, PLEASE proofread your paper before you have ANYONE
look at it – yes, even before you come to see us at the Writing Center! We can
help you to revise a paper, but DESPITE what your professor might say, we will
NOT edit or proofread for you!
Now that that is said, I will say I know it isn’t always easy to proofread,
especially after you’ve been looking at your paper for hours on end. Oftentimes
you won’t catch simple mistakes, because you get caught up in the content and
forget to examine the sentence structure, because you’re only scanning it or
even just because your eyes have glazed over. At this point, there are two
The first is to have someone proofread it for you. As I’ve said already, that is
not something that we are able to do at the WC, and we know how much of a pain
in the butt it can be to do so at this point we suggest sucking up, or even
bribing (especially if you have one of those aforementioned 10 page
The second suggestion is a method in which you can do it yourself. While
tedious, this method is virtually foolproof in that you should catch EVERYTHING:
Start at the very end of the paper. The last sentence. Read the last
sentence out loud to yourself. Does it make sense? Does it coincide with what
you were intending to say, or does it say something else? Do you need to
rephrase it to get what you were actually intending to say?
How is it on a structural level? This is part of why it is important to
read it out loud, on its own. If it, as a standalone sentence makes no sense on
its own, if it sounds awkward or grammatically funny, then maybe it needs some
This will also give you a chance to check your punctuation. Most
professors out there are not grammar Nazis – however you will get some and you
may get some that prefer something that is grammatically…well, weird! This is
your chance to make sure everything is as it should be on a grammatical level
for your paper.