Revising Your Paper

Revision, although at times seemingly arduous and redundant, is one of the most important steps in the writing process. It is the point at which you have the opportunity to look over what you have written as a reader and not a writer. This allows you to assess your work with the same objectivity that your professor will use when reading your paper. Through adopting an alternative perspective (namely, that of a reader), you are able to extend your work more conscientiously to your audience. This is a HUGE advantage in writing that is unfortunately overlooked by many students. In the following sections we will look at why revision is so important and what some of the best ways of practicing it are.

When revising, it is important to consider the process as having two levels: global concerns and local concerns. Below is a table of some of the concerns that constitute each level of revision.

Global Concerns Local Concerns
A clear thesis Spelling, punctuation, grammar
Organization/structure Formatting
Coherence Structure of a paragraph
Quality of evidence
How the work addresses its audience

It is always better to take a top down approach when it comes to revision (i.e. starting with global concerns before moving on to sentence-level revision). If you start revising with attention to minor details, you will realize that you have ignored the breadth of your paper. With this in mind, we will start by talking about how to identify and handle global concerns first before moving on to local concerns.

Global Concerns

Above is a short list of global concerns, but it isn’t nearly exhaustive. An easy way to think of what constitutes global concerns is to consider anything that affects the paper as a whole, rather than in one particular spot. Meaning is the most important part of any piece of writing, and it is the way in which you communicate meaning that will ultimately shape the impressions of your paper.

The establishment of meaning requires two roles: someone who is trying to convey it and someone who is trying to comprehend it. That is why revision is such a vital process: it enables the writer to re-vision what they have written from the other end, as the audience, and through adopting this new perspective secure the meaning and intent of their work.

Here are some strategies to help gain this perspective:

Revision Strategies
  • Allow time between drafts
    This will help you establish some distance from what you have written, and allow you to reread with fresh perspective.
  • Clear your mind
    You have to realize your mental capacity for any given task; over-exerting often leads to undesirable outcomes. Clearing your mind (e.g. by changing tasks, taking a break etc.) gives you time to regain the mental vigor needed to actively engage with an assignment. Again, this will give you the fresh perspective which is so often strained by unduly exertion.
  • Have others read what you have written
    The best way to gain perspective is by actually getting other perspectives. It is often hard for writers to share what they have written but this is one of the most valuable resources in developing as a writer. Be sure to take advantage of the perspectives of others, and remember to always be open when receiving feedback.
  • Read aloud
    This will help you hear your words outside the confines of your internal-voice. Writing was born from the oral tradition, and you must keep in mind that in writing, like oratory, communication is central. Hearing your words spoken aloud will help you develop an ear keen on making sure that your sentences are both eloquent and that their meaning is communicable.
  • Gloss
    Glossing is an invaluable strategy in revision. To gloss you read through every paragraph in your paper individually, writing a brief marginal note which summarizes each. When you are finished, you should be able to write each small summary down in a list to create what looks like an outline (you might call this a reverse outline). By looking at this list, you will be able to address any major issues with structure in a way that detaches you from the labor you have put into your prose. Look at the outline as if you had created it before starting to write: does it make sense as a way to approach the assignment?
  • Compare to a template
    If provided, it is always good to compare what you have written to a template. Of course, everyone has their own style of writing, and there is no one way to approach an assignment, but since your professor has most likely given you the template because it is an exemplary approach, it is a good idea to see what you can learn from comparing it to what you have written.
  • Be Objective
    The most important thing to note in all of these strategies is that each requires some level of objectivity. If you are too invested in your own words, then you will not be able to effectively communicate their meaning to others. A good piece of writing lets the audience share its ownership and that means sharing its words as well. Always keep your audience in mind when writing.

Revising your thesis

Many people are reluctant to change their thesis once they have established it. Yes, a thesis is the foundation on which a work rests, but that does not mean that altering it will make the whole work fall in on itself. Many writers avoid confronting contradictory evidence, or anything that might cast doubt over their paper, because they are afraid that it will require them to alter their thesis. Contradictory evidence is the key to any good paper. A good literary paper is supported by the argument behind it, and you cannot have an argument without something to argue against (i.e. contradictory evidence). If you run into evidence which you think your thesis cannot standup against, don’t avoid it, but see how you can tweak your thesis to accommodate or better refute that evidence.