The revision process is about confirming that your essay works on the highest level. It’s about stepping back to consider whether you have enough material, or too much. It can involve rearranging paragraphs, adding paragraphs, or cutting paragraphs altogether.
Revisions take time and effort, but can turn a weak essay into a solid one and a solid essay into an excellent one.
What Successful Revisions Do
Aim to strengthen and clarify your arguments.
Sometimes, the thesis you come up with originally isn’t the best you can do. A good essay may evolve during the process of writing a first draft. There’s nothing wrong with that. The key is to be open to that growth process and make the most of it. If the aim of your essay has shifted since you started writing, simply write down your new thesis and read through your essay to see how – and if – your first draft material works. Remove anything that is now extraneous and adjust what remains.
Make sure your essay is solidly structured.
Take a fresh look at the overarching shape of the argument you have developed during the course of your essay. Examine each paragraph and its goals to ensure that each of them helps your essay to build towards a logical conclusion. Did you write them in the order that they occurred to you, or that you found the research that supports them? That might not be the best order in which to present them, and now is the time to rearrange them so that each one builds from the previous one and leads to the next one.
Word processors make it easy to cut and paste your paragraphs into a new order, but if you do rearrange them, make sure to then reread the whole thing and double-check your transitions so that everything still makes sense and flows smoothly.
Elevate the best and get rid of the rest.
Be willing to cut weak material. Save only the good pieces and make each as good as you possibly can. If anything sticks out, delete it, even if that means you have to write something new in order to maintain your targeted word count. Don’t hold on to something just because you’ve written it. Sometimes mediocre material can serve as a stepping stone to great material.
Tips & Techniques
Print out a hard copy and do a speedy re-read.
Print out the first draft, and read through the whole thing quickly, concentrating on the overall flow of the piece. Circle any typos or mistakes that jump out at you, but focus on the big picture. There will be time later for catching typos and such. For now, concentrate on overall flow and look for gaps of logic. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Will they understand what you are saying? Will they be convinced by your argument or moved by your narrative? If not, brainstorm ways to address the issues you have spotted. Sometimes all it takes is a few new well-chosen words or sentences to punch things up.
Since you already know what you’re trying to say, you aren’t always the best judge of where the draft is clear or unclear. Let another reader tell you. Then, discuss aloud what you were trying to achieve. In articulating what you mean to someone else, you may end up clarifying ideas for yourself and come up with a whole new perspective on your work.
Keep it on track.
With a first draft complete, it’s a good idea to re-visit your first paragraph. You might find that the supporting paragraphs are strong, but they don’t address the exact focus of your thesis as stated in the beginning. You may wish to re-write your thesis sentence to fit your body paragraphs or vice-versa.
Also, watch out for “paragraph sprawl,” which can result from a loss of focus and the introduction of extraneous detail.