Scott Lasley, Consultant
In terms of writing stages, many of my clients visit the writing center with concerns involving the revision process, particularly after less than stellar peer-revision sessions and being stuck in the “I don’t know where to go with this” stage of writing. In reflecting on these particular clients, it seems especially important to breakdown this behemoth of “revision.” What does it mean to revise? How to we go about it when approaching a deadline? Why should students even bother? Some may be simply focused on getting a grade and being done with the assignment, so what can we, as writing consultants, do? My hope is that by answering these questions with what has worked for some of my clients, this breakdown of revision will offer some new strategies for all writers, young and old.
How to Approach It?
One of the biggest issues students seem to face with utilizing revision is knowing where to start. Sometimes a professor may provide students with a marked-up copy of their rough draft as a means of revising before turning the paper, but that may not always be possible. The best thing you can do is to breakdown revision into manageable pieces. A good question to ask yourself is what areas need to be focused on? Is my thesis in need of revision? Is organization the issue? By setting up a game plan for what particular areas to revise, the actual task of revising a paper becomes less daunting and far more doable, especially if that ominous deadline is looming over your head. If you are uncertain of what areas to really focus on, have a fellow classmate or friend read over your draft. By looking at the feedback they provide, you can narrow down which areas to focus on as you revise. It’s also a good idea, if possible, to focus on one particular aspect at a time. For example, you may work on making your argument more clear one day, then work on developing your ideas another day. Regardless of how you approach it, the important thing to keep in mind with how you approach revision is to have a plan and keep things focused.
Developing a Habit of Revision
- Know the terms or create your own: Just naming various aspects of your writing that need improvement can be especially helpful not just in identifying what specific area you want to focus on when revising but also in giving you power over that aspect because you know what to look for in your work. It also helps to know the names of various aspects of writing, such as organization, thesis, clarity, comma splice, etc., in order to articulate your concerns when asking someone to read through a piece of your work. While the terminology isn’t necessarily a vital part of the revision process, it does help make sense of all of the potential areas to be addressed.
- Have a list or guide handy as you work through your paper: By having your personal “check list” of revision, you can not only keep yourself focused on which specific areas you want to tackle, but it also gives you an easy guide to refer back to in case you find yourself getting overwhelmed or distracted by lower-order concerns. In some ways, having a revision list is like having a map, giving you the directions to reach your destination while giving you a landmark to return to if you have to stray a little bit to make note of something unexpected.
- When in doubt, refer to the prompt: Professors usually have key words or “hints” in their prompts, such as what expectations they have, page length, formatting style, number of citations, and material or questions that should be addressed. This can be a great tool to use when coming up with a revision plan, especially if you’re unsure where to get started.
Above all else, revision should be a practice that is done out of choice rather than obligation. Obviously not all writing assignments will be equally valued, but developing strategies and ways to make revision useful and intriguing can not only flesh out and strengthen your writing, but also give you the opportunity to make a piece of writing you’re especially passionate about the best it possibly can be. Happy writing!