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Academic Writing

Revising Your Papers

What do writers do when they revise? How is revising different from editing or proofreading? These resources demonstrate the higher-level revision skills expected of college writers.

Revising for Purpose

In Kennedy, Kennedy, and Muth's Writing and Revising: A Portable Guide, they offer several exercises to help writers revise their work. This exercise is to help writers revise for purpose, or to help writers make sure that their purpose in their essay is clearly stated. If you want to revise your essay for focus and development, use the following list of questions and directions to help guide you.

1. Do you know what you want your essay to accomplish? Put it into one sentence: "In this paper I want to..." Refer back to this sentence as you revise to help  insure that you stay on point.

2. How is your thesis stated in the essay? Is it explicit (stated directly) or implicit (stated indirectly)? If your thesis is implicit, how many clues have your given your reader to be able to identify your thesis? Do you need more clues?

3. Go through your essay point by point. How do these elements of the essay tie back to the goal of your essay (see #1)? Do they all work together to achieve that goal? How can they work together more effectively to do so?

4. How broad is the scope of your essay? Are you trying to cover too much (world hunger in 4 pages)? How in-depth is your coverage of the topic? How might you reduce the scope of your essay to make it more manageable (world hunger --> hunger in Philadelphia)?

5. How clearly have your articulated your ideas to the reader? Are all your thoughts in your head - ideas, connections, supporting evidence, analysis - on the page? To figure this out, try asking yourself "how" and "why" questions to bring out your ideas, connections, and analysis. For example, you might ask, "How does this piece of evidence explain my idea?"

6. While writing the essay, how much has your perspective towards your topic changed? What have you learned, and how can you apply what you have learned to what you thought about the topic previously? For example, have you changed your mind, rethought your assumptions, or even learned something new?

7. How much evidence have you used to prove your point, and have you fully explained your evidence to make your points clear to the reader (see #5)?

(adapted from Kennedy 140)

The Value of Peer Review (No, Really)

Many professional writers will tell you that peer workshopping their texts is an invaluable resource. To be able to see your work through another's eyes allows you a perspective on your text that may not have been immediately apparent. Peers can help you see what works in your essay, but also where you need to develop your ideas or make connections more.

In his book Writing without Teachers, Peter Elbow writes that peer workshop "tries to take you out of darkness and silence...Everyone reads everyone else's writing. Everyone tries to give each writer a sense of how his words were experienced. The goal is for the writer to come as close as possible to being able to see and experience his own words through [the group]...the writer should learn how his words were actually experienced by [other] writers" (77).

While we tend to imagine the writer as someone writing alone, late at night, with only the light from her monitor screen to comfort her, Elbow offers a different picture of writing. He emphasizes the importance of learning how to experience our writing through others, to understand how (and why) others perceive our writing.

As a reader offering feedback, Kennedy, Kennedy, and Muth ask you to consider the following questions:

1. What is your first reaction to this paper?

2. Has the writer hooked you with the introduction? Are there other parts of the essay that might make a better introduction?

3. How much of the writer's point of view do you understand, and why? Is the writer's point of view clearly stated in a thesis?

4. How broad/narrow is the scope of this essay for the page length?

5. How does the writer use evidence to back up his/her points? Does the writer need more evidence, or need to explain connections between ideas and evidence more thoroughly?

6. How well can you follow the ideas in the essay? Does the essay need transitions between points, and if so, where and why?

7. How effective is the essay's conclusion? (Does it seem deliberately planned, or like the writer ran out of gas?) How might the writer make a stronger conclusion?

8. Can you explain the main idea of this essay in one sentence? One phrase? One word?

9. What are the paper's strengths? What does the writer need to work on?

10. If you could make one suggestion to improve this essay, what would it be, and why?

(adapted from Kennedy 143)

As a writer receiving feedback, Elbow offers the following advice to you:

1. Be quiet and listen.

2. Don't try to understand what people tell you - just take it all in. Instead, try to understand how they tell it to you - listen to their tone, their word choice, even observe their body language. This may reveal more to you. For example, if a peer says, "this paper is fine," but is leaning back and not making eye contact, perhaps the paper isn't really "fine," but your peer, for some reason, does not want to tell you.

3. Don't reject what readers tell you. Instead, "listen to what they say as though it were all true" (Elbow 102), and try to apply their points of view to your own work in order to see if that perspective might be applicable and helpful in revising your essay.

4. Don't stop readers from giving their reactions...but don't be tyrannized by these reactions. Instead, use them positively and understand that these are your readers' natural reactions. Elbow reminds us that the goal in peer workshop is "to find out about your words make happen in real consciousness" (104).

5. Finally, remember: you are always right as the writer in that you make the final decision about your writing. But, you are also always wrong in that you cannot criticize your readers' experiences, as you cannot see your writing in the same way they do.

(adapted from Elbow 101-106)

Assistant Professor, English Department

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Melissa A. Hofmann
Moore Library 331