The Writing Center Guide to Revising Your Own Paper

(Or, now that you've written it, what's next?)

Revision is an ongoing process, from the first draft to the last. While the thesis and support may be clear, there is always room for improvement, clarification, and general editing. So where does the Writing Center fit in all this? We can help you at all stages in the writing process--from brainstorming a topic to revising the fourth draft.

But maybe you can't wait for an appointment, or maybe you just want a guide to focus and improve your revising skills. This page operates as a self-guided session at the writing center, putting you through the same mental processes we advisors go though when looking at a new paper. We have two categories of concerns that guide us through the revision process:

Higher Order Concerns (HOCs)

  • Thesis/Focus
  • Voice/Tone
  • Organization
  • Development

Lower Order Concerns (LOCs)

  • Sentence Structure
  • Punctuation
  • Usage
  • Spelling

Following are two lists of questions to guide you through thinking about, first, HOCs, and second, LOCs.

The following steps will help you revise HOCs:

Step 1:

  • Identify your thesis.
  • Can you state it in a single sentence?
  • Is it argumentative?
  • Is it significant?
  • Does it encapsulate the point of the entire paper?

Step 2:

  • Within each paragraph, identify the topic sentence.
  • Does each topic sentence relate to the thesis??
  • Do the topic sentences focus on one point (or two closely related points)?
  • Looking only at the topic sentences, is there a clear sense of organization? Does each topic represent a progression of ideas, rather a repetition of a previous one?

Step 3:

  • Are there transitions from one paragraph to another?
  • Is the voice or tone appropriate to the topic?
  • Is the paper addressed to a specific audience? Is your reader a fellow classmate, or a college-educated person with little background in your area?
  • Does your paper avoid unnecessary summaries that would be familiar to your reader?
  • Do you use the first or third person as appropriate?
  • Is the tone (sarcastic, serious, witty, etc.) appropriate to the topic?

Step 4:

  • Read through each paragraph.
  • A paragraph should make an argument related to the thesis.
  • Are the quotations properly cited? Do they add to the paragraph, rather than restate another point? Are they properly introduced and explained?
  • Are ideas restated in different ways?
  • Is there a clincher sentence at the end of each paragraph that demonstrates the point of the paragraph, relates the point to the thesis, and provides a transition out of the paragraph?

Step 5:

  • It is okay to delete extraneous paragraphs, quotations, or paraphrases. It is not the length or verbosity that count, but the quality of the essay, the support of the thesis, etc.

Step 6:

  • The introduction:
  • Does it provide background or justification for the topic? Does it contain the thesis statement? Does it frame the question?
  • Does it clearly identify the subject of your paper's analysis?
  • Does it include definitions important to the topic?

Step 7:

  • The conclusion:
  • Does it tie together the main arguments in the paper, without directly restating the thesis?
  • Does it give a sense of closure to the paper?

The following steps will help you revise LOCs.

  1. Read your essay aloud, or have someone read it to you. It is significantly easier to detect problems with grammar, run-on sentences, etc., verbally rather than visually.
  2. Check the style: do you use either first or third person when appropriate? Are you consistent throughout?
  3. Is the paper consistent in verb tense? Is past tense or present tense used appropriately?
  4. Can passive voice be detected? (How would you change this sentence into active voice? For instance, change "we had driven" to "we drove")
  5. Are pronouns used correctly? Do they refer to a specific noun in the sentence? If there is ambiguity, spell it out.
  6. Check for sound-alike words (effect vs. affect, its vs. it's, your vs. you're, etc.). Have you used them correctly? Look them up of you're unsure.
  7. Are your "this" and "these" followed by a noun?
  8. Spell-check, but don't rely on it. Computers can't check everything. When you read your paper, keep a dictionary by your side.
  9. Do you have prepositions at the end of your sentences? Try to avoid sentences like, "I don't know where she's at.
  10. For example: Everyone likes to eat their ice cream" is incorrect. "Everyone" is singular, "their" is plural. Since "Everyone likes to eat his or her ice cream" is awkward, change this sentence to read, "Everyone likes to eat ice cream."

A Final Note About Revision

As George Orwell said regarding his own guidelines for writing, "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." Language is alive and the above tips are best used as suggestions to consider, not commandments carved in stone. Your paper will be better if you use "proper" English as a powerful tool, not a rule.

After doing all your rough drafts and revisions, you will be very tired of your paper. When you think you have completed your final draft, walk away from it for several hours (preferably a whole day) before looking at it one last time. You may be surprised by what you notice!

As always, don't hesitate to make an appointment to see a writing advisor. We are here to help you. You can make appointments by stopping by Howarth 109 during business hours, or call us at 253.879.3404.