Revising Your Revision Process
April 1, 2015
by Shannon Price, Writing Tutor
This is it. You've been staring at your computer screen for hours. You're tired, you're hungry, and you're so fed up with "insert writing topic here" that if any unfortunate classmate mentions the paper to you, they might just not make it back to class on Monday.
But you still have to revise.
Plain and simple, revision is an easy and quick way to boost the quality (and grade) of your paper. It doesn't matter how amazing your paper is-if you turn it in with easy-to-fix grammar mistakes, typos, and vague statements, your professor will not have nearly as good an impression of your writing as they would have if you'd revised. Below are some quick tips for the revision process, focusing on common and easily revised errors:
The More the Merrier: Revise Multiple Times
In the end, we all have a tendency to see what we want to see. If you're tired and irritated when you're revising your paper, odds are you'll see what you want to see: no errors. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they aren't there. One revision right after you finish your paper is almost never enough. Take a break, eat some Currito, and come back to it later. Then a few more times after that for good measure. Each time, your fresh set of eyes will catch new errors, and your paper will be better for it.
Keep an Eye Out for Awkward Pauses
If you're having trouble reading through a sentence out loud or getting words mixed up in your head when you read it silently, that's probably a cue that something is off with your sentence. It could be a typo that your tired eyes aren't catching, a run-on sentence, a misused word, or a comma error. Pause for a moment and try to find what it is that threw you off. If you can't find a specific error, but the sentence still sounds strange to you, try rewording it or having a friend look it over for you.
The Internet is your Friend: Use It!
Why? Because the internet has guides to grammar, citation references, thesauruses, and dictionaries, literally all at your fingertips. If you're unsure of where to put your commas, google "common comma usage errors." If you can't think of the specific word you want to use, try thesaurus.com (though be careful to only use words you know the meaning of). Purdue OWL is a great source to confirm your citations are in order, and if you have a question that you just can't figure out, you can always log on to Outlook and email your professor, though be sure to allow plenty of time for the professor's reply.
What Is This? Who Are They? Avoid Vague Pronouns.
One of the easiest ways to improve clarity in academic papers is to eliminate vague pronouns. Let's take a look at a sample sentence: This is seen through their effects on history. What does the word "this" refer to? If you're asking that question in your paper, then you know you need to replace "this" with what the word actually refers to (its antecedent), whether it's a concept, a specific event, or a person's actions. An important note here: "the aforementioned" is not an acceptable answer to the question "what is this?" It's a cop out. The same goes for the questions "who are they?" and "what is it?" If it takes you-the writer-more than a couple of seconds to answer, you can guarantee your reader is very confused. It's always better to be specific and a bit repetitive than it is to be vague.
When in Doubt, Talk It Out: Focusing Your Paragraphs
A great way to make sure your paragraphs are focused and tying back to your thesis is to actually put your paper away for a bit. Turn the page over, and, out loud in a sentence or two, try to summarize the purpose of the paragraph and how the paragraph relates to your main argument. Whatever your answer is, it should be written clearly in the paragraph somewhere, most likely in your topic sentence. If you have trouble coming up with an answer, it probably means you need to focus more on this section of your paper. Never assume that your audience will make a connection for you; if you want them to get a specific point out of something, you need to tell them.
A Sentence Is Just a Sentence: Don't Get Attached.
Even though it may not seem like it, there are infinite ways for you to reword each and every sentence in your paper. Take another sample sentence:
Benedict Arnold betrayed the United States in the Revolutionary War and is famous as a traitor for all time.
If you wanted to, you could write:
Benedict Arnold, who is famous as a traitor for all time, betrayed the United States in the Revolutionary War.
During the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold became famous as a traitor for all time by betraying the United States.
All of these sentences mean the same thing, but if you just started another sentence with the word "during," you'll want to avoid the third option. On the other hand, if you just started another sentence with "Benedict Arnold," the third option is your best bet. Changing your sentence structure is a great way to avoid run-ons, fragments, and even just boring language. So if something sounds off, you're not married to the sentence you've already written-change it!
In the end, you'll get exactly as much out of revision as you put into it, which makes revising done right one of the most rewarding parts of the writing process. Sure, it can be intimidating, but even following these six simple tips can solve many of the problems that might otherwise be eating away at your paper's effectiveness and final grade.
And one final tip-remember to check for tpyos.