An important part of the writing process is revision, especially as it differs from editing. Students can learn to differentiate the need to work first on revision in terms of ideas and structure first and later work on editing in terms of grammar, spelling, and proofreading. Very often the grammar and style problems that surface in a student’s draft are related to confusion over ideas and development. Once the problems with ideas and structure are overcome, problems in grammar and style often decrease on their own. For our purposes here, therefore, revision is considered the step whereby students reconsider their ideas and essay structure and work out problems in development and coherence.
Many students are simply so afraid of the writing process that they spend a large amount of time revising as they write rather than simply getting as many ideas as possible on paper and handling revision later. Instead of writing as much as possible, some students resist waiting to revise and instead just try to get the whole experience over as soon as possible. It’s important, however, for students to remember that first drafts are not final drafts and that what they write first can then be revised and fine-tuned. Most experienced writers know that writing IS revision.
Encourage students to write as much as they can for a first “discovery” draft, as quickly as they can, without spending time doing extensive revision. Once the first draft is in place, they can turn to revision, and the best place to start is with the big picture and then narrow the process. Here are some suggested stages for the revision process.
STEP ONE: THE BIG PICTURE
Look at the first draft in terms of larger, abstract qualities:
- is the original purpose of the writing fulfilled?
- does the writing cover the required material?
- has the writing addressed the specific audience?
- does the overall structure seem sensible in terms of your intentions?
- is your sense of authority over the topic clear?
STEP TWO: FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT
- does the main idea of the paper have enough supporting material?
- does the supporting material relate logically to the main idea?
STEP THREE: FOCUS ON STRUCTURE
- is there a controlling idea that can be traced through the writing?
- does your lead into the paper create interest and focus?
- do individual paragraphs link to the controlling idea?
- do individual paragraphs have clear topic sentences?
- does the ending provide a sense of wrapping up ideas?
STEP FOUR: FOCUS ON SENTENCE STRUCTURE
- are sentences clear?
- does the word order in sentences seem logical?
- are verbs usually in the active voice?
- does word choice seem sensible for the purpose and audience?
Students can print out copies of their papers for each step of the revision process, taking the work of revision one step at a time. After step four has been completed, they can move to fine-tuning through editing and proofreading. See Editing Strategies for more ideas.
Also, check out Collaborative Strategies for ways to accomplish revision through small groups and the use of peer response forms. Each of the questions posed in the four steps above can be used for revision group work in the classroom.