Chapter 10: Revising and Peer Review
Part 2: Chapter 10
At this point you have completed several of the prewriting and drafting steps. You have an introduction, a thesis, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You’re beginning to vary your syntax, and you’re feeling confident with your work. That’s wonderful, but the writing process is not over yet. What you have at this point is a rough draft, which is not a polished final draft.
The textbook Rhetoric and Composition explains that successful writers rely on revising as an integral part of the writing process, and it is important for authors to spend the majority of their time revising their texts. Revising and editing are two separate processes that are often used interchangeably by novice writers. Revising requires a significant alteration in a piece of writing, such as enriching the content, or giving the piece clarity; editing, however, is not as involved and includes fixing typos and grammatical errors. Although editing can be a part of this process, revising generally involves changes that concern bigger issues, such as content and organization. While revising, a writer might notice that one idea needs to be developed more thoroughly and another idea omitted. The writer might decide that rearranging paragraphs will provide clarity and support for their argument, strengthening the paper as a whole. Writers should also change grammar and punctuation while revising, but if that is all they are doing, then they are simply editing.
Differences Between Revising, Editing, and Proofreading
Writers should note that revising, editing, and proofreading are considerably different processes. Despite the differences, however, they often overlap. They are being separated here for ease of explanation.
Revising is done throughout the writing process, with special emphasis on the first few drafts.
Focus = big issues
Editing is done throughout the writing process, with special emphasis on the middle and final drafts
Focus = technical issues
Proofreading is reserved for the final draft
Focus = mechanics and presentation
A Change for the Better
Writing well is an intellectually challenging, and draining, activity. Jotting down ideas on paper is a good start, but revising those ideas so that they are persuasive, cogent, and form a solid argument is the real work of writing. As you review what you have written, you will undoubtedly see holes in your logic, sentences that confuse rather than clarify, and sentences and paragraphs out of place. Below are some helpful hints to consider as you analyze and transform your paper.
After doing all this by yourself, seek help from others. First, find an individual who knows about the assignment, your intended audience, and the purpose of the essay. This person is likely one of your peers who has participated in class. Then, share the paper with someone who fits the description of the audience for whom the document is intended. Ask your readers if everything is clear and easily understood, if phrases are worded correctly, if the document is logically sound, etc. If you have other specific concerns — Is the second example effective? Does my conclusion resolve the paper nicely? — ask your readers to direct their attention to those issues.
Once you write your paper, return to the beginning to see how the conclusion relates to the introduction and thesis. Have you maintained the same tone and main idea throughout? Does the ending reiterate your main idea without just summarizing what you’ve already said? Pay attention to your word usage; try to leave little room for misinterpretation when the audience reads your piece.
Another helpful technique in the final revision process is to have someone read your paper aloud to you. This practice will force you to go over the material more slowly and allow you another chance to absorb the content of the paper. When you read your own paper aloud, you are more apt to read the paper as you intended it to be read, as opposed to reading what is actually on the page.
You will also want to spend a few minutes reviewing your assignment prompt and the rubric to ensure that you have addressed all of the concepts introduced by your instructor.
After going through the steps above and making changes as necessary, you should feel your paper is nearly complete. The content should be in place, and your text should make your case clearly and forcefully. If you feel this is the case, you are ready to closely edit and proofread your text.
Analyzing Each Part of Your Paper
When you look over the draft of your paper, the first part you should focus on is your introduction. Whether it is one paragraph or an entire chapter, the purpose of the introduction is to grab your reader’s attention while simultaneously giving a preview of the information that will be included in the following paragraphs. Make sure you draw your readers in from the beginning and follow with interesting and supportive information. If readers are not intrigued from the very beginning of the piece, they will quickly become distracted and avoid reading any further.
What is the difference between a good and a bad introduction? A bad introduction is misleading, rambling, incoherent, boring, or so hopelessly vague that you know less about the topic than you did before you read it. On the other hand, a good introduction gets to the point, gives the reader a reason to keep on reading, and sets the stage for an exciting performance. An introduction is like a first impression; it is crucial to your image and, once presented, you never have a second opportunity. Your essay’s introduction is your reader’s first impression of your ability as a writer. Even if you are brilliant and have great ideas, a muddy or boring introduction will turn away many of your readers.
Try not to miss the main point of your paper and/or give your reader the runaround in the intro. If you have tedious openers such as “in today’s society” or openers that merely relay what the assignment is, change it so that it instead states your argument up front and presents a clear thesis right away, then you can subtly describe your paper’s overall structure. Try summarizing every paragraph into one sentence each, then put them all together to see if your introduction covers each point. Your introduction should state the issue at hand, establish your position regarding it, describe your paper’s organization, and identify the scope of your coverage. However, be careful not to write a wordy or overly dense introduction; your introduction should merely frame the rest of the paper.
Revising the Thesis Statement
A thesis is not only an idea, but it is also a theory that provides direction and guidance about the writer’s ideas. It is a theory because it is an abstract type of generalized thinking that binds the whole piece of writing together and also provides a goal and a standard for the paper. Next, make sure you have a clear thesis. Simply put, a thesis is your main point, the line of argument that you are pursuing in your essay. The thesis should answer two simple questions: What issue are you writing about, and what is your position on that topic? A thesis statement is often a single sentence (or sometimes two, and they can be combined using a semicolon or comma and conjunction) that provides the answers to these questions clearly and concisely. Ask yourself, “What is my paper about, exactly?” to help you develop a precise and directed thesis, not only for your reader, but for you as well.
How can you be sure that your thesis is clear? Will your reader be able to identify it and see that the rest of your paper is supporting your argument? One sign of a weak thesis is if the statement does not make a concise claim, or if the claim is already proven true from its factual contents.
Most American readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that you have to place it there every time. Some writers place it at the end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. Others don’t bother with one at all, but feel that their thesis is “implied.” Review your prompt and follow your instructor’s guidelines.
The commonality in the following sample thesis statements is the presence of an arguable point of view that helps the writer develop their paper. Read on and judge for yourself.
Although many readers believe Romeo and Juliet to be a tale about the ill fate of two star-crossed lovers, it can also be read as an allegory concerning a playwright and his audience.
The “War on Drugs” has not only failed to reduce the frequency of drug-related crimes in America, but actually enhanced the popular image of dope peddlers by romanticizing them as desperate rebels fighting for a cause.
The bulk of modern copyright law was conceived in the age of commercial printing, long before the internet made it so easy for the public to compose and distribute its own texts. Therefore, these laws should be reviewed and revised to better accommodate modern readers and writers.
Plato’s dialectical method has much to offer those of us engaged in online writing, which is far more conversational in nature than print.
You will know your thesis statement is finished when it contains the basic information for your argument without any major in-depth descriptions. Save the in-depth descriptions for your body paragraphs.
Clarifying Your Position
Make sure the reader knows your position on the issue. Your stance should be debatable and clearly expressed in your thesis, so check your entire introduction for vague, conflicting, or confusing sentences. Revise these sentences and replace them with statements that reflect your position on the topic. Unless you’re writing a summary, your introduction should make it clear how you feel about the issue at stake.
Avoid vague sentences or “thesis statements” that fail to introduce your stance. Here are a few examples:
Abortion is a very controversial issue in America.
Capital punishment is both good and bad.
This paper will present the pros and cons of modern copyright law.
All these examples introduce an issue rather than state a position. Again, your reader should already know that the issue you’re writing about is controversial; otherwise, there would be little reason to write about it. Unless you’ve been instructed to merely write a report or summary of an issue, assume that your professor wants you to take a position and defend it with the best evidence you can locate. This is a great opportunity to use the library databases to locate convincing research. However, you should not forget to fairly analyze all positions and debate opposing viewpoints. Even if you only cater to other opinions in order to disprove them, you will have strengthened your argument as a result.
Besides explaining what your paper is about and your argument, an introduction may also state what you will and won’t cover. For instance, let’s say your paper is about an issue affecting mothers infected with HIV. Your introduction should reflect this focus, rather than present your paper as a general overview of HIV. If your scope isn’t clear, then readers will constantly wonder when you’ll address the larger topic–or even assume you simply forgot to do it.
Let’s say you wanted to write a paper that argued that Ford makes better cars than Chevrolet. However, your introduction didn’t mention Chevrolet at all, but instead had the line: “Ford makes better cars than any other car manufacturer.” Your reader would quickly begin to wonder why you’re not talking about Toyota or Nissan! Try to anticipate what your reader will expect to see covered, and, if necessary, state it explicitly:
Although the topic of this paper is capital punishment, it will focus on one aspect of that larger issue: the execution of convicts who are mentally ill.
Although two hundred doctors were interviewed in this study, the paper will focus on three of them in detail here.
Revising Body Paragraphs
As you build support for your thesis in the body paragraphs, always ask yourself if you are spending your readers’ time wisely. Are you writing unnecessarily complex and confusing sentences, or using fifty words when five would do? If a sentence is already plain and direct, there’s no need to fluff it up. Flowery words and phrases obscure your ideas: conciseness is key. For example, why write, “Cats have a tendency toward sleeping most of the day” when you could simply write, “Cats usually sleep most of the day”? How about changing “The 12th day of the month of April” to “April 12th?” As you revise, look for overly-complicated sentences and substitute simpler ones for clarity.
But wait–don’t you need to inflate your text so you can meet the minimum word count? Wouldn’t it be better to use “due to the fact that” for “because” and “in addition to” for “and,” since these phrases use far more words? Answer: NO. Any experienced reader will instantly see through such a scheme and will likely become irritated by the resulting “fluffy” prose. If you are having trouble meeting the minimum word count, a far better solution is to add more examples, details, quotations, or perspectives. Go back to the planning and drafting stage and ask yourself if you’ve written everything useful about a topic.
Other students worry that their sentences don’t sound smart enough. Compare these two sentences:
Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Do not submit a query concerning what assets and benefits your country can bestow upon you and yours, but rather inquire as to what tasks or activities you yourself can perform and carry out that will be useful for the citizens of your own country.
Although the second sentence is longer and harder to grasp, that doesn’t make it more intelligent. In fact, it’s far more impressive to write a complex thought in simple prose than vice versa. Beware, however, that you do not lose meaning when you make a sentence simpler; cut out only the most unnecessary “fluffy” adjectives, but don’t sacrifice being descriptive.
How about your organization? From sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph, the ideas should flow into each other smoothly and without interruptions or delays. If someone tells you that your paper sounds “choppy” or “jumps around,” you probably have a problem with organization and transitions. The addition of quotations from a text that relates to your topic can be an excellent way to refocus your writing and avoid unrelated ideas.
Keep in mind that few writers can write a well-organized paper in one draft. Instead, their first drafts are disorganized and even chaotic. The writing process takes patience. You can spend time sorting through your original ideas, consolidating related ideas into coherent paragraphs, and helping readers to follow your train of thought without derailing. Compare:
Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. One technique is to read your paper aloud, which will help you catch errors you might overlook when reading silently. Another strategy is to use spell check on your computer to correct any typos.
Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. Read your paper aloud to catch errors, and use spell check on your computer to correct any typos.
The first example has better transitions between ideas and is easier to read. Note that the example with better transitions is also longer. Good transitions can improve your style and help you reach the minimum word count!
After all the work you have exerted while developing your paper, you want to end with a strong, fully developed conclusion. The conclusion and the introduction may be similar but may take several forms. Conclusions may be a simple restatement of your thesis to reestablish your paper’s purpose, or it may sum up your main points, reflect on the information presented, ask a thought-provoking question, or present a “call to action,” telling your readers what you want them to do with the information you have presented. Often, this choice will be determined by the genre, audience, or purpose of your paper. Nevertheless, your conclusion should accurately reflect the paper’s subject and provide the reader with closure.
Finally, avoid ending a paper with new ideas or a thesis you have not already supported or explained in the paper. Remember, a conclusion is meant to reiterate the paper’s main argument and then return the thesis to the larger issue the paper is addressing and should not present any new arguments or topics in the process.
Adapted from “Chapter Two” of Rhetoric and Composition, 2013, used under creative commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 US