The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Revising Drafts

Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost. —William Zinsser

What this handout is about

This handout will motivate you to revise your drafts and give you strategies to revise effectively.

What does it mean to revise?

Revision literally means to “see again,” to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective. It is an ongoing process of rethinking the paper: reconsidering your arguments, reviewing your evidence, refining your purpose, reorganizing your presentation, reviving stale prose.

But I thought revision was just fixing the commas and spelling

Nope. That’s called proofreading. It’s an important step before turning your paper in, but if your ideas are predictable, your thesis is weak, and your organization is a mess, then proofreading will just be putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. When you finish revising, that’s the time to proofread. For more information on the subject, see our handout on proofreading .

How about if I just reword things: look for better words, avoid repetition, etc.? Is that revision?

Well, that’s a part of revision called editing. It’s another important final step in polishing your work. But if you haven’t thought through your ideas, then rephrasing them won’t make any difference.

Why is revision important?

Writing is a process of discovery, and you don’t always produce your best stuff when you first get started. So revision is a chance for you to look critically at what you have written to see:

  • if it’s really worth saying,
  • if it says what you wanted to say, and
  • if a reader will understand what you’re saying.

The process

What steps should i use when i begin to revise.

Here are several things to do. But don’t try them all at one time. Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session:

  • Wait awhile after you’ve finished a draft before looking at it again. The Roman poet Horace thought one should wait nine years, but that’s a bit much. A day—a few hours even—will work. When you do return to the draft, be honest with yourself, and don’t be lazy. Ask yourself what you really think about the paper.
  • As The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers puts it, “THINK BIG, don’t tinker” (61). At this stage, you should be concerned with the large issues in the paper, not the commas.
  • Check the focus of the paper: Is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the topic too big or too narrow? Do you stay on track through the entire paper?
  • Think honestly about your thesis: Do you still agree with it? Should it be modified in light of something you discovered as you wrote the paper? Does it make a sophisticated, provocative point, or does it just say what anyone could say if given the same topic? Does your thesis generalize instead of taking a specific position? Should it be changed altogether? For more information visit our handout on thesis statements .
  • Think about your purpose in writing: Does your introduction state clearly what you intend to do? Will your aims be clear to your readers?

What are some other steps I should consider in later stages of the revision process?

  • Examine the balance within your paper: Are some parts out of proportion with others? Do you spend too much time on one trivial point and neglect a more important point? Do you give lots of detail early on and then let your points get thinner by the end?
  • Check that you have kept your promises to your readers: Does your paper follow through on what the thesis promises? Do you support all the claims in your thesis? Are the tone and formality of the language appropriate for your audience?
  • Check the organization: Does your paper follow a pattern that makes sense? Do the transitions move your readers smoothly from one point to the next? Do the topic sentences of each paragraph appropriately introduce what that paragraph is about? Would your paper work better if you moved some things around? For more information visit our handout on reorganizing drafts.
  • Check your information: Are all your facts accurate? Are any of your statements misleading? Have you provided enough detail to satisfy readers’ curiosity? Have you cited all your information appropriately?
  • Check your conclusion: Does the last paragraph tie the paper together smoothly and end on a stimulating note, or does the paper just die a slow, redundant, lame, or abrupt death?

Whoa! I thought I could just revise in a few minutes

Sorry. You may want to start working on your next paper early so that you have plenty of time for revising. That way you can give yourself some time to come back to look at what you’ve written with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing how something that sounded brilliant the moment you wrote it can prove to be less-than-brilliant when you give it a chance to incubate.

But I don’t want to rewrite my whole paper!

Revision doesn’t necessarily mean rewriting the whole paper. Sometimes it means revising the thesis to match what you’ve discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger arguments to defend your position, or coming up with more vivid examples to illustrate your points. Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having the teacher trash your final paper.

But I work so hard on what I write that I can’t afford to throw any of it away

If you want to be a polished writer, then you will eventually find out that you can’t afford NOT to throw stuff away. As writers, we often produce lots of material that needs to be tossed. The idea or metaphor or paragraph that I think is most wonderful and brilliant is often the very thing that confuses my reader or ruins the tone of my piece or interrupts the flow of my argument.Writers must be willing to sacrifice their favorite bits of writing for the good of the piece as a whole. In order to trim things down, though, you first have to have plenty of material on the page. One trick is not to hinder yourself while you are composing the first draft because the more you produce, the more you will have to work with when cutting time comes.

But sometimes I revise as I go

That’s OK. Since writing is a circular process, you don’t do everything in some specific order. Sometimes you write something and then tinker with it before moving on. But be warned: there are two potential problems with revising as you go. One is that if you revise only as you go along, you never get to think of the big picture. The key is still to give yourself enough time to look at the essay as a whole once you’ve finished. Another danger to revising as you go is that you may short-circuit your creativity. If you spend too much time tinkering with what is on the page, you may lose some of what hasn’t yet made it to the page. Here’s a tip: Don’t proofread as you go. You may waste time correcting the commas in a sentence that may end up being cut anyway.

How do I go about the process of revising? Any tips?

  • Work from a printed copy; it’s easier on the eyes. Also, problems that seem invisible on the screen somehow tend to show up better on paper.
  • Another tip is to read the paper out loud. That’s one way to see how well things flow.
  • Remember all those questions listed above? Don’t try to tackle all of them in one draft. Pick a few “agendas” for each draft so that you won’t go mad trying to see, all at once, if you’ve done everything.
  • Ask lots of questions and don’t flinch from answering them truthfully. For example, ask if there are opposing viewpoints that you haven’t considered yet.

Whenever I revise, I just make things worse. I do my best work without revising

That’s a common misconception that sometimes arises from fear, sometimes from laziness. The truth is, though, that except for those rare moments of inspiration or genius when the perfect ideas expressed in the perfect words in the perfect order flow gracefully and effortlessly from the mind, all experienced writers revise their work. I wrote six drafts of this handout. Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. If you’re still not convinced, re-read some of your old papers. How do they sound now? What would you revise if you had a chance?

What can get in the way of good revision strategies?

Don’t fall in love with what you have written. If you do, you will be hesitant to change it even if you know it’s not great. Start out with a working thesis, and don’t act like you’re married to it. Instead, act like you’re dating it, seeing if you’re compatible, finding out what it’s like from day to day. If a better thesis comes along, let go of the old one. Also, don’t think of revision as just rewording. It is a chance to look at the entire paper, not just isolated words and sentences.

What happens if I find that I no longer agree with my own point?

If you take revision seriously, sometimes the process will lead you to questions you cannot answer, objections or exceptions to your thesis, cases that don’t fit, loose ends or contradictions that just won’t go away. If this happens (and it will if you think long enough), then you have several choices. You could choose to ignore the loose ends and hope your reader doesn’t notice them, but that’s risky. You could change your thesis completely to fit your new understanding of the issue, or you could adjust your thesis slightly to accommodate the new ideas. Or you could simply acknowledge the contradictions and show why your main point still holds up in spite of them. Most readers know there are no easy answers, so they may be annoyed if you give them a thesis and try to claim that it is always true with no exceptions no matter what.

How do I get really good at revising?

The same way you get really good at golf, piano, or a video game—do it often. Take revision seriously, be disciplined, and set high standards for yourself. Here are three more tips:

  • The more you produce, the more you can cut.
  • The more you can imagine yourself as a reader looking at this for the first time, the easier it will be to spot potential problems.
  • The more you demand of yourself in terms of clarity and elegance, the more clear and elegant your writing will be.

How do I revise at the sentence level?

Read your paper out loud, sentence by sentence, and follow Peter Elbow’s advice: “Look for places where you stumble or get lost in the middle of a sentence. These are obvious awkwardness’s that need fixing. Look for places where you get distracted or even bored—where you cannot concentrate. These are places where you probably lost focus or concentration in your writing. Cut through the extra words or vagueness or digression; get back to the energy. Listen even for the tiniest jerk or stumble in your reading, the tiniest lessening of your energy or focus or concentration as you say the words . . . A sentence should be alive” (Writing with Power 135).

Practical advice for ensuring that your sentences are alive:

  • Use forceful verbs—replace long verb phrases with a more specific verb. For example, replace “She argues for the importance of the idea” with “She defends the idea.”
  • Look for places where you’ve used the same word or phrase twice or more in consecutive sentences and look for alternative ways to say the same thing OR for ways to combine the two sentences.
  • Cut as many prepositional phrases as you can without losing your meaning. For instance, the following sentence, “There are several examples of the issue of integrity in Huck Finn,” would be much better this way, “Huck Finn repeatedly addresses the issue of integrity.”
  • Check your sentence variety. If more than two sentences in a row start the same way (with a subject followed by a verb, for example), then try using a different sentence pattern.
  • Aim for precision in word choice. Don’t settle for the best word you can think of at the moment—use a thesaurus (along with a dictionary) to search for the word that says exactly what you want to say.
  • Look for sentences that start with “It is” or “There are” and see if you can revise them to be more active and engaging.
  • For more information, please visit our handouts on word choice and style .

How can technology help?

Need some help revising? Take advantage of the revision and versioning features available in modern word processors.

Track your changes. Most word processors and writing tools include a feature that allows you to keep your changes visible until you’re ready to accept them. Using “Track Changes” mode in Word or “Suggesting” mode in Google Docs, for example, allows you to make changes without committing to them.

Compare drafts. Tools that allow you to compare multiple drafts give you the chance to visually track changes over time. Try “File History” or “Compare Documents” modes in Google Doc, Word, and Scrivener to retrieve old drafts, identify changes you’ve made over time, or help you keep a bigger picture in mind as you revise.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Elbow, Peter. 1998. Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process . New York: Oxford University Press.

Lanham, Richard A. 2006. Revising Prose , 5th ed. New York: Pearson Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Zinsser, William. 2001. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction , 6th ed. New York: Quill.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Four Crucial Things to Consider When Revising an Essay

The prospect of revising an essay probably doesn’t fill you with joy.

But it’s incredible how many students rely on the first draft of their essay and fail to invest time refining and perfecting it.

Here’s a fundamental truth: Absolutely nobody produces writing that is perfect the first time around.

In fact, the most established scholars will tell you that the first draft of any essay, thesis, or dissertation doesn’t matter at all; the real writing starts during the revision process.

And it is for this reason you should never submit an essay that hasn’t been through a thorough revision process.

But what exactly does that involve?

Before we delve into the specifics of what you need to take into consideration when revising an essay, it’s important you understand there is a fundamental difference between proofreading an essay and revising an essay.

Proofreading involves reviewing the text for minor grammatical, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. However, revision isn’t about identifying and correcting errors; it’s about making the essay much, much better.

The Differences Between Revising, Editing, and Proofreading an Essay

Before you submit your essay, you thoroughly revise it, then edit it, then proofread it. Here are the main issues you will be concerned with during each stage of the process:

Essay Revising

Essay revising is performed at the holistic essay level.

Your main question during the essay revision stage should be: Does the essay meet the requirements of the assignment?

  • Read the essay within the context of the big picture and attempt to view your essay through the eyes of your reader.
  • Take an objective look at how your paper is organized. Is the information presented logically and coherently? Will the reader be able to follow your main points?
  • Ensure the formatting and structure of your essay are suitable.
  • Refine your introduction and thesis statement to ensure that it is clear and responds appropriately to the main question/prompt.
  • Add additional details, including citations, facts, and data, that support your main argument.
  • Remove any unnecessary or confusing detail.

Essay Editing

Essay editing is performed at the sentence and paragraph level.

Your main question during the essay revision stage should be: Do the sentences flow well and lead the reader through a structured argument that is clear and consistent?

  • Do not start the editing process until you are satisfied with the structure, flow, and content of the essay.
  • Read each sentence in turn and question the function it performs within the wider paragraph. Can you refine the sentence to better achieve your goal?
  • Analyze each sentence in the context of the preceding and following sentences. Are the connections between each point clear? Or do you need to add more effective transitions?
  • Ask yourself: Are the sentence lengths varied and effective? Long sentences can be great for forming connections between ideas but may obscure the critical points. On the other hand, short sentences can help to make a strong point, but overreliance on them can lead to unclear connections and a stilted flow. The golden rule is to reduce all unnecessary phrasing.

Essay Proofreading

Essay proofreading is performed at the sentence and word level

Your main question during the proofreading stage is: Is the final draft free of punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors?

  • Read through your essay s-l-o-w-l-y to find any loitering grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors.
  • Format footnotes, cover sheets, citations, and references according to the required style guide.
  • Remember: Proofreading does not consist of simply passing your paper through automated spelling and grammar checks. Software will help you find many errors; however, it is not capable of viewing your paper within the context it was written and does not represent a substitute for a human review.

For more comprehensive details of the essay editing process, check out our in-depth guide to editing an essay .

If you want to learn more about what proofreading involves, read our comprehensive guide to proofreading .

At Vappingo, our professional essay editors perform revision and editing at the same time. They then pass through the document a second time to proofread it for any remaining minor errors. Our process is very distinct, and is as follows:

Vappingo three-step editing and essay revision

The rest of this article will cover the aspects our editors consider during the combined editing and revising process.

Revising an Essay in Four Simple Steps

Now we’re clear on why revising an essay is important, let’s take a look at the four things you need to take into consideration when you do so.

Four Things to Consider When Revising an Essay

Essay revision: Four things to take into consideration

Structure and Organization

Your essay needs to be effectively structured, clear, and easy to understand. The flow of the argument should gradually lead the reader from the introduction to the conclusion in a logical and systematic manner. The writing process is, by its nature, chaotic. You may find that the draft version of your essay contains some sections that present a stream of conscious as opposed to a planned and structured argument. Your top priority during the revision process is to refine that draft to ensure your essay has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Revising the Structure of Your Essay:

  • Does the essay have a clear introduction that outlines the thesis or central proposition?
  • Does the introduction prepare the reader for the content of the paper?
  • Does the body of the essay follow a logical flow and build a progressive argument?
  • Is each of the points of significance in the essay clearly connected? Is the relationship between each of the points made clear?
  • Is the analysis limited to one leading point per paragraph?
  • Is there a clear transition between paragraphs?

Language and Formatting

Far too many students completely misunderstand the importance of ensuring the formatting of the essay is meticulously revised according to academic standards such as APA. You may have written the perfect essay; however, if you do not ensure that the references and citations are formatted according to your university’s guidelines, the font and styling are appropriate, and the tables and figures are presented effectively, you will lose valuable grades. When it comes to essays, language use can have a significant impact on the final result. It’s not merely a case of putting a stream of words together to put your argument forward; it’s about ensuring you have used the right words. Using effective transitions, the correct terminology, and varied terminology can help you take your essay to the next level.

Things to look for when revising the language of an essay

As you go through the process of revising your essay, make sure it does not contain any of the following:

  • Slang. Academic papers should not contain any slang expressions such as unreal, kudos, and props.
  • Casual references and expressions. Essays are formal documents; as such, you need to ensure the language you use is also formal. Write “it is not possible to draw a conclusion” as opposed to “before we jump to conclusions.”
  • Contractions. Use it is as opposed to its , they are in place of they’re , and have not instead of haven’t . Contractions represent a casual form of speech and, as we have already established, informal language has no place in an essay unless the nature of the paper calls for it.
  • Clichés. Again, cliché expressions, such as reading between the lines , only time will tell, and the writing’s on the wall , do not hold any tangible meaning and can undermine the flow and strength of your argument.
  • Misused words. You can read more here: Link to Vappingo guide to misused words.
  • Vague words. Some words are rather vague and do not convey the strength of the argument particularly well. Look out for the use of words such as good, bad, interesting, thing, etc. and replace them with more specific vocabulary. For instance, instead of stating, The test was repeated later (when? Three days? Three months? Three years?), write The test was repeated 24 hours later .

Questions to Ask When Revising the Language and Format of Your Essay

  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?
  • Have you explained the logic that underpins your opinions?
  • Is the argument presented in a way that is aligned with the needs, understanding, and interests of the intended audience?
  • Has the paper been fully proofread to ensure that it does not contain any punctuation, grammar, or spelling mistakes?
  • Have all the references been accurately cited?
  • Has the paper been formatted according to the requirements of the style guide?
  • Have you used consistent formatting and citation throughout the paper?
  • Have you ensured that you are clear as to what are your ideas and what are those of the authors you have referenced?
  • Have you met the word limit requirements?
  • Have you checked that all the data provided in the bibliography is accurate?

Coherence, content, and analysis

When an essay is coherent, the main ideas flow effortlessly, and the reader is left with no uncertainty about how the paragraphs are linked. The most effective essay writers are those who use transitions to efficiently clarify how the ideas they are presenting in the distinct sentences and paragraphs are linked. In addition to enhancing the flow of your essay, refining the transitions during the essay revision process will help to take your writing to a superior level, and you will come across more measured, sophisticated, and scholarly.

In terms of the content and analysis, you should be asking yourself if the key facts, data, and arguments you have put forward are compelling, relevant, and concise. Make sure every single claim you make is fully supported by indisputable evidence.

Useful Transitions to Add When Revising an Essay

Essay transitions cheat sheet

You can read more about essay transitions in our essay transitions cheatsheet.

Questions to ask when revising the coherence, content, and analysis of your essay:

  • Do the paragraphs transition well? Are the connections between them clear?
  • Do you start each paragraph with pertinent topic sentences that lead on from the discourse provided in the previous paragraph?
  • Is the discussion logical? Does it progress well?
  • Does each sentence clearly lead on from the one before?
  • Does each paragraph present a clear argument that is supported by sufficient evidence?
  • Are the transitions between sentences and paragraphs clear?
  • Is the quoted material suitable for the argument that has been put forward?
  • Have you supported the claims you have made with citations, data, or examples?
  • Have you ensured that the sources you have used are credible?
  • Are the data and statistics you have provided relevant and up to date?

Every essay should achieve its underlying purpose. Whether you were trying to persuade the reader to prescribe to your point of view, inform the reader about the findings of a study, explain the process of research, or present a specific analysis, while revising an essay, you should verify that you have achieved that purpose. Ask yourself whether the reader would be able to summarize your main points using just a couple of sentences. Have you responded to the question properly? Have you covered all the main points of the prompt?

Questions you should ask yourself when revising the purpose of an essay

  • Does the introduction contain a clear outline of my proposition, thesis, or main argument?
  • Have I taken a position on the topic of interest? If so, is this position evident throughout the paper?
  • Do the main points I have presented in the essay clearly contribute to the achievement of its primary purpose?
  • Have I summarized the argument in a clear and compelling way in the conclusion? Does the conclusion pull all the main ideas together?

If you cover all four aspects described above while revising your essay, you will significantly improve the final paper and, subsequently, your grade.

Here are all the main points to consider in a quick and simple essay revision checklist. Simply click on the image below to download the PDF.

Essay Revision Checklist

Essay revision checklist free

Key Takeaways:

  • Revision typically takes place after you have completed the first draft of your essay.
  • You may need to revise the essay several times before you progress to proofread the final draft.
  • You should revise and edit the essay before you proofread it. Proofreading always comes last.
  • If you spot any grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors while revising your essay, correct them there and then. However, your main focus during the revision process should be on structure and organization, language and formatting, coherence, and purpose.
  • Proofreading does not consist of simply passing your paper through automated spelling and grammar checks. While software can help you find many errors, it can’t view your paper within the context within which it was written and does not represent a substitute for a human review.

For more help, see our free essay editing checklist .

Haven’t got the time, inclination or patience to revise your essay? Get an expert to do it for you.

Vappingo’s editing services include substantive revisions that cover all the aspects outlined above. In addition to checking and amending the structure, organization, language, formatting, coherence, and purpose of your essay, we’ll proofread it and correct any spelling, punctuation, typography, and grammatical errors. It’s quick and simple, and surprisingly affordable. Check out our editing and proofreading rates now.

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Academic Writing Success

Academic Revising 101: The Essential Essay Revision Checklist

by Suzanne Davis | Feb 8, 2018 | Academic Writing Skills , Writing Essays and Papers

What do you do after you write the first draft of your essay?

You should feel proud because you just finished the hard work of taking ideas and information and writing the first draft.  It’s the hardest obstacle to overcome. But you still need to revise and shape it into a great final essay.  I created an essay revision checklist to guide you through the entire revising process.

Revision is key the to great writing.  Author E.B. White stated, “The best writing is rewriting.”  So, get excited about revising because you’re taking your writing and making it your best writing.

The Essay Revision Process

When you finish a first draft take a break.  Wait a few hours or if possible a day.  You will come back to your writing with a fresh pair of eyes.   Then go back to your essay and launch into revising it.

In this post, I show you a three-phase revision process that has some overlap with editing.   But, I focus on revising because it includes deeper changes to ideas and information in your essay.

The essay revision checklist here has three sections:  content, organization, and clarity.  Go through each section separately.  Move on from one section to the next when you’ve completed everything in a section.

The Essay Revision Checklist

Revising the content of an essay.

Content is the substance of your essay.  It’s the topic, main ideas and supporting reasons that connect back to your thesis statement.   If you don’t have strong content your essay is a group of fluffy words.

Checklist for Good Essay Content

  • Content reveals the purpose of your essay or paper.
  • There is a complex and supportable thesis statement.
  • The main ideas support the thesis statement.
  • There are supporting details for each of the main ideas.
  • There is evidence to support the main ideas and thesis statement.

Keep revising the essay until you can check off each of these elements.

Revising the Organization of an Essay

Essays are organized into 3 basic parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction has a hook, overview of the topic or description of the situation, and the thesis statement. The body contains the ideas and details that support the thesis statement.  It’s the heart of your essay content.   The conclusion summarizes the thesis statement and describes the significance of it.

Checklist for Good Essay Organization

  • The introduction starts with a hook.  A hook is a sentence or a few sentences that capture your reader’s interest.  Read, “7 Sensational Types of Essays Hooks” and see different hooks you can use in your writing.
  • The introduction has an overview of the topic that leads to the thesis statement.
  • The body of the essay is organized so that the main ideas follow the sequence of things stated in your thesis .  For example, if your thesis statement lists three causes of something: Cause A, Cause B, and Cause C.  The first part of your essay examines Cause A.  The second part examines Cause B etc.
  • The conclusion reviews the thesis statement and points out something significant about it. It shows some importance to your field, to people in general, to life, history, etc. Why does your thesis matter?

Revising Your Essay for Clarity

Clarity means that your ideas, sentences, and words are easy to understand.  Clarity is the window through which the reader sees your meaning.  If your essay is unclear, the content of your essay is confusing.

When you revise your essay for clarity analyze the ideas, sentences, and words in your writing.  I’ve included in this checklist the common problems I see in essays.

Checklist for Essay Clarity

  • There is subject-verb agreement throughout the essay.  A singular subject has a singular verb tense. Plural subjects have plural verb tenses.  An example of a singular subject and singular verb tense is: He drinks hot coffee .  A plural subject with a plural verb tense is: They drink ice tea.
  • There is good sentence flow . Fix any run-ons, incomplete sentences, short choppy sentences or just very long sentences. Make sure you have sentence variety in your essay.  Not all your sentences are short, and not all sentences are long.  Mix it up.
  • There are no unclear or confusing words or phrases .   Don’t overuse academic vocabulary or the thesaurus.  Use words and phrases you understand .
  • The Point of View (POV) (1 st person, 2 nd person or 3 rd person) is consistent and appropriate for the essay.   Most academic essays are written from the 3 rd person (he, she, they, it,) POV.  Usually, narrative essays and descriptive essays use the 1 st person (I, me, we, us,) POV.   Rarely is an essay written from the 2 nd person (you, your) POV.
  • The pronouns agree in number and person .   For information on pronoun agreement, see Purdue OWL, “Using Pronouns Clearly.”
  • T he punctuation is correct .

After the Revision Process

When you’re done with the checklist, get another person to read your essay.  Ask that person for suggestions.  This could be a classmate, a peer tutor, or a private tutor (in-person or online).

Your professor might offer to help you during office hours. Professors are busy, so check to see if they offer that kind of assistance.  Writing professors usually do.  Professors of other subjects will tell you to go to a tutor.

Next, edit and proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes.   Don’t just use a spell checker/ grammar checker or Grammarly.  Read your essay aloud and listen for mistakes.  When you read aloud you read slower and see more punctuation problems.  You also notice missing words.

Another great tip is to read your paper from the last sentence all the way back to the first sentence.  This way you’re not focusing on the content and how things fit together.  You see each sentence individually.  It’s easier to find grammar mistakes when you focus on one sentence at a time.

I teach students this 3-part revision process because it highlights the key elements of an academic essay.  It helps you analyze content, organize content, and make your essay clear to the reader.   This essay revision checklist will help you change your first draft into a strong piece of academic writing.

Are you revising an academic paper? Then download your free copy of The Roadmap to Revising Academic Writing and Handing in a Great Final Paper! Each section has a list of questions that will help you revise the content, organization, and clarity of an academic paper.    Sign-up at the form above and get your free guide now!

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8.4 Revising and Editing

Learning objectives.

  • Identify major areas of concern in the draft essay during revising and editing.
  • Use peer reviews and editing checklists to assist revising and editing.
  • Revise and edit the first draft of your essay and produce a final draft.

Revising and editing are the two tasks you undertake to significantly improve your essay. Both are very important elements of the writing process. You may think that a completed first draft means little improvement is needed. However, even experienced writers need to improve their drafts and rely on peers during revising and editing. You may know that athletes miss catches, fumble balls, or overshoot goals. Dancers forget steps, turn too slowly, or miss beats. For both athletes and dancers, the more they practice, the stronger their performance will become. Web designers seek better images, a more clever design, or a more appealing background for their web pages. Writing has the same capacity to profit from improvement and revision.

Understanding the Purpose of Revising and Editing

Revising and editing allow you to examine two important aspects of your writing separately, so that you can give each task your undivided attention.

  • When you revise , you take a second look at your ideas. You might add, cut, move, or change information in order to make your ideas clearer, more accurate, more interesting, or more convincing.
  • When you edit , you take a second look at how you expressed your ideas. You add or change words. You fix any problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. You improve your writing style. You make your essay into a polished, mature piece of writing, the end product of your best efforts.

How do you get the best out of your revisions and editing? Here are some strategies that writers have developed to look at their first drafts from a fresh perspective. Try them over the course of this semester; then keep using the ones that bring results.

  • Take a break. You are proud of what you wrote, but you might be too close to it to make changes. Set aside your writing for a few hours or even a day until you can look at it objectively.
  • Ask someone you trust for feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Pretend you are one of your readers. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Why?
  • Use the resources that your college provides. Find out where your school’s writing lab is located and ask about the assistance they provide online and in person.

Many people hear the words critic , critical , and criticism and pick up only negative vibes that provoke feelings that make them blush, grumble, or shout. However, as a writer and a thinker, you need to learn to be critical of yourself in a positive way and have high expectations for your work. You also need to train your eye and trust your ability to fix what needs fixing. For this, you need to teach yourself where to look.

Creating Unity and Coherence

Following your outline closely offers you a reasonable guarantee that your writing will stay on purpose and not drift away from the controlling idea. However, when writers are rushed, are tired, or cannot find the right words, their writing may become less than they want it to be. Their writing may no longer be clear and concise, and they may be adding information that is not needed to develop the main idea.

When a piece of writing has unity , all the ideas in each paragraph and in the entire essay clearly belong and are arranged in an order that makes logical sense. When the writing has coherence , the ideas flow smoothly. The wording clearly indicates how one idea leads to another within a paragraph and from paragraph to paragraph.

Reading your writing aloud will often help you find problems with unity and coherence. Listen for the clarity and flow of your ideas. Identify places where you find yourself confused, and write a note to yourself about possible fixes.

Creating Unity

Sometimes writers get caught up in the moment and cannot resist a good digression. Even though you might enjoy such detours when you chat with friends, unplanned digressions usually harm a piece of writing.

Mariah stayed close to her outline when she drafted the three body paragraphs of her essay she tentatively titled “Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?” But a recent shopping trip for an HDTV upset her enough that she digressed from the main topic of her third paragraph and included comments about the sales staff at the electronics store she visited. When she revised her essay, she deleted the off-topic sentences that affected the unity of the paragraph.

Read the following paragraph twice, the first time without Mariah’s changes, and the second time with them.

Nothing is more confusing to me than choosing among televisions. It confuses lots of people who want a new high-definition digital television (HDTV) with a large screen to watch sports and DVDs on. You could listen to the guys in the electronics store, but word has it they know little more than you do. They want to sell what they have in stock, not what best fits your needs. You face decisions you never had to make with the old, bulky picture-tube televisions. Screen resolution means the number of horizontal scan lines the screen can show. This resolution is often 1080p, or full HD, or 768p. The trouble is that if you have a smaller screen, 32 inches or 37 inches diagonal, you won’t be able to tell the difference with the naked eye. The 1080p televisions cost more, though, so those are what the salespeople want you to buy. They get bigger commissions. The other important decision you face as you walk around the sales floor is whether to get a plasma screen or an LCD screen. Now here the salespeople may finally give you decent info. Plasma flat-panel television screens can be much larger in diameter than their LCD rivals. Plasma screens show truer blacks and can be viewed at a wider angle than current LCD screens. But be careful and tell the salesperson you have budget constraints. Large flat-panel plasma screens are much more expensive than flat-screen LCD models. Don’t let someone make you by more television than you need!

Answer the following two questions about Mariah’s paragraph:


Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

  • Now start to revise the first draft of the essay you wrote in Section 8 “Writing Your Own First Draft” . Reread it to find any statements that affect the unity of your writing. Decide how best to revise.

When you reread your writing to find revisions to make, look for each type of problem in a separate sweep. Read it straight through once to locate any problems with unity. Read it straight through a second time to find problems with coherence. You may follow this same practice during many stages of the writing process.

Writing at Work

Many companies hire copyeditors and proofreaders to help them produce the cleanest possible final drafts of large writing projects. Copyeditors are responsible for suggesting revisions and style changes; proofreaders check documents for any errors in capitalization, spelling, and punctuation that have crept in. Many times, these tasks are done on a freelance basis, with one freelancer working for a variety of clients.

Creating Coherence

Careful writers use transitions to clarify how the ideas in their sentences and paragraphs are related. These words and phrases help the writing flow smoothly. Adding transitions is not the only way to improve coherence, but they are often useful and give a mature feel to your essays. Table 8.3 “Common Transitional Words and Phrases” groups many common transitions according to their purpose.

Table 8.3 Common Transitional Words and Phrases

After Maria revised for unity, she next examined her paragraph about televisions to check for coherence. She looked for places where she needed to add a transition or perhaps reword the text to make the flow of ideas clear. In the version that follows, she has already deleted the sentences that were off topic.

Many writers make their revisions on a printed copy and then transfer them to the version on-screen. They conventionally use a small arrow called a caret (^) to show where to insert an addition or correction.

A marked up essay

1. Answer the following questions about Mariah’s revised paragraph.

2. Now return to the first draft of the essay you wrote in Section 8 “Writing Your Own First Draft” and revise it for coherence. Add transition words and phrases where they are needed, and make any other changes that are needed to improve the flow and connection between ideas.

Being Clear and Concise

Some writers are very methodical and painstaking when they write a first draft. Other writers unleash a lot of words in order to get out all that they feel they need to say. Do either of these composing styles match your style? Or is your composing style somewhere in between? No matter which description best fits you, the first draft of almost every piece of writing, no matter its author, can be made clearer and more concise.

If you have a tendency to write too much, you will need to look for unnecessary words. If you have a tendency to be vague or imprecise in your wording, you will need to find specific words to replace any overly general language.

Identifying Wordiness

Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will appeal more to their audience and better fit their purpose. Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for in your draft. Eliminating wordiness helps all readers, because it makes your ideas clear, direct, and straightforward.

Sentences that begin with There is or There are .

Wordy: There are two major experiments that the Biology Department sponsors.

Revised: The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.

Sentences with unnecessary modifiers.

Wordy: Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke eloquently in favor of the proposed important legislation.

Revised: Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.

Sentences with deadwood phrases that add little to the meaning. Be judicious when you use phrases such as in terms of , with a mind to , on the subject of , as to whether or not , more or less , as far as…is concerned , and similar expressions. You can usually find a more straightforward way to state your point.

Wordy: As a world leader in the field of green technology, the company plans to focus its efforts in the area of geothermal energy.

A report as to whether or not to use geysers as an energy source is in the process of preparation.

Revised: As a world leader in green technology, the company plans to focus on geothermal energy.

A report about using geysers as an energy source is in preparation.

Sentences in the passive voice or with forms of the verb to be . Sentences with passive-voice verbs often create confusion, because the subject of the sentence does not perform an action. Sentences are clearer when the subject of the sentence performs the action and is followed by a strong verb. Use strong active-voice verbs in place of forms of to be , which can lead to wordiness. Avoid passive voice when you can.

Wordy: It might perhaps be said that using a GPS device is something that is a benefit to drivers who have a poor sense of direction.

Revised: Using a GPS device benefits drivers who have a poor sense of direction.

Sentences with constructions that can be shortened.

Wordy: The e-book reader, which is a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.

My over-sixty uncle bought an e-book reader, and his wife bought an e-book reader, too.

Revised: The e-book reader, a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone.

My over-sixty uncle and his wife both bought e-book readers.

Now return once more to the first draft of the essay you have been revising. Check it for unnecessary words. Try making your sentences as concise as they can be.

Choosing Specific, Appropriate Words

Most college essays should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation. Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate. For more information about word choice, see Chapter 4 “Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?” .

  • Avoid slang. Find alternatives to bummer , kewl , and rad .
  • Avoid language that is overly casual. Write about “men and women” rather than “girls and guys” unless you are trying to create a specific effect. A formal tone calls for formal language.
  • Avoid contractions. Use do not in place of don’t , I am in place of I’m , have not in place of haven’t , and so on. Contractions are considered casual speech.
  • Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as green with envy , face the music , better late than never , and similar expressions are empty of meaning and may not appeal to your audience.
  • Be careful when you use words that sound alike but have different meanings. Some examples are allusion/illusion , complement/compliment , council/counsel , concurrent/consecutive , founder/flounder , and historic/historical . When in doubt, check a dictionary.
  • Choose words with the connotations you want. Choosing a word for its connotations is as important in formal essay writing as it is in all kinds of writing. Compare the positive connotations of the word proud and the negative connotations of arrogant and conceited .
  • Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for thing , people , nice , good , bad , interesting , and other vague words. Or use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.

Now read the revisions Mariah made to make her third paragraph clearer and more concise. She has already incorporated the changes she made to improve unity and coherence.

A marked up essay with revisions

1. Answer the following questions about Mariah’s revised paragraph:

2. Now return once more to your essay in progress. Read carefully for problems with word choice. Be sure that your draft is written in formal language and that your word choice is specific and appropriate.

Completing a Peer Review

After working so closely with a piece of writing, writers often need to step back and ask for a more objective reader. What writers most need is feedback from readers who can respond only to the words on the page. When they are ready, writers show their drafts to someone they respect and who can give an honest response about its strengths and weaknesses.

You, too, can ask a peer to read your draft when it is ready. After evaluating the feedback and assessing what is most helpful, the reader’s feedback will help you when you revise your draft. This process is called peer review .

You can work with a partner in your class and identify specific ways to strengthen each other’s essays. Although you may be uncomfortable sharing your writing at first, remember that each writer is working toward the same goal: a final draft that fits the audience and the purpose. Maintaining a positive attitude when providing feedback will put you and your partner at ease. The box that follows provides a useful framework for the peer review session.

Questions for Peer Review

Title of essay: ____________________________________________

Date: ____________________________________________

Writer’s name: ____________________________________________

Peer reviewer’s name: _________________________________________

  • This essay is about____________________________________________.
  • Your main points in this essay are____________________________________________.
  • What I most liked about this essay is____________________________________________.

These three points struck me as your strongest:

These places in your essay are not clear to me:

a. Where: ____________________________________________

Needs improvement because__________________________________________

b. Where: ____________________________________________

Needs improvement because ____________________________________________

c. Where: ____________________________________________

The one additional change you could make that would improve this essay significantly is ____________________________________________.

One of the reasons why word-processing programs build in a reviewing feature is that workgroups have become a common feature in many businesses. Writing is often collaborative, and the members of a workgroup and their supervisors often critique group members’ work and offer feedback that will lead to a better final product.

Exchange essays with a classmate and complete a peer review of each other’s draft in progress. Remember to give positive feedback and to be courteous and polite in your responses. Focus on providing one positive comment and one question for more information to the author.

Using Feedback Objectively

The purpose of peer feedback is to receive constructive criticism of your essay. Your peer reviewer is your first real audience, and you have the opportunity to learn what confuses and delights a reader so that you can improve your work before sharing the final draft with a wider audience (or your intended audience).

It may not be necessary to incorporate every recommendation your peer reviewer makes. However, if you start to observe a pattern in the responses you receive from peer reviewers, you might want to take that feedback into consideration in future assignments. For example, if you read consistent comments about a need for more research, then you may want to consider including more research in future assignments.

Using Feedback from Multiple Sources

You might get feedback from more than one reader as you share different stages of your revised draft. In this situation, you may receive feedback from readers who do not understand the assignment or who lack your involvement with and enthusiasm for it.

You need to evaluate the responses you receive according to two important criteria:

  • Determine if the feedback supports the purpose of the assignment.
  • Determine if the suggested revisions are appropriate to the audience.

Then, using these standards, accept or reject revision feedback.

Work with two partners. Go back to Note 8.81 “Exercise 4” in this lesson and compare your responses to Activity A, about Mariah’s paragraph, with your partners’. Recall Mariah’s purpose for writing and her audience. Then, working individually, list where you agree and where you disagree about revision needs.

Editing Your Draft

If you have been incorporating each set of revisions as Mariah has, you have produced multiple drafts of your writing. So far, all your changes have been content changes. Perhaps with the help of peer feedback, you have made sure that you sufficiently supported your ideas. You have checked for problems with unity and coherence. You have examined your essay for word choice, revising to cut unnecessary words and to replace weak wording with specific and appropriate wording.

The next step after revising the content is editing. When you edit, you examine the surface features of your text. You examine your spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. You also make sure you use the proper format when creating your finished assignment.

Editing often takes time. Budgeting time into the writing process allows you to complete additional edits after revising. Editing and proofreading your writing helps you create a finished work that represents your best efforts. Here are a few more tips to remember about your readers:

  • Readers do not notice correct spelling, but they do notice misspellings.
  • Readers look past your sentences to get to your ideas—unless the sentences are awkward, poorly constructed, and frustrating to read.
  • Readers notice when every sentence has the same rhythm as every other sentence, with no variety.
  • Readers do not cheer when you use there , their , and they’re correctly, but they notice when you do not.
  • Readers will notice the care with which you handled your assignment and your attention to detail in the delivery of an error-free document..

The first section of this book offers a useful review of grammar, mechanics, and usage. Use it to help you eliminate major errors in your writing and refine your understanding of the conventions of language. Do not hesitate to ask for help, too, from peer tutors in your academic department or in the college’s writing lab. In the meantime, use the checklist to help you edit your writing.

Editing Your Writing

  • Are some sentences actually sentence fragments?
  • Are some sentences run-on sentences? How can I correct them?
  • Do some sentences need conjunctions between independent clauses?
  • Does every verb agree with its subject?
  • Is every verb in the correct tense?
  • Are tense forms, especially for irregular verbs, written correctly?
  • Have I used subject, object, and possessive personal pronouns correctly?
  • Have I used who and whom correctly?
  • Is the antecedent of every pronoun clear?
  • Do all personal pronouns agree with their antecedents?
  • Have I used the correct comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs?
  • Is it clear which word a participial phrase modifies, or is it a dangling modifier?

Sentence Structure

  • Are all my sentences simple sentences, or do I vary my sentence structure?
  • Have I chosen the best coordinating or subordinating conjunctions to join clauses?
  • Have I created long, overpacked sentences that should be shortened for clarity?
  • Do I see any mistakes in parallel structure?


  • Does every sentence end with the correct end punctuation?
  • Can I justify the use of every exclamation point?
  • Have I used apostrophes correctly to write all singular and plural possessive forms?
  • Have I used quotation marks correctly?

Mechanics and Usage

  • Can I find any spelling errors? How can I correct them?
  • Have I used capital letters where they are needed?
  • Have I written abbreviations, where allowed, correctly?
  • Can I find any errors in the use of commonly confused words, such as to / too / two ?

Be careful about relying too much on spelling checkers and grammar checkers. A spelling checker cannot recognize that you meant to write principle but wrote principal instead. A grammar checker often queries constructions that are perfectly correct. The program does not understand your meaning; it makes its check against a general set of formulas that might not apply in each instance. If you use a grammar checker, accept the suggestions that make sense, but consider why the suggestions came up.

Proofreading requires patience; it is very easy to read past a mistake. Set your paper aside for at least a few hours, if not a day or more, so your mind will rest. Some professional proofreaders read a text backward so they can concentrate on spelling and punctuation. Another helpful technique is to slowly read a paper aloud, paying attention to every word, letter, and punctuation mark.

If you need additional proofreading help, ask a reliable friend, a classmate, or a peer tutor to make a final pass on your paper to look for anything you missed.

Remember to use proper format when creating your finished assignment. Sometimes an instructor, a department, or a college will require students to follow specific instructions on titles, margins, page numbers, or the location of the writer’s name. These requirements may be more detailed and rigid for research projects and term papers, which often observe the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA) style guides, especially when citations of sources are included.

To ensure the format is correct and follows any specific instructions, make a final check before you submit an assignment.

With the help of the checklist, edit and proofread your essay.

Key Takeaways

  • Revising and editing are the stages of the writing process in which you improve your work before producing a final draft.
  • During revising, you add, cut, move, or change information in order to improve content.
  • During editing, you take a second look at the words and sentences you used to express your ideas and fix any problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
  • Unity in writing means that all the ideas in each paragraph and in the entire essay clearly belong together and are arranged in an order that makes logical sense.
  • Coherence in writing means that the writer’s wording clearly indicates how one idea leads to another within a paragraph and between paragraphs.
  • Transitional words and phrases effectively make writing more coherent.
  • Writing should be clear and concise, with no unnecessary words.
  • Effective formal writing uses specific, appropriate words and avoids slang, contractions, clichés, and overly general words.
  • Peer reviews, done properly, can give writers objective feedback about their writing. It is the writer’s responsibility to evaluate the results of peer reviews and incorporate only useful feedback.
  • Remember to budget time for careful editing and proofreading. Use all available resources, including editing checklists, peer editing, and your institution’s writing lab, to improve your editing skills.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Steps for Revising Your Paper

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Proofreading is primarily about searching your writing for errors, both grammatical and typographical, before submitting your paper for an audience (a teacher, a publisher, etc.). Use this resource to help you find and fix common errors.

When you have plenty of time to revise, use the time to work on your paper and to take breaks from writing. If you can forget about your draft for a day or two, you may return to it with a fresh outlook. During the revising process, put your writing aside at least twice—once during the first part of the process, when you are reorganizing your work, and once during the second part, when you are polishing and paying attention to details.

Use the following questions to evaluate your drafts. You can use your responses to revise your papers by reorganizing them to make your best points stand out, by adding needed information, by eliminating irrelevant information, and by clarifying sections or sentences.

Find your main point.

What are you trying to say in the paper? In other words, try to summarize your thesis, or main point, and the evidence you are using to support that point. Try to imagine that this paper belongs to someone else. Does the paper have a clear thesis? Do you know what the paper is going to be about?

Identify your readers and your purpose.

What are you trying to do in the paper? In other words, are you trying to argue with the reading, to analyze the reading, to evaluate the reading, to apply the reading to another situation, or to accomplish another goal?

Evaluate your evidence.

Does the body of your paper support your thesis? Do you offer enough evidence to support your claim? If you are using quotations from the text as evidence, did you cite them properly?

Save only the good pieces.

Do all of the ideas relate back to the thesis? Is there anything that doesn't seem to fit? If so, you either need to change your thesis to reflect the idea or cut the idea.

Tighten and clean up your language.

Do all of the ideas in the paper make sense? Are there unclear or confusing ideas or sentences? Read your paper out loud and listen for awkward pauses and unclear ideas. Cut out extra words, vagueness, and misused words.

Visit the Purdue OWL's vidcast on cutting during the revision phase for more help with this task.

Eliminate mistakes in grammar and usage.

Do you see any problems with grammar, punctuation, or spelling? If you think something is wrong, you should make a note of it, even if you don't know how to fix it. You can always talk to a Writing Lab tutor about how to correct errors.

Switch from writer-centered to reader-centered.

Try to detach yourself from what you've written; pretend that you are reviewing someone else's work. What would you say is the most successful part of your paper? Why? How could this part be made even better? What would you say is the least successful part of your paper? Why? How could this part be improved?

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  • Knowledge Base

The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples

An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.

There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.

The essay writing process consists of three main stages:

  • Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
  • Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
  • Revision:  Check your essay on the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.

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Table of contents

Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.

The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .

For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:

  • Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
  • Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
  • Do your research: Read  primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
  • Come up with a thesis:  The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
  • Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.

The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.

1. Hook your reader

The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.

Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:

The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.

2. Provide background on your topic

Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.

3. Present the thesis statement

Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:

As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.

4. Map the structure

In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.

The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

Write your essay introduction

The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.

Length of the body text

The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.

Paragraph structure

To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.

That idea is introduced in a  topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.

After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.

Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.

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The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :

  • Returns to your thesis
  • Ties together your main points
  • Shows why your argument matters

A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.

What not to include in a conclusion

To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:

  • Including new arguments or evidence
  • Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
  • Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”

Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.

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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.

In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.

Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

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16 Concepts and Strategies for Revision

Shane Abrams; Liz Delf; Rob Drummond; and Kristy Kelly

Shane Abrams Adapted by Liz Delf, Rob Drummond, and Kristy Kelly

Concepts and strategies for revision.

Let’s start with a few definitions. What is an essay? It’s likely that your teachers have been asking you to write essays for years now; you’ve probably formed some idea of the genre. But when I ask my students to define this kind of writing, their answers vary widely and only get at part of the meaning of “essay.”

Although we typically talk of an essay (noun), I find it instructive to think about essay (verb): to try, to test, to explore, to attempt to understand. An essay (noun), then, is an attempt and an exploration. Popularized shortly before the Enlightenment era by Michel de Montaigne, the essay form was invested in the notion that writing invites discovery: the idea was that he, as a layperson without formal education in a specific discipline, would learn more about a subject through the act of writing itself.

What difference does this new definition make for us as writers?

Now, what is revision? You may have been taught that revision means fixing commas, using a thesaurus to brighten up word choice, and maybe tweaking a sentence or two. However, I prefer to think of revision as “re | vision.”

Revision isn’t just about polishing—it’s about seeing your piece from a new angle, with “fresh eyes.” Often, we get so close to our own writing that we need to be able to see it from a different perspective in order to improve it. Revision happens on many levels. What you may have been trained to think of as revision—grammatical and mechanical fixes—is just one tier. Here’s how I like to imagine it:

Venn diagram showing relationship between global revision, local revision, and proofreading

Even though all kinds of revision are valuable, your global issues are first-order concerns, and proofreading is a last-order concern. If your entire topic, approach, or structure needs revision, it doesn’t matter if you have a comma splice or two. It’s likely that you’ll end up rewriting that sentence anyway.

There are a handful of techniques you can experiment with in order to practice true revision. First, if you can, take some time away from your writing. When you return, you will have a clearer head. You will even, in some ways, be a different person when you come back—since we as humans are constantly changing from moment to moment, day to day, you will have a different perspective with some time away. This might be one way for you to make procrastination work in your favor: if you know you struggle with procrastination, try to bust out a quick first draft the day an essay is assigned. Then you can come back to it a few hours or a few days later with fresh eyes and a clearer idea of your goals.

Second, you can challenge yourself to reimagine your writing using global and local revision techniques, like those included later in this chapter.

Third, you can (and should) read your paper aloud, if only to yourself. This technique distances you from your writing; by forcing yourself to read aloud, you may catch sticky spots, mechanical errors, abrupt transitions, and other mistakes you would miss if you were immersed in your writing. (Recently, a student shared with me that she uses an online text-to-speech voice reader to create this same separation. By listening along and taking notes, she can identify opportunities for local- and proofreading-level revision.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should rely on your learning community. Because you most likely work on tight deadlines and don’t always have the opportunity to take time away from our projects, you should solicit feedback from your classmates, the writing center, your instructor, your peer workshop group, or your friends and family. As readers, they have valuable insight into the rhetorical efficacy of your writing: their feedback can be useful in developing a piece that is conscious of audience. To begin setting expectations and procedures for your peer workshop, turn to the first activity in this section.

Throughout this text, I have emphasized that good writing cannot exist in a vacuum; similarly, good rewriting often requires a supportive learning community. Even if you have had negative experiences with peer workshops before, I encourage you to give them another chance. Not only do professional writers consistently work with other writers, but my students are nearly always surprised by just how helpful it is to work alongside their classmates.

The previous diagram (of global, local, and proofreading levels of revision) reminds us that everyone has something valuable to offer in a learning community: because there are so many different elements on which to articulate feedback, you can provide meaningful feedback to your workshop, even if you don’t feel like an expert writer.

During the many iterations of revising, remember to be flexible and to listen. Seeing your writing with fresh eyes requires you to step outside of yourself, figuratively.

Listen actively and seek to truly understand feedback by asking clarifying questions and asking for examples. The reactions of your audience are a part of writing that you cannot overlook, so revision ought to be driven by the responses of your colleagues.

On the other hand, remember that the ultimate choice to use or disregard feedback is at the author’s discretion: provide all the suggestions you want as a group member, but use your best judgment as an author. If members of your group disagree—great! Contradictory feedback reminds us that writing is a dynamic, transactional action that is dependent on the specific rhetorical audience.

Revision Activities

Establishing your peer workshop.

Before you begin working with a group, it’s important for you to establish a set of shared goals, expectations, and processes. You might spend a few minutes talking through the following questions:

  • Have you ever participated in a peer workshop before? What worked? What didn’t?
  • What do you hate about group projects? How might you mitigate these issues?
  • What opportunities do group projects offer that working independently doesn’t? What are you excited about?
  • What requests do you have for your peer workshop group members?

In addition to thinking through the culture you want to create for your workshop group, you should also consider the kind of feedback you want to exchange, practically speaking. In order to arrive at a shared definition for “good feedback,” I often ask my students to complete the following sentence as many times as possible with their groupmates: “Good feedback is…”

The list could go on forever, but here are a few that I emphasize:

Once you’ve discussed the parameters for the learning community you’re building, you can begin workshopping your drafts, asking, “What does the author do well and what could they do better?” Personally, I prefer a workshop that’s conversational, allowing the author and the audience to discuss the work both generally and specifically; however, your group should use whatever format will be most valuable for you. Before starting your workshop, try to get everyone on the same page logistically by using the following flowcharts.

To set the tone and expectations for your unique workshop group, talk through the following prompts. Record your answers. The first activity will establish a climate or culture for your group; the second will help you talk through logistics.

Choose the 3-5 descriptors of good feedback that are most important to the members of your group. Discuss for 3-5 minutes: What do each of you need for this Peer Workshop to be effective? From each other? From the instructor? From yourselves? From your environment? Record responses on a separate sheet of paper.

Flowchart of peer workshop

Global Revision Activity for a Narrative Essay

This assignment challenges you to try new approaches to a draft you’ve already written. Although you will be “rewriting” in this exercise, you are not abandoning your earlier draft: this exercise is generative, meaning it is designed to help you produce new details, ideas, or surprising bits of language that you might integrate into your project.

First, choose a part of your draft that (1) you really like but think could be better or (2) just isn’t working for you. This excerpt should be no fewer than one hundred words and can include your entire essay, if you want.

Then complete your choice of one prompt from the list below: apply the instruction to the excerpt to create new content. Read over your original once, but do not refer back to it after you start writing. Your goal here is to deviate from the first version, not reproduce it. The idea here is to produce something new about your topic through constraint; you are reimagining your excerpt on a global scale.

After completing one prompt, go back to the original and try at least one more or apply a different prompt to your new work.

  • Change genres. For example, if your excerpt is written in typical essay form, try writing it as poetry, or dialogue from a play/movie, or a radio advertisement.
  • Zoom in. Focus on one image, color, idea, or word from your excerpt and zoom way in. Meditate on this one thing with as much detail as possible.
  • Zoom out. Step back from the excerpt and contextualize it with background information, concurrent events, or information about relationships or feelings.
  • Change point of view. Try a new vantage point for your story by changing pronouns and perspective. For instance, if your excerpt is in first person (I/me), switch to second (you) or third person (he/she/they).
  • Change setting. Resituate your excerpt in a different place or time.
  • Change your audience. Rewrite the excerpt anticipating the expectations of a different reader than you first intended. For example, if the original excerpt is in the same speaking voice you would use with your friends, write as if your strictest teacher or the president or your grandmother is reading it. If you’ve written in an “academic” voice, try writing for your closest friend—use slang, swear words, casual language, whatever.
  • Add another voice. Instead of just the speaker of the essay narrating, add a listener. This listener can agree, disagree, question, heckle, sympathize, apologize, or respond in any other way you can imagine.
  • Change timeline (narrative sequence). Instead of moving chronologically forward, rearrange the events to bounce around.
  • Change tense. Narrate from a different vantage point by changing the grammar. For example, instead of writing in past tense, write in present or future tense.
  • Change tone. Reimagine your writing in a different emotional register. For instance, if your writing is predominantly nostalgic, try a bitter tone. If you seem regretful, try to write as if you were proud.

Reverse Outlining

Have you ever written an outline before writing a draft? It can be a useful prewriting strategy, but it doesn’t work for all writers. If you’re like me, you prefer to brain-dump a bunch of ideas on the paper, then come back to organize and refocus during the revision process. One strategy that can help you here is reverse outlining.

Divide a blank piece of paper into three columns, as demonstrated below. Number each paragraph of your draft, and write an equal numbered list down the left column of your blank piece of paper. Write “Idea” at the top of the middle column and “Purpose” at the top of the right column.

Now wade back through your essay, identifying what each paragraph is saying and what each paragraph is doing. Choose a few key words or phrases for each column to record on your sheet of paper.

  • Try to use consistent language throughout the reverse outline so you can see where your paragraphs are saying or doing similar things.
  • A paragraph might have too many different ideas or too many different functions for you to concisely identify. This could be a sign that you need to divide that paragraph up.

Here’s a student’s model reverse outline:

But wait—there’s more!

Once you have identified the idea(s) and purpose(s) of each paragraph, you can start revising according to your observations. From the completed reverse outline, create a new outline with a different sequence, organization, focus, or balance. You can reorganize by

  • combining or dividing paragraphs,
  • rearranging ideas, and
  • adding or subtracting content.

Reverse outlining can also be helpful in identifying gaps and redundancies: Now that you have a new outline, do any of your ideas seem too brief? Do you need more evidence for a certain argument? Do you see ideas repeated more than necessary?

After completing the reverse outline above, the student proposed this new organization:

You might note that this strategy can also be applied on the sentence and section level. Additionally, if you are a kinesthetic or visual learner, you might cut your paper into smaller pieces that you can physically manipulate.

Be sure to read aloud after reverse outlining to look for abrupt transitions.

You can see a simplified version of this technique demonstrated in this video .

Local Revision Activity: Cutting Fluff

When it’s late at night, the deadline is approaching, and we’ve simply run out of things to say…we turn to fluff. Fluff refers to language that doesn’t do work for you—language that simply takes up space or sits flat on the page rather than working economically and impactfully. Whether or not you’ve used it deliberately, all authors have been guilty of fluffy writing at one time or another.

Example of fluff on social media [“Presidents don’t have to be smart” from].

Fluff happens for a lot of reasons.

  • Of course, reaching a word or page count is the most common motivation.
  • Introductions and conclusions are often fluffy because the author can’t find a way into or out of the subject or because the author doesn’t know what their exact subject will be.
  • Sometimes, the presence of fluff is an indication that the author doesn’t know enough about the subject or that their scope is too broad.
  • Other times, fluffy language is deployed in an effort to sound “smarter” or “fancier” or “more academic”—which is an understandable pitfall for developing writers.

These circumstances, plus others, encourage us to use language that’s not as effective, authentic, or economical. Fluff happens in a lot of ways; here are a few I’ve noticed:

Of course, there’s a very fine line between detail and fluff. Avoiding fluff doesn’t mean always using the fewest words possible. Instead, you should occasionally ask yourself in the revision process, How is this part contributing to the whole? Is this somehow building toward a bigger purpose? If the answer is no, then you need to revise.

The goal should not necessarily be “Don’t write fluff” but rather “Learn to get rid of fluff in revision.” In light of our focus on process, you are allowed to write fluff in the drafting period, so long as you learn to “prune” during revisions. (I use the word prune as an analogy for caring for a plant: just as you must cut the dead leaves off for the plant’s health and growth, you will need to cut fluff so your writing can thrive.)

Here are a few strategies:

  • Read out loud.
  • Ask yourself what a sentence is doing, rhetorically.
  • Combine like sentences, phrases, or ideas.
  • Use signposts, like topic-transition sentences (for yourself during revision and for your reader in the final draft).
  • Be specific—stay cognizant of your scope (globally) and the detail of your writing (locally).

To practice revising for fluff, workshop the following excerpt by yourself or with a partner. Your goal is not to cut back to the smallest number of words but rather to prune out what you consider to be fluff and leave what you consider to be detail. You should be able to explain the choices you make.

There was a time long before today when an event occurred involving a young woman who was known to the world as Goldilocks. On the particular day at hand, Goldilocks made a spontaneous decision to wander through the forest, the trees growing up high above her flowing blonde pigtails. Some time after she commenced her voyage, but not after too long, she saw sitting on the horizon a small residency. Goldilocks rapped her knuckles on the door, but alas, no one answered the door. Therefore, Goldilocks decided that it would be a good idea to enter the unattended house, so she entered it. Atop the average-sized table in the kitchen of the house, there were three bowls of porridge, which is similar to oatmeal. Porridge is a very common dish in Europe; in fact, the Queen of England is well known for enjoying at least one daily bowl of porridge per day. Goldilocks, not unlike the Queen of England, enjoys eating porridge for its nutritional value. On this day, she was feeling quite hungry and wanted to eat. She decided that she should taste one of the three bowls of porridge, from which steam was rising indicating its temperature. But because she apparently couldn’t tell, she imbibed a spoonful of the porridge and vocalized the fact that the porridge was of too high a temperature for her to masticate and consume: “This porridge is too hot!”

The original chapter, Concepts and Strategies for Revision by Shane Abrams, is from EmpoWord: A Student-Centered Anthology and Handbook for College Writers

Media Attributions

  • 16.1 venn-diagram © Shane Abrams is licensed under a CC BY-NC (Attribution NonCommercial) license
  • 16.2 Doc1 © Shane Abrams is licensed under a CC BY-NC (Attribution NonCommercial) license
  • 16.3 image4 © Shane Abrams is licensed under a CC BY-NC (Attribution NonCommercial) license

Concepts and Strategies for Revision Copyright © 2022 by Shane Abrams; Liz Delf; Rob Drummond; and Kristy Kelly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Revision practices, hotspotting.

  • Glossing for Revision
  • Author's Note
  • Workshop and Peer Response

Writing Peer Reviews

Strategies for peer review.

This reflective writing activity is predominantly used for revising drafts, but it can be useful in writing and thinking about other texts you read for class—your peers’ and other authors’.

  • Choose a draft that you’d like to develop.
  • Reread the draft, marking (underline, highlight, star, etc.) places where you think your writing is working. This could be a sentence that expresses a thought-provoking idea, a strong or startling image, a central tension, or a place that could be explored in more detail. These places are the “hot spots” of your draft.
  • Copy one of these hot spots onto the top of a clean page; then, put your draft aside. (If you are working on a computer, copy the passage and paste it to a new document). If the passage is long, you can cut it out of the original or fold the draft so only the hot spot shows.
  • Now write, using the hot spot as a new first sentence (or paragraph). Write for fifteen to twenty minutes, or as long as you need to develop your ideas. Don’t worry if you “lose” your original idea. You might be in the process of finding a better one.
  • Repeat the process as often as feels right. (shoot for 3-4 times)
  • Now put your piece back together. You might want to just add the new writing into the piece or substitute it for something you can now delete. You might even take out large sections of the original writing and reorganize the rest around your new writing. Consider how your conception of the “whole” of this draft changes with the new material.
  • In your author’s note or writing plan, focus on two things. 1) Write some directions for what you want to do with this writing the next time you work on it. What do you have to change about the text to include the new writing? 2) Reflect upon your revision process. What did you learn about your topic/your text from this process? Did you pursue a tangential idea? Deepen or extend an original idea? Change your perspective on the topic? Realize that you are really interested in another topic altogether?

From UNL Composition Program’s The Writing Teachers’ Sourcebook, 2006

Glossing for Revision Ideas

Read carefully through your draft, glossing each paragraph.

  • First determine what the paragraph says. What idea are you trying to get across? In the margins write a paraphrase (the same ideas in different words) for the paragraph. A paraphrase as a part of the glossing activity is a direction-finder, a summary, another way of saying something. What are key words or phrases that help you understand what the paragraph is saying?
  • Next, ask yourself how that paragraph functions as a part of your overall piece. What is the paragraph doing? What purpose does it serve? How can you tell?
  • Copy your glosses onto another piece of paper. Look at what you’ve got in terms of arrangement or organization. What is happening to the development of ideas? Do your ideas develop in a logical way? Are their other ways to organize your piece that would be more effective? Are there possible directions for this draft to take, places where it isn’t accomplishing what you had hoped? Experiment with rearranging the glosses into different outlines.
  • Ask yourself: What difference does it make to the meaning of the text and to potential readers if you arrange ideas differently? How does it change the conceptual framework?
  • Write a plan for revision based on what you’ve learned from thinking through various organizational strategies.

Author’s Notes

An Author’s Note gives responders the context they need to have in order to know how to respond to your writing. It should include the following information:

  • A statement of the purpose and audience of the text. (E.g.: This is a proposal for a corporate client whom I’m trying to persuade to consider our product.)
  • A statement of where the text is in the process of development. (E.g.: first draft, ninth draft, based on an idea I got last night, second half of a draft you’ve already seen.)
  • Your own writer’s assessment of the piece. (E.g.: I like this because . . ., I’m worried about this because . . .,I know this part needs work, but I’m not sure, I really like x and want to incorporate more of this idea but don’t know how, etc. . .)
  • A sense of the revision strategies you have already tried. (E.g.: I had my roommate read this piece and she suggested these changes. I have tried hotspotting and glossing and they lead to ____. I have tried outlining my paper and I see gaps between my first and second idea but don’t know where to go from here.)
  • The kind of response you want, specifically. (E.g.: I am having trouble understanding the process of evolution. Can you point to places where my explanation doesn’t make sense? The first paragraph on page 3 isn’t working for me, what are some strategies I can use to revise? I want to you to look at my overall organization do you understand my main points? I want you to look at my word choice and paragraph structure, specifically on page 1 and 3. etc.)

Author’s Notes are the primary way you, as the writer, establish the kind of response your writing receives. Using Author’s Notes means knowing ahead of time where you are with a piece and what kind of plans you have for it. As you become more accustomed to thinking about your drafts in this way, Author’s Notes become easier to write and more effective reflection and response tools.

Peer Response Groups

All writers get feedback on their writing at some stage in the process. This section offers advice as you give and get feedback in small-group or whole-class formats – or just with a single, trusted reader.

Eventually, you might find that you prefer seeking input at very early stages, when you are still generating ideas. Or, you perhaps you will come to prefer having most of your drafting completed and the text fairly well organized before you look for some feedback. Although we often tend to forget this, it’s also true that we often gain insight into our own writing by reading and responding to others’. It is helpful to think about how a piece of writing is or is not working, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. As you study and assess the way another writer is approaching a project, you might return to your draft with a fresh perspective.

Small Peer Response Groups, Template #2 (For Drafts in Early Stage of Development) We offer here more questions than you could usefully answer in a single peer review session. The idea is that you can pick you and choose–either collectively as a class, or individually as a writer seeking particular kinds of focused response.

  • What is the controlling idea of the piece? What makes you think this is the most important idea? How does the writer highlight this idea and build around it?
  • Is this idea worth putting “out there”? Why? It is somehow different from what others have been saying? What might it add to the discussion of this subject? What could be the effect(s) of sharing this idea with readers?
  • Whom does the piece address? Is this the right readership for this piece? Are these readers best able to address or think about the issues raised? Will they be interested in the piece? Why/why not?
  • What other ways are there of thinking about this subject? What has the writer not considered about this subject? What have others been saying about it? How can the writer show that the position in this piece is more appropriate or useful or just plain right than others?
  • Does the form seem appropriate for the intended readers, and this idea/purpose? Why or why not? Comment on the expectations readers are likely to bring to this piece because of its form (Example: Readers of pamphlets will expect a readable design and quick, concise chunks of information...)
  • How do the different parts of the piece affect you, especially as you imagine yourself as one of the intended readers for the piece? (“As I read the third paragraph, I am frustrated/relieved/ interested/confused...”)
  • What would you (again, imagining yourself as an intended reader) like to hear more about? What could you stand hearing less about? Why? Which ideas could be extended or recast? How?
  • What assumptions does the text make? Are they fair? Accurate? Do they need to be supported? If so, how? If not, what makes you think that readers will be inclined to accept them?
  • Are all of the ideas relevant to one another and to the controlling idea? Is it clear that all of the ideas belong in the same piece? Give an example of how two ideas are either connected or disconnected in the piece.
  • Are the sources well chosen for this readership/purpose/message? Are they authoritative but accessible? Does the writer’s use of sources suggest that she/he is knowledgeable about the subject and has something important to add to the discussion? Have you read or heard anything that you think the writer might want to consider?
  • What kind of “moves” does the text make (addressing counterarguments, using examples, citing statistics or authorities, etc.)? What kind of appeals (emotional, logical, ethical) are being made here? Are they appropriate to the readers? Which seem most effective? Which least?

Small Peer Response Groups, Template #3 (For Drafts in Later Stage of Development)

  • Is the audience clearly indicated in the piece? How? How are readers drawn in and kept reading? Is the form right for these readers? Why/why not?
  • Are the purpose and the message (controlling idea) clear in the piece? Do they speak to that audience? Is it clear what the writer wants to audience to do/think/believe after reading this piece?
  • What is distinctive about this piece? Does it show creativity? Does it add to the existing conversation about this topic? Explain or give an example.
  • Are the “moves” and appeals made in the text appropriate to the audience? How so/not? Are the intended readers likely to find the idea/argument/story compelling/persuasive? Why/why not?
  • Is the piece focused? Are there places where the cohesiveness of the piece breaks down, where the focus is lost? Give examples of where ideas are connected or disconnected in the piece.
  • Is the piece well organized? Show how/not. Point to specific parts of the text where, for intance, the order of paragraphs works well or doesn’t -- or where sentences build nicely on each other or don’t.
  • Is the language appropriate to the audience? Give two examples, either way. Are there grammatical/mechanical problems that need to be addressed? Do you know how to fix them? If not, can you at least point them out? Is the piece well proofread? Are there obvious spelling or typing errors?

Adapted from Chris Gallagher and Amy Lee’s Claiming Writing: Teaching in an Age of Testing (forthcoming, Scholastic Publishers)

Some General Guidelines for Providing Effective Response:

  • Respond directly to the writer’s note; be the kind of reader the writer needs.
  • Offer honest feedback that is true to your experience of the text, but which respects the writer’s control of the project. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think, but always frame your response in respectful ways. There is a difference between respectfully aggressive readings (which are supportive and generative) and disrespectfully mean-spirited readings (which are discouraging and deadening).
  • Be mindful of where the piece is in its development. For instance, don’t closely edit a piece that’s early in the drafting process.
  • Give the writer a sense of what you think the piece says, and how you think it works.
  • Give the writer a sense of how you experience the piece.
  • Ask the writer probing but supportive questions about the text and its subject; aim to keep the writer thinking hard about the nature of her/his task.
  • Help the writer imagine potential audiences/purposes for the piece. If the writer knows the audience and purpose for the piece, try to read it with those in mind.
  • Aim for both “global” responses that speak to the whole piece and more “local” responses that point to specific places in the text.
  • Help the writer see her/his piece from other perspectives.
  • Offer the writer a response s/he can handle; don’t overwhelm the writer, but be substantive in your response.
  • Offer the writer concrete suggestions for revision – send her or him back to specific places in the text to do some work.
  • Above all, aim to send the writer away from the response session excited about her/his project, and confident that s/he knows where to take it next.

Things we want to hear:

  • Summarizing/Saying Back—Here is what I see this saying…
  • Glossing—Here is a word or phrase that condenses this paragraph or section…
  • Responding—As I read this paragraph, I…
  • Pointing—What seems most important here is... What seems to be missing here is…
  • Extending—You could also apply this to… What would happen if you...
  • Encouraging—This section works well for me because…
  • Suggesting—If I were you, I would add… You could move that paragraph…
  • Soliciting—Could you say more here about...
  • Connecting—In my experience, this… That’s like what x says… I saw some research on this…
  • Evaluating—This opening is focused, well-developed, catchy…
  • Counterarguing—Another way to look at this is…
  • Questioning—Why do you say…

Things We Want to Hear Only on Mostly “Finished” Pieces:

  • Editing—you need a comma here …

Things We Don’t Want to Hear:

  • “I like it.”
  • “I hate it.”
  • “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
  • “How can you actually believe that crap?”
  • “This has nothing to do with the paper, but this reminds me of when I . . .”

Since these verbs have different connotations depending on the context in which they are used, you will want to be sure to re-read your sentence and choose the verb that is most appropriate for your intended purpose.

Sentence Patterns

In drafting, we focus so much on getting an idea down on paper or recreating a memory on paper that we often don’t pay attention to how our sentences work or how they are constructed. That’s just fine (good even!) in drafting. In the revising/editing process, however, we shift from considering the theme or argument of our text to analyzing the way our sentences are composed.

Go through a couple paragraphs of your draft and figure out how your sentences are put together by finding the subject and verb of each sentence. Many times we start sentences with the same word over and over (like “I” or “You” or “He/She”) and the verb immediately follows. Once you figure out what your particular patterns are (and this may take awhile—first to find the subjects and verbs and then to see the pattern), then try varying your sentence patterns.

For example, short, quick sentences might be good in an essay that has a fast-paced or suspenseful feel. Long, intricate sentences may be just right for an in-depth reflection. If each sentence has the same subject/verb structure, it might not be clear which sentence carries the most meaning in the paragraph or which ideas are subordinate to or embedded within an idea. Try adding introductory phrases or connecting two sentences. Try varying the sentence style in different parts of your essay. Your main goal is to make your paper appealing, interesting, and rhetorically effective at the sentence level.

Reading for Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation Issues

One way to make sure you catch most of the comma issues in your paper is to look at every comma you use. Read your essay just for commas. Every time you see one, stop and make sure you’ve used it specifically and in accordance with the punctuation rules you’re following. This is time-consuming, but it also works.

You can do this for any punctuation and even for point of view and tense. Read for semicolons or apostrophes or colons. Read looking for “you” (if your paper is supposed to be in first person “I”) and change the “you” to first person. Read and stop on every verb to see if they are all in the tense you have chosen for your paper. When doing this kind of editing/revising work, you can do several readings of your essay with a different reading purpose each time.


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How to revise your college essay

A step-by-step guide for revising your college essay.

Bonus Material:   PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays That Worked

You’re been diligently working on putting together your college application essays, and now you’ve finally sat down and typed out a full, 650-word Common App essay. So… you’re done, right?

Alas, not quite. 

The good news is you’ve done the hardest bit–the first draft. 

The bad news? If you’re seriously planning to wow college admissions officers at top schools with your application essay, you’ve still got a lot of work to do on the personal essay itself. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve helped countless students perfect their admissions essays and earn acceptances to some of the most selective colleges. What did all of those successful college applications have in common? The application essay always went through many, many revisions and redrafts. 

In this post, we’re going to break down the process by which you can revise the early drafts of your college admissions essay, turning it into a successful, polished essay that’ll convince admissions committees that you deserve a spot. 

In the free link below, you can find 30 real sample essays: all finished products that have undergone the rigorous revision process we’re going to outline for you later in the post. 

Download 30 College Essays that Worked

Jump to section: How big a deal is revision, really? The five stages of revision Stage 1: Big picture and content Stage 2: Organization Stage 3: Style and language Stage 4: Pruning Stage 5: Proofreading Next steps

How big a deal is revision, really?

No beating around the bush: when it comes to the college admissions process, essay revision is basically mandatory. 

good essay needs revision

We’ve never–not once–seen a first draft that wouldn’t benefit from being redrafted, tweaked, or polished. Even if your first draft is really, really good, revisions will help make it great, maybe even perfect. 

And when we say revision, we don’t just mean going through and changing a few words or catching some grammar mistakes. Revision means significantly rewriting or reorganizing portions of your essay. It might mean cutting whole paragraphs and replacing them; it might mean taking what you thought would be an introduction and making it part of the body; it might even mean keeping the basic ideas but changing just about everything else. 

Revision will also always mean working on things like sentence structure and word choice, but these are actually more like the finishing touches. Much of your earlier revision work is going to include making big changes, and our guide will walk you through how to do exactly that. 

The five stages of revision

We think it’s most helpful to think about college essay revision/editing in five stages: 

good essay needs revision

  • Big picture/content
  • Organization
  • Style/language
  • Proofreading 

Each of these stages means looking at different elements of your essay, and each stage involves asking specific questions about what’s working and what isn’t. 

This all presumes you have a first or rough draft already. If you’re just starting the college application process or the essay,then be sure to check out our posts on brainstorming and topic selection , essay structures , and essay beginnings and endings. 

Stage 1: Big picture/content

When people think of revision, they often jump right to looking for grammar mistakes or messing around with word choice and sentence structure. Usually, that ends up being a big waste of time. 

Why? Because, if you’re doing revision right , you’ll be rewriting large portions of your essay to ensure that the fundamental pieces (the content and the organizations) are perfect. There’s really no reason to waste time making all the sentences sound pretty when, odds are, you’ll be totally changing lots of those sentences anyway. 

good essay needs revision

So, the first stage of revision should always mean looking at the big picture–by which we really just mean the actual content of your essay. 

Here are the key questions to ask yourself in the first stage of revision: 

  • What do you want this entire essay to tell the admissions committee about you?
  • What parts of this essay are absolutely necessary to get that central idea across? 
  • What parts of this essay are unnecessary to that central idea?

It’s only three questions, but these are big questions that deserve careful attention. If you want to understand what kinds of topics are good responses to question 1, we’d really recommend you consult our post on topic selection here. 

Once you’ve concretely identified the answer to 1, identify what in your essay is fundamentally necessary for it to work. These ideas will be the backbone of your essay; you will likely still edit and reorganize them in further drafts, but you won’t cut them out entirely

Say, for example, the central idea is that your experiences growing up in a town marked by gross wealth disparities have made you determined to combat economic inequality. In that essay, the “backbone” you identify in the first editing stage might be a vivid example of this wealth disparity, a narrative of your understanding of it developed as you grew, and a final discussion of how and why it has shaped your current goals. 

These are things that probably need to be kept for the story to make sense. 

You’ll next want to identify anything that doesn’t connect meaningfully to the central idea. 

In the hypothetical example above, maybe the student had a paragraph or two about athletic struggles or their passion for some extracurricular. If those ideas aren’t necessary for the essay’s main takeaway, they should be cut. You only have, in most cases, 650 words: if you want to put together a detailed, polished personal statement, you just won’t have room for any ideas that aren’t necessary. 

We want to be clear that when we say “necessary” and “unnecessary” here, we’re talking about ideas and large elements of your draft, not any individual sentence or detail. Obviously, there’s lots of details that aren’t “necessary” for the main story, but the purpose of this stage isn’t to focus on those. 

Instead, your goal should simply be to find your essay’s backbone, and ensure there aren’t large sections of your personal statement dedicated to discussing something tangential. 

Your second draft should cut out all these unnecessary ideas while retaining the necessary ones. Reread this second draft (after taking some time away from it) and ask yourself the same questions. If everything in this second draft is necessary, proceed to Stage 2. If not, repeat what you did for Stage 1. 

Note: these initial drafts should be near or over word count. If you find you’ve cut out so much that you’re down below 600 words, that means you’ll also have to add more content to those necessary “backbone” sections. 

Click the link below for 30 essays that mastered the big picture elements, and see how every part of each essay works together. 

Stage 2: Organization

good essay needs revision

Now that you have the necessary parts of your essay all in one place, you want to organize them in the way that’s most conducive to telling your story to admissions officers. 

Check out our guides on intros and conclusions for some guidance that can help with those sections, and read through our collection of essays that worked to see what a well organized essay looks like. 

The fundamental questions you want to ask here:

  • Does the essay start in a way that sets up the main idea without giving too much away?
  • Does each paragraph flow smoothly from the preceding one?
  • Does each paragraph clearly describe a specific moment or articulate a specific point?
  • Does the first sentence of each paragraph make clear what direction the paragraph is going?
  • Does the essay end in a way that captures the main idea without feeling repetitive or unnecessary?

As you can maybe tell by the increased number of questions, this stage is tricky, and will likely take multiple drafts. A poorly organized essay–no matter how good the content–will be basically unreadable, so this stage is worth taking your time with. 

Because good organization can be tough to pull off, it’s also probably a good idea to call in an expert at this point–our college essay coaches can read through your essay and tell you right off the bat if it’s organized properly or not. 

For questions 1 and 5, the best resources on what makes a good intro or good ending are our blog posts, linked above. 

For the body paragraphs, there are several techniques you can use to ensure proper flow:

  • Short paragraphs are almost always best. Each paragraph should convey one crucial thing–a part of the story, a train of thought. If you see an opportunity to jump to a new paragraph, take it. Shorter paragraphs almost always help make things easier to read. 
  • Each paragraph should begin with something like a “topic sentence,” though not a stiff, formal one like you’d have in English class. The first sentence of each paragraph should clue the reader in on what the paragraph will be about without summarizing . 
  • Each paragraph should build on the previous one, developing your story and reflection. In other words, each paragraph should only make sense in one place–once your essay is well-organized, it should be impossible to move a paragraph without profoundly changing the essay. 

good essay needs revision

It’s not easy work, but it’s crucial. As usual, your best friends here are taking time away from the essay, reading it aloud, and getting a second opinion. After you take your first stab at reorganization, give the essay a day. Then, read it aloud to someone you trust (like a PrepMaven essay coach, maybe) and ask them whether the story it tells makes sense. 

As with Stage 1, don’t worry about pretty language or grammar here. The goal of this stage is to take the pieces you’ve settled on and arrange them in a way that works. 

Stage 3: Style and Language

Once you’ve gotten through stages 1 and 2, then you should start focusing on prettying up the language. 

It’s crucial that you lock down content and organization before getting to this stage, or you risk wasting a lot of time. So, to be safe, give your essay a few more read-throughs and ensure the fundamental story you’re telling makes sense and flow. If it does, then it’s time to make the thing sound good.

  • Read it aloud. Does your essay sound like it has a distinct, personal voice?
  • Does your essay use words that are formal, complicated, or unnatural to you?
  • Does your essay use words that are unvaried, boring, generic?
  • Are you showing, or telling?

These questions are crucial from a writing standpoint: if you want your essay to actually be a strong piece of writing that’s enjoyable to read, you need to get the right answers here. 

Of course, this can be difficult and feel subjective, especially if you don’t do much creative writing. Although by far the best way to work through these questions is with a writing expert by your side who can help you polish your writing, these questions can take you a long way. 

Most of these questions are really getting at the same thing: your essay needs to read and sound like something unique, something that captures your voice. It’s often easiest to get there by first identifying what you don’t want the college essay to be. 

It shouldn’t sound like the kind of analytical or formal essay you’ve written for English classes in high school. That’s why you don’t want to use any kind of stiff, thesaurus-y language and big, fancy transitions. 

At the same time, it shouldn’t sound like your stream of consciousness or a diary entry. You want the language to be interesting, compelling. You’re not just writing for yourself here, so you need to make it sound good. 

good essay needs revision

The best way to sum up the ideal tone for most college essays is something like this: imagine you’re trying to tell an interesting story to someone you don’t know very well, maybe at a party or something like that. You wouldn’t want to sound like someone from the nineteenth century, using fancy or old words for the sake of it. At the same time, you would want to keep the language engaging enough that you don’t lose their attention.

That’s where the now infamous advice of “show, don’t tell” comes in. You’ve probably heard that advice from just about every college counselor and English teacher, but we should break down what it actually means. What’s “showing” look like?

Simply put, it’s about telling a story rich with detail before making any broad or abstract claims about yourself. “Telling” would look something like: “I’ve always loved spending time with my grandfather.” “Showing” would instead mean actually describing how you spent time with your grandfather, what you did together, and how you felt in the moment. 

Or, to take another example: “I felt incredibly nervous” is a classic example of plain old telling. But you can make that same idea much more engaging by “showing:” “I tried to wipe my clammy palms on my pant legs, hoping nobody would notice the tremor in my voice. Oh God, I was up next. ”

It’s not that you can never “tell” in your essay. But you can never just tell: anything you want to tell us, you’ve first got to show us. 

Stage 3 takes a while, but it can be fun. At this point, you shouldn’t be changing any ideas or organization in your essay. Each draft will just play around with the sentences, the word choice, and the details. And each draft should sound, when you read it aloud, just a little bit more interesting, more unique, more you than the last one. 

Take a look at the 30 essays below which worked to get students into schools like Princeton: each has a different style, but note how descriptive and vivid each essay is!

Stage 4: Pruning

Once you’ve finished Stage 3–meaning that now everything looks and sounds how you want it to–take a look at the word count. If you’re at or below 650, great; skip directly to Stage 5. 

If not, the next stage is all about simply cutting for length. While we don’t recommend worrying about word count much until this stage, you should do your best to keep a general eye on it through earlier stages to make sure your essay isn’t ballooning to crazy proportions. By the time you get to stage 4, you should really be at 800 words or less–anything over that means you’ve included too much content. 

This process will depend on just how much over word count your essay is. If you’re within 50 words, you’d be surprised at how much space you can save by simply cutting a word or two out of your sentences. It might sting a bit to get rid of an adjective you’ve fallen in love with, but remember that nobody but you will ever know that word was in there. 

Generally, you can cut anywhere from 50-75 words without actually getting rid of whole sentences. That being said, if you’ve tried that and are still over word count, that means it’s time to judiciously remove or drastically shorten a few sentences. 

good essay needs revision

Do you have a list of three examples? Cut it down to two, or one. Do you have two sentences that could be combined into one? Do it. Ultimately, this’ll come down to what details, words, and turns of phrase you really want to keep, and which you’re willing to sacrifice. 

The most important thing is really not to panic or worry too much about word count early on. Within reason, you should include everything the story needs to work and all the details you think make it unique. When you get to Stage 5, start by looking with a careful eye for any word or phrase you can get rid of, and you’ll usually be able to free up all the room you need.

Stage 5: Proofreading

Almost there: you’ve got your essay in beautiful, polished shape. Now, you just need to proofread for grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors. This very last stage can be a quick one, but deserves to be taken seriously. 

Our advice: 

good essay needs revision

  • Identify and fix any grammar errors. 
  • Print the essay.
  • Using a pen or highlighter, identify any weird spacing, typos, misplaced commas, etc. 
  • Fix those on your typed document.
  • Repeat. 

Nothing stings more than submitting the perfect essay only to reread it later and find an embarrassing typo. One won’t sink your application–even college admissions officers misspell things–but a few can make you seem careless. 

That’s why we really stress printing out the document and going over it multiple times on paper. Once you get really used to seeing it on the screen, it can be hard to catch tiny mistakes. By printing it out and looking at it in a different medium, you’ll be far less likely to let something slip. 

A note on the grammar: this can be tricky, especially if you’re not a grammar expert yourself. While Google Docs and Word can be helpful and catch the occasional grammar mistake, they are absolutely not perfect. In fact, I’ve seen them suggest “revisions” that were grammatically incorrect. 

If you’re not 100% confident in your grammar knowledge, that’s another area where one of our essay tutors can be a huge help. They are grammar experts, and they’ll be able to make sure there aren’t any embarrassing mistakes tarnishing your final product. 

Revision is a tough, long process. But by following this step-by-step guide, you can maximize your time and efficiency. Each stage in this process is absolutely crucial if you want to create a successful college essay, which is all the more important given the stakes of the college application process. 

If you’re not quite at the revision stage yet, look at our other posts linked below, all of which tackle different elements of the college essay process. 

If you want to look at samples of final, fully-revised essays, click on the link below to download 30 free, real college essay samples. 

Happy revising!

Top College Essay Posts

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  • Qualities of a Successful College Essay
  • 11 College Essays That Worked
  • How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions
  • How Colleges Read your College Applications (A 4-Step Process)
  • How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays
  • The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays that Get Them Into Princeton (And Other Ivy League Schools)
  • What is the College Essay? Your Complete Guide for 202 4
  • College Essay Brainstorming: Where to Start
  • How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays
  • How to Format Your College Essay


Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.

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Questions to ask when revising a paper.

In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages. Download this page as a PDF: Questions to Ask When Revising a Paper Return to Writing Studio Handouts

Here are some questions to help you get started on revising a paper. Under each question are some suggested revision activities to assist you in this process.

Full descriptions of the recommended activities can be found on our Revision resource page.

Questions and Corresponding Revision Strategies

Does the writing have a clear sense of purpose.

Suggested Revision Strategies: Underline Your Main Point, Memory Draft. See also: Reverse Outline, 3×5 Note Card, Cubing

Is my paper’s main idea, or thesis, clearly stated early on (within the first paragraph, ideally)?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Reverse Outline, Talk Your Paper, Underline Your Main Point

Could I organize my ideas more logically (within a paragraph or among paragraphs)?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Reverse Outline and 3×5 Note Card. See also: Memory Draft, Read Out Loud

Are the topic sentences clearly connected to my paper’s main idea and do (most) topic sentences appear at the beginning of each paragraph?

Put differently: could someone read only the first sentence of each paragraph and thereby get a good sense of what the paper is about?

Suggested Revision Strategies: 3×5 Note Card. See also: Reverse Outline, Unpacking an Idea

Do the sentences in each paragraph relate to that paragraph’s topic sentence?

Suggested Revision Strategies: 3×5 Note Card. See also: Unpacking an Idea

Is there unnecessary repetition of certain points (an indication that the paper’s organization should be tinkered with, overhauled, etc.)?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Reverse Outline, Cubing, Read Out Loud

Is there sufficient (but not excessive) use of texts, evidence, or data?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Unpacking an Idea, Cubing, Talk Your Paper, Outside Reader

Does my paper employ effective transitional words, phrases, and sentences?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Outside Reader, Read Out Loud

Are the sentences well-worded and well-constructed?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Read Out Loud

Should some sentences be combined (for the sake of clarity, to avoid choppiness, etc.)? Should others be broken into two or more sentences, so that distinct—even if also related—ideas receive proper emphasis?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Read Out Loud, Outside Reader

Is the language precise and appropriate to the writing context?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Writing Between the Lines, Read Out Loud

Is the style authentic and engaging?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Talk Your Paper, Read Out Loud

Have I rewritten the introduction in order to remove sentences that are not essential to the set-up of my argument?

We strongly suggest removing, for instance, any “since the dawn of time” statements and others of its type that do not help to introduce your topic.

Suggested Revision Strategies: Talk Your Paper, Underline Your Main Point, Memory Draft

Have I addressed all of the questions (or parts of questions) in the assignment?

Suggested Revision Strategies: Return to the Prompt

Last revised: 07/2008| Adapted for web delivery: 05/2021

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  • Table of Contents


Information literacy, writing process, structured revision – how to revise your work.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida , Julie Staggers - Washington State University

Learn how to revise your writing in a strategic, professional manner Use structured revision practices to revise your work in a strategic, professional manner.  Learn about why structured revision is so useful to teams & collaborative writing.

You cannot climb a mountain without a plan / John Read

Related Concepts: What is Academic Dishonesty? ; Academic Writing – How to Write for the Academic Community ; Editing ; Plagiarism ; Proofreading ; Revision ; Rhetorical Analysis ; Rhetorical Reasoning ; Rhetorical Stance ; Standard Written English ; Style

Structured Revision – How to Revise

Some situations require substantive revision whereas others require moderate or light revision. For instance,

  • if you are writing an essay for class and it constitutes a major part of your grade, then you may need to spend considerable time revising it
  • if you are writing a proposal to a client for a big job, you know you cannot rest until your writing demonstrates that you understand the clients’ perspective
  • if you are writing an email to a friend, your discourse is likely to be more informal than if you are writing to an academic or professional audience .

Because every situation is difficult, there is no one single way to revise documents. However, this doesn’t mean you need to treat every writing task as if it’s a space walk. There are, in practice, a number of discourse conventions that define the discourse practices of writers in academic and professional writing contexts .

good essay needs revision

Step 1: Engage in Rhetorical Reasoning

Your first step when developing a plan for revising a document is taking an honest look at the rhetorical situation :

What is the Rhetorical Situation ?

As a first step in rhetorical analysis question

  • Who your audience ?
  • What do you hope to achieve by writing this document?
  • What is your purpose ? thesis? research question?

. composing and interpretation are dynamic, rhetorical, social processes.

, question is. What do they need from you? What is your purpose? thesis? What is your context? Is this

  • a personal situation
  • a workplace situation
  • a school situation
  • an applied or basic research situation ?

By engaging in audience analysis, you can learn the discourse conventions your audiences expects you to adopt in order to communicate with them. that characterize the works of discourse community. For instance,

  • the evaluative criteria might focus on tone as it reflects sincerity, honesty, candor, authenticity, trustworthiness
  • writers, speakers, knowledge workers adopt
  • the evaluative criteria might focus on Information Literacy Perspectives & Practices , research methods , and citation.

Step 2: Inspect the Document @ the Global Level

After you have reflected on the exigency, the call to write , you are ready to analyze the document at a higher-level of abstraction — the Global Level , or, what some people call the rhetorical level.

Begin your inspection by focusing only on the top-level elements , such as

  • Letter of Transmittal
  • Executive Summary
  • Statement of the Problem
  • Research Methods
  • Results (optional)
  • Recommendations
  • Implementation Schedule
  • Budget (guesstimate)
  • Call to Action

At this point, you’re looking for problems in the document’s organizational schema.

At a glance, does the title, introduction, and headings (along with the table of contents if one exists) answer these questions for the intended reader, listener, user . . . of the document: 

  • What is this document about?
  • What organizational problem or need is being address?
  • What is the occasion for this report?
  • What type of document is this?
  • What will the document accomplish?
  • Where in the document can I find answers to the questions I might logically have?

If you cannot answer these questions based on a quick skim, make notes about the problems you see.

At the global level , you’re likely to encounter

Rhetorical Problems

  • Structural Problems,
  • Language Problems, and
  • Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems.

For rhetorical problems , check to see if….

Structural Problems

For section-level problems , check to see if the…

Language Problems

For language-level problems , check to see if….

Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems @ the Global Level

For critical & analytical thinking problems , check to see if

Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems

For Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems , check to see if

  • Do the proposed solutions make sense given the problem statement?
  • Is the recommendation a realistic solution?
  • Does the Gantt chart and other planning documents seem reasonable?

Step 3: Inspect the Document @ the Section Level

Next, critique the document section-by-section.

The intended readers for the document should be able to skim a section and answer these questions for that section : 

  • What is this section about?
  • What is the function of this section?
  • What topics does this section address?
  • How does this section connect to the sections before/after it?

If you cannot answer these questions, make notes about the problems you see.

At the section level , you’re likely to encounter

  • rhetorical problems
  • structural problems, and
  • language problems , as outlined below:

To find rhetorical problems, ask these questions:

  • Does the opening mislead readers?
  • Do the headings mislead readers?
  • Are the visuals and data appropriate for the target audience?
  • Does color or design mislead readers by focusing their attention on less important information?

To find structural problems, ask these questions:

  • Is this section one that conventional report structure would place in this location? Is this where a reader would expect to find this section?
  • Does the heading adequately and accurately reflect the section’s contents (e.g. does the heading say the section is going to address a topic that the section does not actually address?)
  • Are topics unbalanced?
  • Do key topics need to be addressed in more depth because readers will find them challenging?
  • Is color used consistently?

Keep an eye out for parallelism problems . Look at headings, opening paragraphs , subheadings, topic sentences , transitions , and visuals .

Language Problems concern how  a  text  is  composed  — its  diction ,  grammar , use of  mechanics ,  sentence structure , and  style of writing .  concern The Elements of Style , especially brevity , clarity , flow , simplicity , and unity

To find language problems, ask these questions:

  • Is the diction appropriate for the target audience(s)?
  • Is the style of writing appropriate given the rhetorical situation ?
  • Are key terms used consistently across sections?

Step 4: Inspect the Document at the Paragraph Level

Read the document paragraph-by-paragraph, placing check marks as you go.

Your goal is to analyze whether the paragraphs in the document are well formed and structured.

  • Do the paragraphs conform to the reader’s expectations for the genre and media of the document?
  • Are the paragraphs unified?
  • Is there a logical progression across paragraphs, informed by the given to new contract?
  • Does the document use the rhetorical moves you believe it needs to help readers better understand paragraph unity and paragraph transitions?
  • Are the paragraphs following a coordinate order, deductive order, or Inductive order? Would you recommend a different order to improve flow?
  • What recommendations, if any, would you make regarding paragraph transitions ?

Step 5: Inspect the Document at the Sentence Level

Sentence-level perspective.

As you re-read your work or the work of others, place check marks next to:

  • Sentences you find tedious
  • Sentences you have to read more than once
  • Sentences you don’t quite feel right about

Are there any problems in the document with brevity ; clarity ; flow, coherence, unity; and simplicity ?

What about grammar and mechanics ?

How to Revise Co-Authored Projects

Revising a document you wrote yourself can be hard work. Revising a document written by a group can be even more difficult:

  • Once any text exists, it’s hard to get rid of either because writers don’t want to “lose” their hard work or are afraid of cutting important information by mistake.
  • Documents – and especially formal reports – address multiple types of readers, whose needs and ways of interacting with the document differ.
  • Documents that have been written by a team will have more problems with consistency than documents written by individuals.
  • Writers may disagree about what changes to make.

Structured revision helps a team prioritize its revision efforts. It also allows the team to make strategic decisions about what work can be done and should be done given the time available and the relative importance of the project. 

Ideally, when conducted for a team project, individuals will independently conduct structured revisions before sharing insights with one another. This approach can help you answer the following questions:

  • What are the most significant problems in the document – and where are they located?
  • How much time do we have for revisions and editing?
  • Should we spend on our time on the top-level design of the document, the content of a particular section, or sentence-level problems?

Porter,  J. E., Sullivan, P. , and Johnson-Eilola, J.  (2009).  Professional Writing Online 3.0 , 3 rd ed. New York: Pearson.

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

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Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing


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Inclusivity - Inclusive Language


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How to Revise Your Manuscript: 7 Steps to Take Your Writing from Good to Great

Allison Bressmer

Allison Bressmer

Revision Title Image

At the end of last summer, we threw out most of our backyard patio furniture. We called a gardener friend, and he helped us plot out some space to plant some shrubs and flowers that would grow in shady areas.

This summer, the plan is to get new patio furniture, tend to those shrubs, and make our backyard a more welcoming and attractive space. It’s been a process.

Can you guess how my backyard improvement story applies to the writing process ?

Revision Is a Process

Step 1: review your audience, step 2: review your purpose, step 3: evaluate and “collect data” from your work, step 4: determine where you need to take action, step 5: “re-visioning”, step 6: revise and repeat, step 7: proofread and make final edits, revision is part of the writing process.

You could say we are in the process of revising our backyard space. We’re making changes, some bigger and some smaller, to make it more suitable for fulfilling its purpose: to provide an area that invites relaxation and fun times with friends and family.

We don’t have a lot of space to work with, but we want to use what we have in the best way we can. Painting my flowerpots will help, but that minor change won’t be enough.

The Writing Process

You should engage in active revision for all of your work. As much as we want them to be, first drafts are just not going to be our best products. They probably aren’t terrible, and might even be functional (like my few remaining backyard chairs), but they aren’t the best they can be and don’t fully achieve our purpose.

And just like my yard needs more than repainted flowerpots, revision of your written work involves more than just changing a punctuation mark or a spelling error.

The revision stage is an important part of the writing process. It’s where you take your work from good to great, making it the best it can be and ensuring the work achieves its purpose.

Who Is Your Audience? What Are They Looking for in Your Work?

Action 1, know your audience

Whether you’re writing an academic essay or online content or a personal essay, you need an engaging introduction that catches your readers’ attention . However, the length and substance of your intro will change depending on your overall purpose and audience.

Additionally, body paragraphs need to be organized. You need to move smoothly from one point to the next, keeping the paragraphs cohesive. As with your introductions, the length, style of development, and word choice of those body paragraphs will be different depending on purpose and audience.

You’ll also need a conclusion providing a strong final comment that echoes with your readers. Again, that final comment will change depending on your audience. Are you writing for academics? Potential customers? A larger general population you are trying to convince of an argument?

What’s Your Purpose? What Goals Are You Trying to Achieve in Your Piece?

Action 2, know your purpose

Your audience is directly connected to your purpose. Why are you writing? Were you given an assignment to compare and contrast two literary works or argue a debatable issue? Are you selling an experience or a product? Are you sharing a meaningful, personal story?

By focusing on the purpose, you’ve created a target for yourself. You’ve probably heard the Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar quote “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Zig Ziglar quote

It’s hard to evaluate your work if you don’t know what the purpose, or target, of that work is in the first place.

Your purpose, like your audience, will shape the tone , language, and style of your writing.

For example:

If you’re writing to promote a vacation spot, you’ll need to include specific details highlighting why your readers should “book now!”

If you’re writing an essay about how special it was to eat dinner at grandma’s house, you should include sensory details that immerse your readers in the experience of grandma’s house.

If you’re comparing and contrasting two of Shakespeare’s plays, your readers don’t need to smell what Shakespeare ate or drank as he wrote or navigate pitches to buy texts of the plays!

I’m not trying to get my backyard into an issue of Better Homes and Gardens . My backyard audience is friends and family who like to eat, drink, and talk. Therefore, my purpose is to create a welcoming space that invites eating, drinking, and talking among friends, and I’m focusing my backyard revision process on hitting that target.

What Makes Good Writing? What Does All Good Writing Have in Common?

Good writing includes these traits, whatever its purpose:

The qualities of good writing

Clear Communication: your writing needs to communicate its message clearly. This clarity refers to the piece overall, as well as its individual sentences and ideas.

Smooth Organization: your writing needs to be organized. Ideas have to flow smoothly from one to the next so that the parts comprise a cohesive whole. Even in creative writing, where you may include time hops or scene changes, transitions and other organizational cues must work to maintain structure.

Thorough Development: your work needs to provide the details and discussion required for your readers to get your point. “Thorough” will look different depending on your purpose and audience. Some development may appear as bulleted lists of what a product can offer. Other development may include references to and quotes from literary works or extended discussion on why a certain opinion is worth considering.

Engaging Content: your work should keep your reader interested. Think about how you can incorporate creativity or personality or points of interest into whatever it is you’re writing. You might include personal stories, testimonials, sharp insights, or maybe a bit of humor. Of course, keep your audience and purpose in mind.

Mechanical Accuracy: Grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation matter. In fact, strong mechanics support all the other traits on this list! ProWritingAid makes this trait easy to achieve with the Realtime Report .

Screenshot of ProWritingAid's Realtime Report

Before you change your draft, give it a thorough evaluation.

That’s what I had to do with my backyard. Once I had established the purpose for it, it was time to evaluate the extent to which its characteristics were fulfilling that purpose.

Action 3, Evaluate paragraph by paragraph

1. Introduction

  • How do I grab my readers’ attention and make them want to read more?
  • How clearly do I establish the purpose, or direction, for the piece (for an essay, this would be your thesis statement)?
  • How did I organize the introduction? Is it one longer paragraph or several shorter paragraphs?

2. Body Paragraphs

  • What’s the main point of each paragraph?
  • How do I develop that main point?
  • What transitions do I use to get from one idea to the next or one paragraph to the next?

3. Conclusion

  • How do I conclude my piece?
  • What strong final comment do I leave the audience to consider or reflect upon?

4. The Piece Overall

  • What’s my overall tone?
  • How well does the piece hold together?
  • To what extent does it fulfill its purpose?

You’ve collected a lot of data on your work now. You know what’s happening in your writing and I know what’s happening in my backyard:

  • The furniture is shabby. The chairs are functional but have some rust and dirt I can’t remove.
  • I don’t have tables. The large one broke, so we chucked it. There’s no place for guests to put down plates or cups.
  • There’s no sense of order to the space overall.
  • The flowerpots hold pretty flowers, but the pots are faded and unattractive.
  • I’ve got a nice fire pit, but don’t know where to place it.
  • There’s an awkward space between the grass and the fence.
  • I have no umbrella or other shade-creator.

This data will help guide us as we plan revisions.

From my data, I see I need to make some general or big-picture changes. I need to reorganize my furniture plan, replace my old chairs, and add tables. I also need to attend to details, like replacing or upgrading those flowerpots. These changes will contribute to my purpose of inviting conversation and refreshment.

You’ll notice the same trends with your writing. You may need to make some big-picture organizational changes as well as specific changes to word choice or sentence structure, along with anything in between.

Literacy expert and teacher Kelly Gallagher created this easy-to-remember acronym to help writers take action where their work needs big- and small-picture changes:

  • R eplace vague or overused words, clichés , and awkward or unclear sentences
  • A dd more information or examples, description or descriptive words, transitions, and quotes
  • D elete unnecessary sentences or unrelated ideas (even if they sound good!) and unwanted repetition
  • R eorder ideas for a stronger sense of flow and unity

(adapted from Gallagher, Kelly. Write Like This Portland, ME, Stenhouse Publisher, 2011)

Action 4, take your work through Radar

Now that you’ve identified where changes are needed, determine how you will implement changes by re-imagining or “re-visioning” your work.

For example, for my backyard revision, I’ll have to decide what kind of table I’ll need—one big or several small? How many new chairs do I need and how will I organize them? How can I fill the gap between the grass and the fence.

Consider all of your reviews and evaluations so far, and make decisions about your writing.

Action 5, make notes

  • What can I do to make my introduction more engaging and focused?
  • How can I adjust my thesis statement to ensure my reader knows where my discussion is headed?
  • What can I add to each body paragraph to make the main point more convincing or vivid or substantial?
  • Where can I delete and/or replace dull, overused, vague, or just poorly chosen words or ideas?
  • How can I reorder my paragraphs, or the details within my paragraphs, to create a better reading experience for my audience?
  • What can I do to make my conclusion more creative or thought-provoking?

Happy people writing

Once you’ve made your decisions, it’s time to revise your work. Put those decisions into action and rewrite your work. After that, go through the revision process again and maybe again. Take the time to make your work the best it can be!

Once you’re satisfied with the content and structure of your work, give it a good proofread and edit. Examine your work for those pesky little errors and missing punctuation. You can make this part really easy by letting ProWritingAid do the work for you! The reports will find errors and make suggestions for improvement.

Sometimes, we don’t want to revise because we feel as though we are “done” once we’ve fulfilled a word count and added the period to the final sentence of our first draft. In her New York Times article “Revision and Life: Take it from the Top-Again” , Nora Ephron wrote:

“When I was in college, I revised nothing. I wrote out my papers in longhand, typed them up and turned them in. It would never have crossed my mind that what I had produced was only a first draft and that I had more work to do; the idea was to get to the end, and once you had got to the end you were finished…”

She learned that revision is necessary for good writing (and for life!)

Author Roald Dahl said, “Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this,” and Ernest Hemingway revealed he wrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied (see

Thirty-nine times may not be realistic for all of us, but we can certainly manage a few passes through the revision process! The results are definitely worth it.

Writing is a process, and revision is an essential part of that process, not an “extra” part.

As writers, whatever we’re writing, we should work to produce our best: revision is how that happens.

If you want to talk more, come to my backyard—thanks to all the revisions, we can definitely hold a friendly conversation there now.

Garden after revision

Take your writing to the next level:

20 Editing Tips from Professional Writers

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

Whether you are writing a novel, essay, article, or email, good writing is an essential part of communicating your ideas., this guide contains the 20 most important writing tips and techniques from a wide range of professional writers..

good essay needs revision

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Allison Bressmer is a professor of freshman composition and critical reading at a community college and a freelance writer. If she isn’t writing or teaching, you’ll likely find her reading a book or listening to a podcast while happily sipping a semi-sweet iced tea or happy-houring with friends. She lives in New York with her family. Connect at

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Example of a College Essay that Needs Revision

good essay needs revision

When writing an essay for college it’s, always a good strategy to look at examples of other people’s work. Below is a college application essay prompt to which a student provided a sample draft.  He went to a college consultant for revision suggestions which are included.  You may also want to use an English teacher, a guidance counselor, or a knowledgeable adult to help you revise.

A friend or parent will probably not give you the honest feed back you need.

The revision comments at the end.

The Prompt:

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

The Essay Writing Sample:

One significant experience I had was when I camped out in the wilderness with my dad for two weeks last summer. That was a very buggy experience, but more than the left-over scars from branch wounds and brambles are left with me. I think I grew up on that trip.

I had never camped before and now my father thought it would be good for us to bond, away from civilization. We packed and headed out not for a camp ground with tent sites and shower rooms. We headed for the back regions of swamps and raspberry bushes, at least a thousand miles from home and regular communication.

We actually had to walk into the pond where we would set up our home-away-from home. What a trek, it was terrible, and when we finally arrived, I was already set to leave. But, no. We had to unpack our gear, prepare the ground, put up the tent, and then think about food.

That wasn’t going to be a quick trip to the frig for ice cream and soda. We needed a camp fire, a place to put our staples so bears wouldn’t get into them, and the meal itself—trout. That meant we had to get our fishing gear ready and wade out to the depth so cold streams and running leeches! YUCK.

It was a good 45 minutes later, while the sun set and the flies bit, that we got our first bites. I was able to get two trout, and dad finished off with two more. We gutted them and fried them—delicious, I must say. It was then we sat and talked over the plans for the next day.

Those two weeks were difficult. I had to do everything from scratch, even build my own out house. I had to carry water, find berries, get wood for the fire, dry out wet clothes from a night of rain, even mend things that broke, like my fishing pole.

I learned something about myself. I could survive. I didn’t need my cell phone or my TV or my CDs, even my friends and my car to get along. Things might not have been the most luxurious for me out in the back country of nowhere, but I was doing pretty well with a full stomach, good sleep, invigorating exercise, and yep, a book, which dad had insisted I bring along.

I also had dad. He and I had never really talked like we did over those two weeks. It’s amazing how many things had been left unsaid over the years after he divorced my mom. He told me about how much the divorce hurt, how he and mom had met and fell in love, how much he loved me.

I got to ask him what caused the divorce, how he felt about being with me know, how he felt about mom, and his new wife.

He explained it all, and it made some sense. The divorce didn’t happen out of no-where. There had been problems even before I was born. And, they didn’t hate me or each other. They had good and bad feelings and memories, just like I did. I began to see my dad, and my mom, too, through different eyes, and I saw them as people apart from me.

That was a revelation, an adult one, that it wasn’t all about me and that things don’t stay the same or perfect all the time.

When dad and I left the woods, we were still sweating and the deer flies were still biting, but I felt different, I was stronger. And, that strength was something that came not only from knowing how to cook my own food, lug armfuls of wood three or four times a day, and make my own safe and cozy place in the world, no matter where.

It came from an inner sense of seeing things as they are. Life isn’t just out of a magazine with the best appliances and the nicest furniture.

There are other things in life, like dirty floors, and relationships that don’t always work, and meals that have to be made. But, that’s not all bad. (697 words)

The Comments for Revisions:

good essay needs revision

There are so many good things in this essay: a sense of real insight; a voice, that is, this sounds like a real high school student writing with some of his own ways of speaking; good development, a little humor.

Striking problems are a tired, like-everyone-else’s opening that will not catch the reader or let the reader know right away there is an interesting voice in this piece; a weak ending; a bit of rambling or disorder in the whole essay; and spots where there is need for more vivid and specific detail.

There may also be more of a sense of describing what happened than explaining why this trip was significant—a question of the right emphasis. It is also a bit too long. Its’ okay to go over 500 words, but not 200 words over, especially if there are sections that can be left out.


  • Start with the walk into the camp. Put the reader there with you right away with good specific detail and give the reader a sense of who you are. Let the essay “tell” that this is a significant event for you; don’t repeat back the words of the prompt. The first two paragraphs can be condensed into one easily.
  • The next two paragraphs, about being at camp, might be condensed too. Try using the same detail but less of it to capture the time spent at camp and all you did from day one through till the end. You might also want to take the idea of strength and confidence from the last paragraph and fit it in with your description of these things you had to do.
  • The next paragraph works, but you could also take the idea of seeing your dad, and mom, differently, from the last paragraph and fit it in with your description of the new way you got to know your dad . You might also mention, for more detail, how you saw your dad differently not only from your conversations with him but also from seeing him as a teacher or modeling independent and reasonable behavior camping.
  • Now you can repeat your lessons about growing up to bring home the significance of your experience, but keep the idea of the path in and the path out which works well.

To see the actual revision, go to “Revising Your College Application Essay Can make A Real Difference.”

The admission essay is an important step in the college application process just as  preparing to answer basic questions during the college interview is.

Tip! You might want to have an experienced professional look over your essay so they can revise your essay to perfection.

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About the author.

good essay needs revision

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.


Revising an Essay- the do’s, the don’ts, and a Sample


We all know that we should revise our essays before submitting them to ensure the best possible grade, but we will discuss how and why in this article. We will cover what you can do to improve your essay during revision and what not to do so that you don’t accidentally make it worse. Finally, I’ll show you an example of a revised essay using these techniques and provide feedback on its strengths and weaknesses.

However, in case you wish to skip this guide due to reasons such as a busy schedule, our top writers are ready to cover you by ensuring that your informative essay is written to the highest standards. All you need to do is place an order with us!

The Do’s of Revising an Essay

  • Be concise: cut out anything that doesn’t serve a purpose in helping you make your point; this is one of those rare times when writing less can be better! If you have good examples to back up any claims you’re making, use only those; if you don’t, delete any unnecessary examples/claims.
  • Proofread: it’s a good idea to read the whole essay aloud after finishing editing. Reading your work aloud will help catch mistakes like spelling errors or grammar issues that might be difficult for eyes alone to spot. Be sure also to have someone else read the essay to see anything you might not have noticed.
  • Be realistic: don’t get too caught up in the idea of perfection, or you’ll never be able to finish your revisions. It’s much better to have a draft that is close enough and good enough than one that has potential but will take forever to edit until it’s perfect.
  • Focus on improving clarity: don’t be afraid of being repetitive; it might feel like you are adding unnecessary words, but it will help fix any misunderstandings about your point in reality.
  • Spend time improving your sentence structure and organization to clear what you are trying to say in each paragraph .

The Don’ts of Revising an Essay

  • Don’t be afraid to delete sentences that don’t add new information: it’s better to have a shorter and clearer essay than one with lots of unnecessary words.
  • Don’t change your tone: if you are writing formally, don’t try to make it sound more casual.
  • Don’t get too caught up in the idea of perfection, or you’ll never be able to finish your revisions. It’s much better to have a draft that is good enough and close enough that one with potential but will take forever to edit until it’s perfect.
  • Don’t be afraid of being repetitive: sometimes, the words you use over and over again can help fix any misunderstandings about your point; don’t feel like every sentence has to have variations for your essay to sound more interesting.
  • Don’t change your introduction or conclusion: if you are writing an introduction, don’t start with your thesis statement. If you have a concluding paragraph , don’t end the essay without summarizing what you’ve just written (in other words – include your thesis at the beginning and in the ending sentence).
  • Don’t forget to proofread! It’s essential to read everything aloud once you’re done editing to catch any mistakes that might be difficult for eyes alone to spot. Be sure to have someone else read your essay as well; proofreading is one of the most critical parts of revising a piece, so don’t forget!
  • Don’t write in bullet points: this often happens when a person knows they need to cut out information and adds bullet points to make it seem like they’re keeping all the information in.
  • Don’t write numbers: this often happens when a person knows that their point is weak or has little evidence. Hence, they try to add some statistics or scientific arguments to back up what they are saying but end up sounding ridiculous because of how these types of information are typically presented.
  • Don’t plagiarize

Steps for Revising Your Paper:

While revising your paper, remember to go through all these steps for an effective revision:

1.     Find your main point.

The first step in the revision process is to find your main point. The keyword here, of course, is “your,” as you must identify what your thesis or claim about a topic should be – not someone else’s. If you are unsure about where this should go, try going back into your essay and reading the first sentence of each paragraph. This will give you an idea about where your essay begins and what it talks about throughout the course of its body paragraphs.

Another place to find your main point is in the outline . If you are using an outline system for your essay, there should be a sentence or two that explains each paragraph’s main point. This is also an excellent place to look if you’re not sure about where your thesis statement belongs to other sections within the body of your paper.

Getting back on track with finding and stating your main point is a critical piece of the revision process because it helps you focus on what’s most relevant to your paper.

2.     Evaluate your evidence.

The next step after finding your main point(s) is to evaluate the evidence supporting the points. This step is vital because it will help you see the strengths and weaknesses of your paper. You may want to determine how persuasive each paragraph is based on its evidence or decide if a particular point needs more support to strengthen that argument.

Once again, this process begins with reading your essay from top-to-bottom. This way, you can see how the evidence and arguments fit together as a whole. You may also want to go through your paper in sections, focusing on one paragraph or sentence at a time.

This process is challenging because it forces you to scrutinize every word you’ve written. Still, it’s necessary to be as solid and convincing as possible if you want all of the points in your paper to be as factual and compelling as possible.

3.     Save only the good pieces.

In this step of revising your essay, you will save only the good pieces. This doesn’t mean that you should delete anything that you’ve written, but it does mean that you should be selective as you are revising your paper and choose what stays based on how well those sentences support your point or arguments.

It’s also important not to feel discouraged as you’re going through this process- no one’s first draft is perfect, and those are the pieces that need to be saved.

4.     Eliminate mistakes in grammar and usage.

The last step in the revision process is to find any mistakes that you may have made in grammar or usage and eliminate them. This will help make sure that everything flows smoothly throughout your paper, as well as make it more professional-looking.

You might also want to check ACT writing prompts

What happens if I no longer agree with my point?

If you find that your original point doesn’t seem as strong or convincing to you, it may be time for a new one. Try thinking about what the opposing viewpoint would say to refute your argument better.

If you no longer agree with your point, find the most relevant one to your paper and make sure that everything about it is as strong as possible:

  • Evaluate evidence .
  • Eliminate mistakes in grammar and usage.
  • Consider what the opposing viewpoint might say on this topic to develop a stronger statement for your essay.

What if I Revise the Work as I Go?

The revision process can be a long one, so it may happen that you’ll need to revise the work as you go. This means that if something doesn’t seem right or is missing somewhere in your paper- fix it!

It’s important not to get discouraged when this happens: there are no perfect first drafts, and mistakes will always creep up. It’s okay to make mistakes and fix them. That is what revision is all about!

How can I Make Sure my Essay is as Solid and Convincing as Possible?

First, read your entire paper top-to to bottom. This will help you see how the evidence and arguments fit together so that all points are equally persuasive or supported by evidence. You may also want to go through your draft in sections, looking at one moment at a time.

Save only the best pieces of your work, be selective when revising it, and choose what stays based on how well they support your argument or point. It’s also important not to feel discouraged as you’re going through this process- no one’s first draft is perfect! Those are the pieces that need to be saved.

Eliminate mistakes in grammar and usage to make sure that your paper flows smoothly and make it more professional-looking. If you find yourself questioning whether or not the point of view is still accurate or convincing for you, consider what an opposing viewpoint would say on this topic to develop a stronger statement.

If you find a mistake or something that needs to be fixed in your paper, fix it! Make sure the work flows smoothly and is as professional-looking as possible. Remember: there are no perfect first drafts- mistakes will always creep up. It’s okay to make mistakes and fix them; this is what revision is all about.

You might also want to check the analysis of a modest proposal

What are the Benefits of Good Revision Strategies?

The revision process is vital because it evaluates whether or not the point of view is still accurate and convincing.

The revision also evaluates evidence, eliminates grammar and usage mistakes, and considers what the opposing viewpoint might say about the topic.

Also, great revision strategies can improve the flow of your paper, make it more professional-looking and easier to read, as well as keep you from getting discouraged during the process!

It’s important not to give up when things don’t seem right- that is what revision is for!

Best Practices to Revise at Sentence Level

When reading your paper top to bottom, make sure that everything you have said is as accurate and persuasive as possible.

It’s important to read through the piece in sections so that one point can be evaluated at a time for its strength or accuracy. You may also want to go over each sentence of content on its own: if it doesn’t fit in line with the paper, eliminate it!

Look for mistakes in grammar and usage: this will help make your sentences easier to read.

Best Practices for Sentence Level Revision:

  • Read through the piece top to bottom in sections, evaluating one point at a time for strength and accuracy.
  • Look out for mistakes in grammar usage.
  • Eliminate sentences that don’t fit well into the flow or context of your paper and save only those that make a lot of sense and are persuasive in their argument.
  • Also, you can look for sentences that don’t work and get rid of them.
  • Rewrite certain sections with more detail or focus on improving the paper.
  • Don’t give up if things seem hard: revision is what you need to make your work stronger or evaluate a point of view!

What if You Don’t Want to Rewrite the Entire paper?

This is a perfect option! Instead, you can look for sentences that don’t fit and eliminate them. You may also want to rewrite or rework certain sections of the paper to make it stronger- this process is called “refining.”

You might be tempted not to revise your essay if it seems like an impossible task: but remember that this is what revision is for! It’s okay to have a hard time with it- you’re not alone. The revision points are to make your paper stronger, evaluate the point you’re trying to make, and not give up when things get complicated.

You might also want to check comprehensive essay topics

Sample Essay

Contribution of technology in education -raw essay.

Technology is an integral part of our everyday lives. It has become a central component in the development and education of many people- from toddlers to college student, children to adult, and even among those who are illiterate or do not speak English as their first language. The use of technology for instruction allows educators to reach across cultural divides while providing tailored education to individual students based on their needs. Technology can be used in a classroom as an instructional tool- and it’s also incorporated into the design of teaching methods.

The use of technology in education can be traced back to the 1960s, when educators first began using television for instruction. During this period, the invention and popularization of VCRs allowed teachers to show videos on-demand while also making it possible for students to watch films in home that were previously unavailable or censored by social norms. This trend has continued with new innovations in technology. For example, electronic whiteboards have been used to teach kindergarten students basic arithmetic and algebra concepts while also enabling them to solve a screen problem.

Momentum has increased since the 1970’s- when computers were first introduced into classrooms- and it continues today as advancements continue to be made, which bring new opportunities to use technology for instruction. For example, online courses allow educators and students across the world to interact with one another without geographic constraints- making it possible for those who are otherwise unable to attend school because of their social or economic situation to access quality education.

Technology is often used as an instructional tool in classrooms today: many schools have laptops available for students to use during their lessons. This allows teachers to present information and demonstrate skills in new ways- such as interactive videos, simulations, or virtual labs. It also increases the amount of content they can teach due to availability on various online sources, which then provides more opportunities for personalized learning: some students might need assistance with math while others need help with reading comprehension.

The use of technology to teach a language also helps students gain skills and confidence in speaking it- which, in turn, leads them to continue studying on their own time as they are exposed to new vocabulary words through the course materials. In addition, technology can be used for assessment purposes: educators can create quizzes or tests that are proctored on the computer and then evaluate how their students have understood a lesson.

The use of technology in education has many benefits- from giving teachers more ways to reach each student with tailored instruction while also providing new opportunities for those who otherwise might not be able to take traditional courses because they can’t travel far enough to get to school.

It also allows for more assessment opportunities to be created, giving educators a better idea of how their students understand the material.

Role of Technology in Future Learning -Revised Essay

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the way we learn and share information. Its use has helped educators personalize learning to meet individual student needs and give them new opportunities for assessment that didn’t exist before. The increased utilization of technology in education will continue helping more students receive quality instruction at all levels from pre-school to post-graduate.

Education will continue to rely on technology in the future: it is used in classrooms as an instructional tool and incorporated into teaching methods. Technology can be found in most schools today, with laptops being available for students’ use during their lessons so that teachers can present information and demonstrate skills in new ways. The use of technology to teach a language has also helped students gain skills and confidence in speaking it, motivating them to continue studying independently as they are exposed to new vocabulary words through the course materials.

In future learning, technology will assess educators to understand better how their students understand the material. These assessments will create a data-based approach to teaching, which is better than the current intuition-based system. Thus, the future is bright, courtesy of technological advancement.

In conclusion, technology plays an important role in education. It is used as an instructional tool and incorporated into the design of teaching methods in today’s classrooms, which helps students learn more efficiently. In most schools, laptops are available for student use during their lessons so teachers can present information and demonstrate skills in new ways. The increased utilization of technology will continue helping more students to receive quality instruction.

Weaknesses of the first essay- Contribution of technology in education

The first essay, at first glance, might seem ready for submission, but on a closer inspection, you will notice that it has:

  • Instances of grammatical errors.
  • It does not have a specific point that can be themed throughout the essay.
  • Long sentences that might be hard to follow and understand despite having a full thought or idea.
  • Unnecessary information that makes the essay long and tiresome to read.
  • There are very short paragraphs, some with one sentence; a basic paragraph should have at least 3 sentences and 5-6 sentences on average.
  • No clear topic sentences, concluding statements, and conclusion.

Strengths of the revised essay – Role of technology in future learning .

The second essay, titled “Role of technology in future learning,” is a revised version of the first essay titled “Contribution of technology in education.”

The writer improved on the following parts of the essay to make it look, read and feel better.

  • The writer focused on the main point, which is- the role of technology in future learning. The title also had to be revised to help shape the main point. It is not necessary to change the title in your essay since it’s easy to miss your intended point entirely.
  • The second essay is concise and straight to the point.
  • The second essay has been corrected and is free from grammatical errors, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Revising an essay is an essential part of quality writing. You should ensure to edit your essay to achieve quality papers.

Before revising an essay, make sure you understand the dos and don’ts. This will ensure you don’t make the same mistake you made while writing the essay. In this way, you will be able to save on your time.

Finally, revising an essay is always a challenging task. However, you should know that you should be prepared for the task because you want quality paper.


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41 Reflective Writing and the Revision Process: What Were You Thinking?

Sandra L. Giles

In her article from Writing Spaces; Readings on Writing, Volume 1 , Sandra Giles explains to students that reflective writing involves their thinking about their own thinking. They may be asked to reflect about their audience and purpose for a piece of writing. They may write about their invention, drafting, revision, and editing processes. They may self-assess or evaluate their writing, learning, and development as writers. These activities help cement learning. They also help writers gain more insight into and control over composing and revising processes by helping them gain critical distance and by providing a mechanism for them to do the re-thinking and re-seeing that effective revision requires. The article gives examples of student reflective writing, explains how they function in a student’s learning, and gives scholarly support for why these kinds of activities are effective.

This reading is available below or as a PDF .

“Reflection” and “reflective writing” are umbrella terms that refer to any activity that asks you to think about your own thinking. [1] As composition scholars Kathleen Blake Yancey and Jane Bowman Smith explain, reflection records a “student’s process of thinking about what she or he is doing while in the process of that doing” (170). In a writing class, you may be asked to think about your writing processes in general or in relation to a particular essay, to think about your intentions regarding rhetorical elements such as audience and purpose, or to think about your choices regarding development strategies such as comparison-contrast, exemplification, or definition. You may be asked to describe your decisions regarding language features such as word choice, sentence rhythm, and so on. You may be asked to evaluate or assess your piece of writing or your development as a writer in general. Your instructor may also ask you to perform these kinds of activities at various points in your process of working on a project, or at the end of the semester.

A Writer’s Experience

The first time I had to perform reflective writing myself was in the summer of 2002. And it did feel like a performance, at first. I was a doctoral student in Wendy Bishop’s Life Writing class at Florida State University, and it was the first class I had ever taken where we English majors actually practiced what we preached; which is to say, we actually put ourselves through the various elements of process writing. Bishop led us through invention exercises, revision exercises, language activities, and yes, reflective writings. For each essay, we had to write what she called a “process note” in which we explained our processes of working on the essay, as well as our thought processes in developing the ideas. We also discussed what we might want to do with (or to) the essay in the future, beyond the class. At the end of the semester, we composed a self-evaluative cover letter for our portfolio in which we discussed each of our essays from the semester and recorded our learning and insights about writing and about the genre of nonfiction.

My first process note for the class was a misguided attempt at goodstudent-gives-the-teacher-what-she-wants. Our assignment had been to attend an event in town and write about it. I had seen an email announcement about a medium visiting from England who would perform a “reading” at the Unity Church in town. So I went and took notes. And wrote two consecutive drafts. After peer workshop, a third. And then I had to write the process note, the likes of which I had never done before. It felt awkward, senseless. Worse than writing a scholarship application or some other mundane writing task. Like a waste of time, and like it wasn’t real writing at all. But it was required.

So, hoop-jumper that I was, I wrote the following: “This will eventually be part of a longer piece that will explore the Foundation for Spiritual Knowledge in Tallahassee, Florida, which is a group of local people in training to be mediums and spirituals healers. These two goals are intertwined.” Yeah, right. Nice and fancy. Did I really intend to write a book-length study on those folks? I thought my professor would like the idea, though, so I put it in my note. Plus, my peer reviewers had asked for a longer, deeper piece. That statement would show I was being responsive to their feedback, even though I didn’t agree with it. The peer reviewers had also wanted me to put myself into the essay more, to do more with first-person point of view rather than just writing a reporter-style observation piece. I still disagree with them, but what I should have done in the original process note was go into why: my own search for spirituality and belief could not be handled in a brief essay. I wanted the piece to be about the medium herself, and mediumship in general, and the public’s reaction, and why a group of snarky teenagers thought they could be disruptive the whole time and come off as superior. I did a better job later—more honest and thoughtful and revealing about my intentions for the piece—in the self-evaluation for the portfolio. That’s because, as the semester progressed and I continued to have to write those darned process notes, I dropped the attitude. In a conference about my writing, Bishop responded to my note by asking questions focused entirely on helping me refine my intentions for the piece, and I realized my task wasn’t to please or try to dazzle her. I stopped worrying about how awkward the reflection was, stopped worrying about how to please the teacher, and started actually reflecting and thinking. New habits and ways of thinking formed. And unexpectedly, all the hard decisions about revising for the next draft began to come more easily.

And something else clicked, too. Two and a half years previously, I had been teaching composition at a small two-year college. Composition scholar Peggy O’Neill taught a workshop for us English teachers on an assignment she called the “Letter to the Reader.” That was my introduction to reflective writing as a teacher, though I hadn’t done any of it myself at that point. I thought, “Okay, the composition scholars say we should get our students to do this.” So I did, but it did not work very well with my students at the time. Here’s why: I didn’t come to understand what it could do for a writer, or how it would do it, until I had been through it myself.

After Bishop’s class, I became a convert. I began studying reflection, officially called metacognition, and began developing ways of using it in writing classes of all kinds, from composition to creative nonfiction to fiction writing. It works. Reflection helps you to develop your intentions (purpose), figure out your relation to your audience, uncover possible problems with your individual writing processes, set goals for revision, make decisions about language and style, and the list goes on. In a nutshell, it helps you develop more insight into and control over composing and revising processes. And according to scholars such as Chris M. Anson, developing this control is a feature that distinguishes stronger from weaker writers and active from passive learners (69–73).

My Letter to the Reader Assignment

Over recent years, I’ve developed my own version of the Letter to the Reader, based on O’Neill’s workshop and Bishop’s class assignments. For each essay, during a revising workshop, my students first draft their letters to the reader and then later, polish them to be turned in with the final draft. Letters are composed based on the following instructions:

This will be a sort of cover letter for your essay. It should be on a separate sheet of paper, typed, stapled to the top of the final draft. Date the letter and address it to “Dear Reader.” Then do the following in nicely developed, fat paragraphs: Tell the reader what you intend for the essay to do for its readers. Describe its purpose(s) and the effect(s) you want it to have on the readers. Say who you think the readers are. Describe your process of working on the essay. How did you narrow the assigned topic? What kind of planning did you do? What steps did you go through, what changes did you make along the way, what decisions did you face, and how did you make the decisions? How did comments from your peers, in peer workshop, help you? How did any class activities on style, editing, etc., help you? Remember to sign the letter. After you’ve drafted it, think about whether your letter and essay match up. Does the essay really do what your letter promises? If not, then use the draft of your letter as a revising tool to make a few more adjustments to your essay. Then, when the essay is polished and ready to hand in, polish the letter as well and hand them in together.

Following is a sample letter that shows how the act of answering these prompts can help you uncover issues in your essays that need to be addressed in further revision. This letter is a mock-up based on problems I’ve seen over the years. We discuss it thoroughly in my writing classes:

Dear Reader, This essay is about how I feel about the changes in the financial aid rules. I talk about how they say you’re not eligible even if your parents aren’t supporting you anymore. I also talk a little bit about the HOPE scholarship. But my real purpose is to show how the high cost of books makes it impossible to afford college if you can’t get on financial aid. My readers will be all college students. As a result, it should make students want to make a change. My main strategy in this essay is to describe how the rules have affected me personally. I chose this topic because this whole situation has really bugged me. I did freewriting to get my feelings out on paper, but I don’t think that was effective because it seemed jumbled and didn’t flow. So I started over with an outline and went on from there. I’m still not sure how to start the introduction off because I want to hook the reader’s interest but I don’t know how to do that. I try to include many different arguments to appeal to different types of students to make the whole argument seem worthwhile on many levels. I did not include comments from students because I want everyone to think for themselves and form their own opinion. That’s my main strategy. I don’t want the paper to be too long and bore the reader. I was told in peer workshop to include information from other students at other colleges with these same financial aid problems. But I didn’t do that because I don’t know anybody at another school. I didn’t want to include any false information. Thanks, (signature)

Notice how the letter shows us, as readers of the letter, some problems in the essay without actually having to read the essay. From this (imaginary) student’s point of view, the act of drafting this letter should show her the problems, too. In her first sentence, she announces her overall topic. Next she identifies a particular problem: the way “they” define whether an applicant is dependent on or independent of parents. So far, pretty good, except her use of the vague pronoun “they” makes me hope she hasn’t been that vague in the essay itself. Part of taking on a topic is learning enough about it to be specific. Specific is effective; vague is not. Her next comment about the HOPE scholarship makes me wonder if she’s narrowed her topic enough. When she said “financial aid,” I assumed federal, but HOPE is particular to the state of Georgia and has its own set of very particular rules, set by its own committee in Atlanta. Can she effectively cover both federal financial aid, such as the Pell Grant for example, as well as HOPE, in the same essay, when the rules governing them are different? Maybe. We’ll see. I wish the letter would address more specifically how she sorts that out in the essay. Then she says that her “real purpose” is to talk about the cost of books. Is that really her main purpose? Either she doesn’t have a good handle on what she wants her essay to do or she’s just throwing language around to sound good in the letter. Not good, either way.

When she says she wants the readers to be all college students, she has identified her target audience, which is good. Then this: “As a result, it should make students want to make a change.” Now, doesn’t that sound more in line with a statement of purpose? Here the writer makes clear, for the first time, that she wants to write a persuasive piece on the topic. But then she says that her “main strategy” is to discuss only her own personal experience. That’s not a strong enough strategy, by itself, to be persuasive.

In the second section, where she discusses process, she seems to have gotten discouraged when she thought that freewriting hadn’t worked because it resulted in something “jumbled.” But she missed the point that freewriting works to generate ideas, which often won’t come out nicely organized. It’s completely fine, and normal, to use freewriting to generate ideas and then organize them with perhaps an outline as a second step. As a teacher, when I read comments like this in a letter, I write a note to the student explaining that “jumbled” is normal, perfectly fine, and nothing to worry about. I’m glad when I read that sort of comment so I can reassure the student. If not for the letter, I probably wouldn’t have known of her unfounded concern. It creates a teaching moment.

Our imaginary student then says, “I’m still not sure how to start the introduction off because I want to hook the reader’s interest but don’t know how to do that.” This statement shows that she’s thinking along the right lines—of capturing the reader’s interest. But she hasn’t quite figured out how to do that in this essay, probably because she doesn’t have a clear handle on her purpose. I’d advise her to address that problem and to better develop her overall strategy, and then she would be in a better position to make a plan for the introduction. Again, a teaching moment. When she concludes the second paragraph of the letter saying that she wants to include “many different arguments” for “different types of students,” it seems even more evident that she’s not clear on purpose or strategy; therefore, she’s just written a vague sentence she probably thought sounded good for the letter.

She begins her third paragraph with further proof of the problems. If her piece is to be persuasive, then she should not want readers to “think for themselves and form their own opinion.” She most certainly should have included comments from other students, as her peer responders advised. It wouldn’t be difficult to interview some fellow students at her own school. And as for finding out what students at other schools think about the issue, a quick search on the Internet would turn up newspaper or newsletter articles, as well as blogs and other relevant sources. Just because the official assignment may not have been to write a “research” paper doesn’t mean you can’t research. Some of your best material will come that way. And in this particular type of paper, your personal experience by itself, without support, will not likely persuade the reader. Now, I do appreciate when she says she doesn’t want to include any “false information.” A lot of students come to college with the idea that in English class, if you don’t know any information to use, then you can just make it up so it sounds good. But that’s not ethical, and it’s not persuasive, and just a few minutes on the Internet will solve the problem.

This student, having drafted the above letter, should go back and analyze. Do the essay and letter match up? Does the essay do what the letter promises? And here, does the letter uncover lack of clear thinking about purpose and strategy? Yes, it does, so she should now go back and address these issues in her essay. Without having done this type of reflective exercise, she likely would have thought her essay was just fine, and she would have been unpleasantly surprised to get the grade back with my (the teacher’s) extensive commentary and critique. She never would have predicted what I would say because she wouldn’t have had a process for thinking through these issues—and might not have known how to begin thinking this way. Drafting the letter should help her develop more insight into and control over the revising process so she can make more effective decisions as she revises.

How It Works

Intentions—a sense of audience and purpose and of what the writer wants the essay to do—are essential to a good piece of communicative writing. Anson makes the point that when an instructor asks a student to verbalize his or her intentions, it is much more likely that the student will have intentions (qtd. in Yancey and Smith 174). We saw this process in mid-struggle with our imaginary student’s work (above), and we’ll see it handled more effectively in real student examples (below). As many composition scholars explain, reflective and self-assessing activities help writers set goals for their writing. For instance, Rebecca Moore Howard states that “writers who can assess their own prose can successfully revise that prose” (36). This position is further illustrated by Xiaoguang Cheng and Margaret S. Steffenson, who conducted and then reported a study clearly demonstrating a direct positive effect of reflection on student revising processes in “Metadiscourse: A Technique for Improving Student Writing.” Yancey and Smith argue that self-assessment and reflection are essential to the learning process because they are a “method for assigning both responsibility and authority to a learner” (170). Students then become independent learners who can take what they learn about writing into the future beyond a particular class rather than remaining dependent on teachers or peer evaluators (171). Anson echoes this idea, saying that reflection helps a writer grow beyond simply succeeding in a particular writing project: “Once they begin thinking about writing productively, they stand a much better chance of developing expertise and working more successfully in future writing situations” (73).

Examples From Real Students

Let’s see some examples from actual students now, although for the sake of space we’ll look at excerpts. The first few illustrate how reflective writing helps you develop your intentions. For an assignment to write a profile essay, Joshua Dawson described his purpose and audience: “This essay is about my grandmother and how she overcame the hardships of life. [. . .] The purpose of this essay is to show how a woman can be tough and can take anything life throws at her. I hope the essay reaches students who have a single parent and those who don’t know what a single parent goes through.” Joshua showed a clear idea of what he wanted his essay to do. For a cultural differences paper, Haley Moore wrote about her mission trip to Peru: “I tried to show how, in America, we have everything from clean water to freedom of religion and other parts of the world do not. Also, I would like for my essay to inspire people to give donations or help in any way they can for the countries that live in poverty.” Haley’s final draft actually did not address the issue of donations and focused instead on the importance of mission work, a good revision decision that kept the essay more focused.

In a Composition II class, Chelsie Mathis wrote an argumentative essay on a set of controversial photos published in newspapers in the 1970s which showed a woman falling to her death during a fire escape collapse. Chelsie said,

The main purpose of this essay is to argue whether the [newspaper] editors used correct judgment when deciding to publish such photos. The effect that I want my paper to have on the readers is to really make people think about others’ feelings and to make people realize that poor judgment can have a big effect. [ . . . ] I intend for my readers to possibly be high school students going into the field of journalism or photojournalism.

Chelsie demonstrated clear thinking about purpose and about who she wanted her essay to influence. Another Comp II student, Daniel White, wrote, “This essay is a cognitive approach of how I feel YouTube is helping our society achieve its dreams and desires of becoming stars.” I had no idea what he meant by “cognitive approach,” but I knew he was taking a psychology class at the same time. I appreciated that he was trying to integrate his learning from that class into ours, trying to learn to use that vocabulary. I was sure that with more practice, he would get the hang of it. I didn’t know whether he was getting much writing practice at all in psychology, so I was happy to let him practice it in my class. His reflection showed learning in process.

My students often resist writing about their composing processes, but it’s good for them to see and analyze how they did what they did, and it also helps me know what they were thinking when they made composing decisions. Josh Autry, in regards to his essay on scuba diving in the Florida Keys at the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, said, “Mapping was my preferred method of outlining. It helped me organize my thoughts, go into detail, and pick the topics that I thought would be the most interesting to the readers.” He also noted, “I choose [sic] to write a paragraph about everything that can happen to a diver that is not prepared but after reviewing it I was afraid that it would scare an interested diver away. I chose to take that paragraph out and put a few warnings in the conclusion so the aspiring diver would not be clueless.” This was a good decision that did improve the final draft. His earlier draft had gotten derailed by a long discussion of the dangers of scuba diving in general. But he came to this realization and decided to correct it without my help—except that I had led the class through reflective revising activities. D’Amber Walker wrote, “At first my organization was off because I didn’t know if I should start off with a personal experience which included telling a story or start with a statistic.” Apparently, a former teacher had told her not to include personal experiences in her essays. I reminded her that in our workshop on introductions, we had discussed how a personal story can be a very effective hook to grab the reader’s attention. So once again, a teaching moment. When Jonathan Kelly said, “I probably could have given more depth to this paper by interviewing a peer or something but I really felt unsure of how to go about doing so,” I was able to scold him gently. If he really didn’t know how to ask fellow students their opinions, all he had to do was ask me. But his statement shows an accurate assessment of how the paper could have been better. When Nigel Ellington titled his essay “If Everything Was Easy, Nothing Would Be Worth Anything,” he explained, “I like this [title] because it’s catchy and doesn’t give too much away and it hooks you.” He integrated what he learned in a workshop on titles. Doing this one little bit of reflective thinking cemented that learning and gave him a chance to use it in his actual paper.

How It Helps Me (the Instructor) Help You

Writing teachers often play two roles in relation to their students. I am my students’ instructor, but I am also a fellow writer. As a writer, I have learned that revision can be overwhelming. It’s tempting just to fiddle with words and commas if I don’t know what else to do. Reflection is a mechanism, a set of procedures, to help me step back from a draft to gain enough distance to ask myself, “Is this really what I want the essay (or story or poem or article) to do? Is this really what I want it to say? Is this the best way to get it to say that?” To revise is to re-vision or re-see, to re-think these issues, but you have to create a critical distance to be able to imagine your piece done another way. Reflection helps you create that distance. It also helps your instructor better guide your work and respond to it.

The semester after my experience in Bishop’s Life Writing Class, I took a Fiction Writing Workshop taught by Mark Winegardner, author of The Godfather Returns and The Godfather’s Revenge , as well as numerous other novels and short stories. Winegardner had us create what he called the “process memo.” As he indicated in an interview, he uses the memo mainly as a tool to help the workshop instructor know how to respond to the writer’s story. If a writer indicates in the memo that he knows something is still a problem with the story, then the instructor can curtail lengthy discussion of that issue’s existence during the workshop and instead prompt peers to provide suggestions. The instructor can give some pointed advice, or possibly reassurance, based on the writer’s concerns that, without being psychic, the instructor would not otherwise have known about. Composition scholar Jeffrey Sommers notes that reflective pieces show teachers what your intentions for your writing actually are, which lets us respond to your writing accurately, rather than responding to what we think your intentions might be (“Enlisting” 101–2). He also points out that we can know how to reduce your anxiety about your writing appropriately (“Behind” 77). Thus, without a reflective memo, your teacher might pass right over the very issue you have been worried about.

The Habit of Self-Reflective Writing

One of the most important functions of reflective writing in the long run is to establish in you, the writer, a habit of self-reflective thinking. The first few reflective pieces you write may feel awkward and silly and possibly painful. You might play the teacher-pleasing game. But that’s really not what we want (see Smith 129). Teachers don’t want you to say certain things, we want you to think in certain ways. Once you get the hang of it and start to see the benefits in your writing, you’ll notice that you’ve formed a habit of thinking reflectively almost invisibly. And not only will it help you in writing classes, but in any future writing projects for biology class, say, or even further in the future, in writing that you may do on the job, such as incident reports or annual reports for a business. You’ll become a better writer. You’ll become a better thinker. You’ll become a better learner. And learning is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. I recently painted my kitchen. It was a painful experience. I had a four-day weekend and thought I could clean, prep, and paint the kitchen, breakfast nook, and hallway to the garage in just four days, not to mention painting the trim and doors white. I pushed myself to the limit of endurance. And when I finished the wall color (not even touching the trim), I didn’t like it. The experience was devastating. A very similar thing had happened three years before when I painted my home office a color I now call “baby poop.” My home office is still “baby poop” because I got so frustrated I just gave up. Now, the kitchen was even worse. It was such a light green it looked like liver failure and didn’t go with the tile on the floor. Plus, it showed brush marks and other flaws. What the heck?

But unlike three years ago, when I had given up, I decided to apply reflective practices to the situation. I decided to see it as time for revision-type thinking. Why had I wanted green to begin with? (Because I didn’t want blue in a kitchen. I’ve really been craving that hot dark lime color that’s popular now. So yes, I still want it to be green.) Why hadn’t I chosen a darker green? (Because I have the darker, hotter color into the room with accessories. The lighter green has a more neutral effect that I shouldn’t get sick of after six months. Perhaps I’ll get used to it, especially when I get around to painting the trim white.) What caused the brush strokes? (I asked an expert. Two factors: using satin finish rather than eggshell, and using a cheap paintbrush for cut-in-areas.) How can they be fixed? (Most of the brush strokes are just in the cut-in areas and so they can be redone quickly with a better quality brush. That is, if I decide to keep this light green color.) Is the fact that the trim is still cream-colored rather than white part of the problem? (Oh, yes. Fix that first and the other problems might diminish.) What can I learn about timing for my next paint project? (That the cleaning and prep work take much longer than you think, and that you will need two coats, plus drying time. And so what if you didn’t finish it in four days? Relax! Allow more time next time.) Am I really worried about what my mother will say? (No, because I’m the one who has to look at it every day.) So the solution? Step one is to paint the trim first and then re-evaluate. Using a method of reflection to think back over my “draft” gives me a method for proceeding with “revision.” At the risk of sounding like a pop song, when you stop to think it through, you’ll know what to do.

Revision isn’t just in writing. These methods can be applied any time you are working on a project—of any kind—or have to make decisions about something. Establishing the habit of reflective thinking will have far-reaching benefits in your education, your career, and your life. It’s an essential key to success for the life-long learner.

  • Define what metacognitive or reflective writing is. What are some of the prompts or “topics” for reflective writing?
  • Have you ever been asked to do this type of writing? If so, briefly discuss your experience.
  • Why does reflective writing help a student learn and develop as a better writer? How does it work?
  • Draft a Letter to the Reader for an essay you are working on right now. Analyze the letter to see what strengths or problems it uncovers regarding your essay.

Works Cited

Anson, Chris M. “Talking About Writing: A Classroom-Based Study of Students’ Reflections on Their Drafts.” Smith and Yancey 59–74.

Bishop, Wendy. “Life Writing.” English Department. Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL. Summer 2002. Lecture.

Cheng, Xiaoguang, and Margaret S. Steffenson. “Metadiscourse: A Technique for Improving Student Writing.” Research in the Teaching of English 30.2 (1996): 149–81. Print.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Applications and Assumptions of Student SelfAssessment.” Smith and Yancey 35–58.

O’Neill, Peggy. “Reflection and Portfolio Workshop.” Humanities Division. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, GA. 25 January 2000. Lecture, workshop.

Smith, Jane Bowman. “‘Know Your Knowledge’: Journals and Self-Assessment.”

Smith and Yancey 125–38. Smith, Jane Bowman, and Kathleen Blake Yancey, eds. Self-Assessment and Development in Writing: A Collaborative Inquiry . Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2000. Print.

Sommers, Jeffrey. “Behind the Paper: Using the Student-Teacher Memo.” College Composition and Communication 39.1 (1988): 77–80. Print.

—. “Enlisting the Writer’s Participation in The Evaluation Process.” Journal of Teaching Writing 4.1 (1985): 95–103. Print.

Winegardner, Mark. Personal interview. 3 February 2003.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, and Jane Bowman Smith. “Reflections on Self-Assessment.” Smith and Yancey 169–76.

reflective writing , reflection , self-assessment , evaluation , metacognition

Sandra Giles has been teaching college-level English since 1991 and has been at ABAC since 1997. She’s a native of Tifton, having learned to drive in the rodeo parking lot, and graduated ABAC herself in 1987. She holds a PhD in English from Florida State University, specializing in Creative Writing and Rhetoric-Composition. Other than reading and writing, hobbies and interests include dance, tai chi, singing, herb gardening, and letting her three cats in and out from the porch.

  • This work is licensed under the Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License and is subject to the Writing Spaces Terms of Use. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. To view the Writing Spaces Terms of Use, visit ↵

a genre of writing that captures the process of thinking carefully or deeply about a particular subject

the action or process of thinking carefully or deeply about a particular subject, typically involving influence from one's past life and experiences; contemplation, deep or serious thought or consideration; the process or faculty by which the mind observes and examines its own experiences and emotions; intelligent self-awareness, introspection, metacognition

an evaluation of one's own work, process, or performance

assessment of a subject according to a set of criteria

awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes

Reflective Writing and the Revision Process: What Were You Thinking? Copyright © by Sandra L. Giles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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