Revision Strategies for Essays
By: Ian Schoulz, English Instructor and Communication Consultant at the UWCC
Note: These revision strategies target common issues of organization, clarity, and syntax. Additionally, they can help you to develop your ideas further.
Summary vs Analysis
Read through your essay and highlight all moments of summary in one color and
moments of analysis in another color. This can be done with a hardcopy or digitally using
the highlight tool in your word processor or PDF reader.
Purpose: Seeing the balance of summary and analysis, or what as the author see as summary and analysis will help reveal the difference between what you think you are writing and what appears on the paper. In addition, it will show the mechanics of your writing. An essay can almost always use more analysis or will need to make the analysis more pointed i.e., use more strategic and careful language. Note that it won’t always be clear what the difference between summary and analysis. To some extent, you will have to determine that for yourself, but keep in mind that analysis asks how a text works as opposed to what it is about. Analysis dwells and expands on details, whereas summary glosses over them. If you feel that the summary and analysis overlap, don’t worry. There may also be moments that exist outside of summary vs analysis. Again, don’t worry.
Disassembly and Reassembly (2 versions)
Version 1: Choose one or two paragraphs and separate them out into discreet units. Maybe these are syntactic units i.e., sentences, clauses, etc., or units of thoughts and ideas.Take these ideas and reconfigure them in a few different ways, without referring back to the original paragraph. You don’t have to use every word/sentence/idea/thought. Work on reconfiguring your ideas and creating new connections. You will have to add information.
Version 2: Separate your paragraphs and reassemble them in a new way. Do this a couple times. And then choose a new paragraph order and see how it alters your paper. How does the new order reframe your ideas? You might cut paragraphs that aren’t working in half. Again, you don’t have to use all the text.
Purpose: This exercise has multiple applications. It can clarify your language and the flow of ideas from paragraph to paragraph. This exercise can also lead to new insights and opportunities for expansion.
Create a new outline based off your draft by going through each paragraph and identifying your main point along with significant bits of evidence and support. Additionally, think about the purpose of the paragraph. What is its primary job in the paper? What does set up? To what extent does it follow through on readers’ expectations?
Purpose: This exercise allows you to map your paper based on what occurred in the drafting process. This will help to become more aware of your process by highlighting what you spent the most space addressing. This exercise also can help you identify moments that require more support or that need expansion.
Reverse Outline 2.0
Consider each paragraph of your essay, one at a time. What is the overall purpose of each paragraph? Does it introduce an idea? Provide background? Back a claim? Analyze a source? You can come up with your own terminology specific to your project.
Now, write out the “pattern” of your paper, listing the purpose of each paragraph. Reflect upon the way your paper is arranged by examining the purpose of each paragraph. Are there any missing parts? Are there segments that are underrepresented? Additionally, from reviewing this information, you might also decide to experiment with rearranging your paragraph order.
Purpose: This exercise is an update of the reverse outline, but instead of focusing on topic sentences and main points, it asks you to focus on the job of each paragraph.
Rewrites and Re-rewrites
For sections of your paper (1 sentence to a paragraph) that just aren’t working and/or are especially critical to the paper, take those sections and rewrite them 2 or 3 times without using your original wording. Once you have completed a few new versions, compare them. What new language have you discovered?
Purpose: In early drafts, we haven’t arrived at the full meaning of our text, this exercise can help you clarify and develop your ideas as well as address sections with repetitive language and sentence structures. This strategy can be helpful in the process of drafting. For example, if you are a person who likes to write the thesis, or a version of the thesis, before the body of the paper, then this strategy can help you get the thesis where you want it to be.