By Peter Mosley, PhD
Congratulations. You wrote the paper.
Now you have to revise it. How do you revise efficiently, taking the most of every one of the precious minutes you have?
Here are a few tips.
- Give it a rest. It might sound counter-intuitive, but taking a break from your writing project is usually an excellent idea — especially if typing out that first draft gave you some mental fatigue. Even if you only have enough time to step away for 15 minutes, you will be empowering yourself to look at your document with a set of fresh eyes upon your return.
- Match up the content of the introduction and conclusion first. The introduction should be introducing your thesis statement, and your conclusion should be pointing out that the thesis statement has been proven and discussing the resulting implications. If your introduction strays from the paper you actually wrote or your conclusion seems to focus on a point that is different from your thesis statement, you’re going to have to revise your paper significantly.
- Underline topic sentences. The fastest way to get a strong handle on the organization of your document is to go through it, in its entirety, and underline every topic sentence. Then, match up the topic sentences to the thesis statement in the introduction. As you do this, you might have to change topic sentences to better match your thesis statement, or you might have to change your thesis statement to better match the content of your paragraphs. Changing topic sentences also often means changing the content of the paragraph associated with the topic sentences. As you make these adjustments, you can also check the sequence of your organization by seeing how well the points in your topic sentences follow each other.
- Look for broad or controversial claims. Before you start nitpicking at your grammar, try to make sure that claim you make in your paper is well supported and precise. Try to avoid words like “good,” or “numerous” — instead, use a description that entails why you think something was “good,” or use an exact range of numbers to define “numerous.” If your audience is adamantly pro-choice, it may not be effective to tell them “abortion is murder” without a further rationale. If it helps, underline places in your document that seem to make general or controversial claims, and then come back to those underlined places to add more specificity and support.
- Proofread. The most difficult thing about proofreading is our tendency to skip over our own errors. You can safeguard against this in three ways. First, identify the errors you are most likely to make and look specifically for those errors in your draft. If you need help with this, stop by CAP and I can give you personalized tips regarding what you can work on. Second, don’t read your paper in order. Reading from the last sentence to the first sentence of your document can help ensure that you don’t get into your natural flow of thought and skip over key errors. Third, read aloud. Reading aloud can help you take “ownership” of your paper, slow down your reading, and allow yourself to hear your own words. As an addendum, your computer might have a text-to-speech function that you might be able to use to have your paper read to you.
Generally, you should try to do this list in order. If you spend an hour revising the grammar of a paragraph you’ll eventually need to take out due to its incompatibility with your introduction’s thesis statement, you’ve wasted an hour that you could have been spending on more substantive revisions. Effective revisers usually focus on making large revisions first, and leave the fine-tuning for last.
Any additional tips? Let us know in the comments below.