Smarthinking

Smarthinking Writer's Handbook

Revising Content

Chapter 4: Lesson 2


The terms revising and editing are often used interchangeably among student writers, usually with a feeling of great dread. Once a draft is written, when the burden of the assignment feels lifted, and you long to turn it in and be done with it, do you consider re-reading it and looking for errors? While the need to quickly finish an assignment and turn it in can feel overpowering, taking some time after completing a draft to revise your work and make substantive changes will lead to a much stronger piece of writing.

Revising Versus Editing
Editing and revising are actually very different activities, and both are significant parts of the writing process for any essay. The act of editing or proofreading can be a simple one in which you correct typographical or grammatical errors so the writing is clean and clear, perhaps simplifying wordy sentences or making them clearer. This is the final step of the writing process and should be completed when the paper is nearing its final form.

Revising, on the other hand, is a much more involved process that gives you the chance to “re-see” the essay, perhaps after taking a break to get some distance from the material. When you revise your work, you frequently make substantive changes such as reordering paragraphs, deleting chunks of the paper, and even rewriting portions from scratch.

Writing in Steps
One thing all writers need to realize is that they can't do everything at once, at least successfully; the brain can only keep track of so many tasks at the same time. Because writing is such a complex activity, some of your thoughts and plans go by the wayside while you focus on other things. Once you recognize and accept this fact, you can gain better control over what you write because you know to focus on only a few thoughts at any one time.

Each writer approaches the writing process differently, but most begin by engaging in prewriting exercises to generate ideas. Then, they create an outline to organize those ideas before composing a first draft of the essay. At each stage, the writer is focused on a different aspect of the work, whether that be generating ideas, placing those ideas in the right order, or plugging those ideas into paragraphs. Once ideas are plugged in, the revision process can start. This is the stage where you’ll review a paragraph or essay as a whole and ask yourself some fundamental questions to be sure the essay fits the assignment and provides the right information in the best way to the intended audience.

The more drafts you work through, the stronger and more focused the material can become. Therefore, revision isn’t necessarily a one-time event in the writing process; it may happen multiple times over various drafts. Revision won’t immediately lead to “perfect” papers, but  there always needs to be a time when the essay is deemed complete. Continuing to practice the revision process  will ensure a stronger paper next time, and it gets easier with practice.

Revising an Introductory Paragraph
First Draft
An example will show how revision can improve a paragraph of text. In this example, the writer has just completed a first draft of an introductory paragraph for an argument essay.

Why Public Schools Need Sex Education

Sex education in public schools has been a controversial topic to many for quite some time. There is a strong debate between comprehensive sex education versus abstinence only education, which also involves teaching no sex education at all. When the discussion involves the health and safety of children, teens, and young adults, it becomes a matter that cannot be overlooked. Public schools should be teaching effective and accurate sex education in order to improve the lives, safety and health of children and young adults. Sex education does not only affect their health and safety but their right to proper and correct information about matters that affect them.

Revising the Paragraph
When you revise your work, you’re not just correcting errors or deleting words, but you’re looking for places where more information is required, where a better example might fit, or where chunks of text need to be removed, moved, or changed. Consider what this might look like for the above draft paragraph:

Why Public Schools Need Sex Education
Sex education in public schools has been a controversial topic for quite some time. [<Remove this sentence and replace it with a better attention grabber to make the reader interested in the topic.] There is a strong debate between comprehensive sex education versus abstinence only education, which also involves teaching no sex education at all. When the discussion involves the health and safety of children, teens, and young adults, it becomes a matter that cannot be overlooked. [Add information about why it cannot be overlooked to better convince readers of my stance.] Public schools should be teaching effective and accurate sex education in order to improve the lives, safety and health of children and young adults. Sex education does not only affect their health and safety but their right to proper and correct information about matters that affect them. [<Remove this line and include earlier in the paragraph or in the conclusion. There is no need for further explanation after the thesis.]

 

In this paragraph, the writer has highlighted sentences to delete and inserted notes as a guide for how to revise the paragraph. This strategy can help you to remember what to move and add so that you can read the entire work and then come back to make the changes.

Second Draft
Here’s how the introductory paragraph might look after the revisions are complete:

Why Public Schools Need Sex Education
The U.S. has one of the highest incidences of teenage pregnancy of any developed nation (Centers for Disease Control). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites sexual education programs that provide honest information about sex and birth control as a prime factor in the prevention and decrease of babies born to teenage parents. Sex education in public schools has been a controversial topic for quite some time. There is a strong debate between comprehensive sex education versus abstinence-only education, which also involves teaching no sex education at all. When the discussion involves the health and safety of children, teens, and young adults, it becomes a matter that cannot be overlooked. Abstinence-only education is costing every taxpayer and putting lives of teenagers and infants at risk. Public schools should be teaching effective and accurate sex education in order to improve the lives, safety, and health of children and young adults.

The paragraph is now improving significantly with content removed and added to create a stronger opening that grabs readers’ attention and interest and begins to convince them that sex education in school is an important topic worth discussing.

Think About It

  • How could your draft better express your message or argument to your readers?
  • What parts of the draft might be confusing for readers?
  • What content or evidence is missing that would make your point stronger?
  • Where might you have too much information that is distracting readers from your main point?

By considering these questions and allowing others to read your work and provide you with honest feedback, you’ll be better prepared to improve your essay and will become a stronger and more effective writer overall.

 

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