7.5 Polishing the Draft

Preview

This section of Ch. 7 will cover the following topics:

  • the difference between revision and editing
  • the steps of revision
  • effective word choice

You may think a completed first draft means you are finished. Experienced writers know that a draft is just half-way to the finish line.

Revising and editing are the final two steps in the writing process:

  • When you revise, you add, cut, move, or change information to make your ideas more accurate, more interesting, or more convincing.  The goal of revision is clarity.
  • When you edit, you fix problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Then you format the document according to the guidelines set by your instructor.  The goal of editing is correctness.

This section of Ch. 7 covers revision. The next section in this chapter will cover editing.

Step 4: Revising

Tip

When you finish a draft, you are too close to it to make changes. Put the draft away, preferably overnight but at least for several hours, before attempting to revise.

The word “revision” tells you what the process is: “vision” is seeing, and you will re-look at or re-see your draft during this step.

When you revise, you are an editor, not a writer.  Your job is to look for things to improve.

Many people hear the words “critical” and “criticism” and think of negative feelings that make them blush or grumble. However, as a writer and a thinker, you need to be critical of yourself in a positive way. You need to train your eye to see problems and learn to trust your ability to fix what needs fixing. “Critical” also means “important and crucial.”

When revising, consider organization, clarity, and writing quality.  Read the essay aloud to yourself and listen for problems.  Often your ear will hear something your eye doesn’t see.

First Read: Organization

All the ideas in each paragraph and the entire essay should be arranged in a way that makes logical sense.

The following tasks do not have to be done in order.  In fact, mixing up the order might help you focus better. Look at one of the body paragraphs, then skip back to the introduction, then skip forward to the conclusion, then do a different body paragraph. That way, your mind can focus on one segment at a time.

  • Read the introductory paragraph. Ask yourself if it is as strong as you can make it. Is the thesis clearly stated in the introduction?
  • Read the topic sentence of each body paragraph and ask yourself if it is tied to the thesis. Then read the rest of the paragraph and ask yourself if you have provided adequate details and examples to explain the topic sentence, without repeating yourself.
  • Check to be sure the body paragraphs are logically organized. Read the three topic sentences, one after the other, and ask yourself if the order is effective. Would your point be clearer if you changed the order?
  • Read the concluding paragraph. Does it provide a sense of closure rather than repeating what has already been said?

Second Read: Pruning

Trees grow well with sufficient sunshine and rain.  Sometimes, though, they grow so vigorously that their roots invade the foundation of the house, branches knock against windows, and leaves fall into rain gutters, clogging them.  To ensure the tree remains attractive and healthy, it often needs pruning.

That is true about writing too. Many student writers are worried about not having enough to say. A more serious problem with student writing is wordiness. Three problems common in student writing are focus, transitions, and clarity.

Problem #1: Focus

Sometimes writers cannot resist a good . Even though you might enjoy such detours when you chat with friends, unplanned digressions usually harm a piece of writing.

Read the following paragraph twice.  The first time, include the words that are lined out.  The second time, skip them. Notice the information about the shopping experience gets the reader off track.  The paragraph is clearer and more focused without the digression.

Buying a television can be confusing. The first important decision as the shopper walks around the sales floor is whether to get a plasma screen or an LCD screen. The salespeople may give you decent info. Plasma flat-panel television screens can be much larger in diameter than their LCD rivals. Plasma screens show truer blacks and can be viewed at a wider angle than current LCD screens. But be careful and tell the salesperson you have budget constraints. Large flat-panel plasma screens are much more expensive than flat-screen LCD models. Don’t let someone make you buy more television than necessary!

Problem #2: Conciseness

Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will appeal more to their audience and better fit their purpose in a given piece of writing.

The sentence above is much clearer without the crossed out words. Our goal is not simply to make sentences shorter; it’s to make them stronger.

Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for in your draft.

  • Sentences that begin with “There are” or “It is”
    • Wordy: There are two major experiments that the Biology Department sponsors.
    • Revised: The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.
  • Sentences with unnecessary modifiers
    • Wordy: Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the legislation.
    • Revised: Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the legislation.  (“extremely famous” and “well-known” mean the same thing)
  • Sentences in the passive voice or with forms of the verb “to be”
    • Wordy: It might perhaps be said that using a GPS device is something that is a benefit to drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
    • Revised: A GPS device benefits drivers who have a poor sense of direction.
  • Sentences with round-about phrases
    • Wordy: The e-book reader, which is a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone. My grandfather bought an e-book reader, and his wife bought an e-book reader, too.
    • Revised: The e-book reader, a recent invention, may become as commonplace as the cell phone. Both my grandparents have bought e-book readers.

Here are some wordy phrases to avoid; use the simpler, clearer option:

Wordy Concise
a majority of most
at this point in time now
based on the fact that because
during the course of during
in connection with about
in order to to
in the event that if
a number of some/many
at the conclusion of after
despite the fact that although
on a daily basis daily
so as to to
prior to before
take into consideration consider
until such time as until

George Orwell, a perceptive and deliberate writer, once wrote, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”  Student writers often think fancier words are better just because they are fancy.  They aren’t.

Fancy words Their plain replacements
accompany go with
accomplish do
advise tell
attempt try
benefit help
demonstrate show
due to because of
finalize end/finish
furnish provide, give
initiate begin
perform do
utilize use
Problem #3: Appropriateness

College essays should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation and should be accessible and appropriate for any reader. Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate:

  • Avoid slang and language that is overly casual. Write about “men and women and children” rather than “girls and guys and kids.”
  • Avoid contractions. Contractions such as “can’t” and “aren’t” are considered casual speech.
  • Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as “green with envy” or “face the music” have been used so often they are empty of meaning.
  • Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for “thing,” “nice,” “bad,” “interesting,” and other such words.
  • Use nonsexist language.  Writing to avoid offense is polite, but language also affects attitudes. Replace male-gender words with non-gender words when possible (“chair” instead of “chairman,” “police officers” instead of “policemen”).  Alternate “he” and “she.”
  • When referring to people with disabilities, put the person first (“a woman who is blind” rather than “a blind woman”).  A disability is something a person has, not what a person is.

Thorough and detailed revision is what differentiates weak writing from strong writing. Professional writers know this and dedicate the majority of their time to this step in the process. How long should you spend on revising? As long as you can. This step sometimes takes longer than the other four steps combined.

Exercise 1

Go to your notebook and look at the paragraph you wrote for Ex. 3 in Ch. 7.4. Copy it on a new page of your notebook.  Then, go through the paragraph, revise it and write the new version below the original. Remember to be critical of yourself in a positive way.  Check focus, conciseness, and appropriateness using the guidelines above.

You may have tons of changes or just a few.  (If you didn’t make any, that would be unusual.)  Briefly explain what you learned in doing this revision.

Takeaways

  • Revising and editing are the stages of the writing process when you improve your work.
  • A polished essay is clearly organized and concisely worded.
  • Revision takes time.

License

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1, 2, 3 Write! by Gay Monteverde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.