- Books, Literature, and Writing
9 Steps for Revising Your Essay
Revising your essay is the step which makes or breaks your paper and often determines your grade. What is essay revision? Going back over your paper and making changes that improve the logic, organization of arguments, sentence structure, word choice, and grammar.
College Essay 101
How to Revise?
Below are 9 steps you can use to revise your paper. If you have time, or really want the best grade possible, you can do revision steps 6-9 and then do proofreading steps 1-5. When you are in a crunch, just make sure you do proofreading steps 1-5.
1. Grammar and Spelling Check
Use your word processing program to do a grammar and spelling check. Better yet, use Grammarly, which often can find even more errors. Please never turn in a paper without doing a basic check! About six months ago, I started using Grammarly and now depend on it to catch my typos and to remind me of more effective ways to write. To get the most out of any grammar and spelling check, be sure to notice errors you make over and over. That can help your writing get better.
2. Re-Read Paper Slowly
Remember that no computer program can find all your errors, so you need to do a careful reading of your paper too. One trick is to read your essay out loud or have someone read it to you while you look at a copy. Reading aloud slows you down and helps you see things you miss.Printing off a card copy rather than reading on a computer screen is also helpful in helping you see things you might otherwise miss.
3. First Word of Each Sentence
This is my best revision trick. Go through your paper and circle the first word of every sentence. If there are two sentences in a paragraph that start with the same word, then change one of them by adding one of my transition words, or else changing the wording of the sentence. By adding transition words, you not only make your paper sound more sophisticated, you actually improve the content because you link your ideas better. Try it! I bet you get a better grade!
4. Subjects and Verbs
Next, circle the subjects and verbs in each sentence. Are you using interesting and active verbs when possible? Is there something in the sentence before the subject? (There often should be if you are following my first word rule). Put a comma between that introductory element and the subject. Example: When leaving the house, I locked the doors.
Check to see if your commas, quotation marks, colons, and semi-colons are used correctly. See my guides on these if you need help. See my punctuation rules for using commas. Especially remember that you need to put commas after:
- Introductory elements in a sentence (anything word or phrase that comes before the subject). Example: Inevitably, some student in my class will forget to spell check and the errors will drive me crazy!
- In between items in a list. Example: She remembered to use spell and grammar check, circle and check her first words, and double-check her punctuation.
- Before and after quotations. Example: The instructor said, "I know you will get a good grade on your paper," when I turned it in on Tuesday.
6. Thesis and Topic Sentences
Check for logic and clear argument. Underline and read all your thesis and topic sentences. Does your argument make sense? Is there something you need to add? You might ask someone else to read these sentences to see if they think there is something missing.
Interesting Language. Do your thesis and topic sentences sound vivid, opinionated and interesting? Strong language can make your paper stand out. That means using vivid verbs and adverbs. A good example of using strong language is "Why We Crave Horror Movies" by Stephen King.
Opinionated responses are more interesting. Movie reviews are better if they are funny, sarcastic and witty. That might not be an appropriate tone if you agree with the main point of your article, but you can be equally interesting if you are passionate, earnest and thoughtful. One way to do that is to use strong language, especially transition words, verbs and adverbs. Examples:
- I fully support...
- I completely refute...
- Obviously, the author’s ideas that……is biased due to….
- Nevertheless, I strongly believe...
- Without proof, I would have to reject….
- Attempting to prove her points with false evidence, the author slides into ridiculous……
You get the idea. Be bold!
7. Do a Reverse Outline
Especially if you don’t work from a detailed outline in writing your paper. Basically, what you do is to take your paper and write an outline of what you've written. It is a way to make sure you've actually said your main points. Take your paper and underline the topic sentences in each paragraph. Then write those sentences in an outline form. Read them, though. Check:
- Do they make logical sense?
- Are they strong sentences?
- Have you really responded to the article?
- Have you given clear reasons for your response?
Next, put in your evidence for each topic sentence point.
- Does each piece of evidence really back up that assertion?
- Is the evidence clear, concise, vivid and interesting?
Use your computer to proofread.
Some students have been taught to back up their assertions with quotes. However, this creates a bad habit of using a quote from someone else to make your point, rather than stating that point yourself. Often I find that students don’t actually understand what they are quoting. My rule is that if you quote, you need to both explain the quote in your own words and then tell how that quote backs up your argument. Frequently, it is easier to just paraphrase the author in your own words and then tell how that backs up your own ideas. Check your quotations:
1. Do you keep the quote inside your own sentence?
Correct: Reading is vital to becoming a good writer. As Sarah McKlean points out,"We are all readers before we are writers."
Incorrect: "We are all readers before we are writers." Sarah McKean's quote tells us reading is important to becoming a writer.
2. Do you make sure that you explain how that quote backs up your argument?
3. Do you need to quote? Can you put the information in your own words as effectively or more effectively? Remember quotes are best used only if a person is an authority on the subject, the way the quote is worded is important, or if you are going to talk about specific parts of that quote later in your argument.
9. Author Tags
Did you make sure that you added where you got your information in your paper. You need to either say the author and title of the book or do a parenthetical reference (MLA style) or footnote (APA style). Make sure you have actually cited the essay correctly in your author tags. Read the paper through and mark where you are actually referring to the ideas in the article you read (highlight one color), and your own ideas (highlight in a different color). Make sure that every time you are referring to the author’s ideas you have used an author tag, or referred in some way to where you got the ideas. Examples: the author argues, James concludes, the essay explains, he/she refers to.