Revision is essential to most good writing. Not even the best writers can churn out complete works in one sitting. First drafts are usually ugly, misbegotten creatures filled with spelling mistakes, logical fallacies, half-baked theories, incomplete ideas, turns of phrase that seemed clever at the time, and sentences that lead nowhere. Then, after some careful reconstructive surgery, they start to resemble cohesive pieces of thought.
Since we’re drawing close to the end of the semester, many students are struggling with their final papers and essays. So here are some tips to help refine their unruly ways.
Take a break before jumping into the revision process. Go hang out with some friends, watch a movie together, eat a pizza, or do whatever makes you happy. When you come back to your paper, you should approach it with a refreshed mind.
Stay away from thesauruses. I cannot tell you how many papers I’ve seen that are cobbled together with the most unwieldy and verbose word choices. This is often the result of people going through their writing and replacing the words with “smarter” sounding synonyms. The truth is that it feels bloated and makes a writer sound pretentious. Instead, just use the words that come natural to your voice.
Read the essay aloud. Sometimes scanning for details on the page or screen can be dizzying. A surefire way to sniff out mistakes is to hear them spoken out loud. Get rid of anything that’s awkwardly phrased or has a tone that doesn’t fit the rest of the paper.
Make the thesis statement prominent. The thesis statement is a definitive statement or focused assessment about your topic that underlies your whole paper. Try to find it for yourself and underline it. Try to push it as close to the beginning as possible. This will make your reader understand what your paper is about.
Cut off the loose ends. Once in awhile we have a tendency to go off into tangents. While they might fill space, they ultimately hurt the structure and coherency of your paper. Eliminate anything that doesn’t tie back into the main ideas or reinforce the points you are trying to make.
Insert necessary transitions between paragraphs. Going from one paragraph to the next shouldn’t feel like running into walls. Good writing should flow naturally between ideas without too many obvious barriers. Make sure that the first sentence of every paragraph ties into the ideas of the last paragraph.
Fully utilize quotes from sources. A well-utilized quote from a respected source can add legitimacy to your writing. Don’t just cram in random sentences and block quotes to fill up space. Take time with each one and elaborate with your own thoughts.
Ask somebody else to read it. It doesn’t hurt to get another opinion on something. A fresh set of eyes can spot details and overlooked errors, and make connections that work-weary ones might not notice. What makes sense in the author’s mind might not transfer to the paper.
Get the facts straight. Check all of the names, dates, facts, figures, and numbers for accuracy and proper citation. Nothing can hurt your validity more than wrong information.