If you ask any colleague, friend or classmate to describe the steps of writing a successful paper, they might say that first you plan, then you draft and then you revise.
But if you watch most people writing a paper, it goes more like this:
They open a document, stare at a blank screen for a few hours, type some things, grab a snack, type some more things, run Spell Check and turn it in. No final read through, no editing and no enhancing. For many people, revising includes Spell Check – and that’s it.
From word choice to style, and grammar to punctuation, revising involves a lot more than spelling. In fact, there are several known revising strategies that make for stronger papers, which streamline the entire writing process and help you maintain a clear focus, all while keeping your sanity intact. Try these revising tactics on your next assignment and submit a paper is that polished, effective and mistake free.
1. Reverse Outline
We all know that an outline can help you to help a paper. But the reverse outline, as explained by Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), incorporates writing down the topic of each paragraph and how the paragraph topic contributes to the overall paper. This can help you see what your paper actually says and where it needs to be improved.
Our brains tend to process content more easily in print rather than reading it on a computer screen, so the first step is to print out your paper. Then, get a blank sheet of paper. Make a list of numbers down the side of the blank sheet of paper that correspond to the number of paragraphs.
Read the first paragraph of your paper. Boil it down to a single sentence. (If you can’t, use two sentences, but make a note of that). Write that sentence down on the blank sheet of paper.
Repeat for every paragraph in your paper.
When you are done, review this new outline you created. Is everything on topic? Did you leave out anything your thesis needed? Do you repeat anything? Are any of the paragraphs summarized in two sentences — meaning you need to revise that paragraph so it only has one focus? Do you keep like ideas together? Do you have transitions between ideas? Do you have a conclusion?
This reverse outline will show you what you have said, what you might have missed and what you could do better.
2. Use Stronger Verbs
Using the word document’s search and find feature, search your paper for every use of was, were, has, had, are and is. Locate these verbs and then revise those sentences to make use of stronger, more dynamic verbs that paint a picture in the mind of your audience. For example, instead of writing, “I am the manager of the department,” place the emphasis on the stronger verb and say, “I manage the department.” You will be amazed at how dramatic an improvement like this will make for your writing.
3. Eliminate the First Person
Using that ‘Find’ feature again, search for any uses of I, me or my. Chances are that you could make a much stronger paper by leaving out the first person pronouns altogether.
4. Read it Aloud from a Print Out
Instead of just relying on Spell Check, print out your paper and read it aloud with a pencil in hand. Simply mark any place you stumble or say something differently than what is on the page. Then go back and revise those sections. The ears often catch what the eyes miss.
With these tips in hand, you will have a clear set of guidelines to follow for revising your work. For additional revising help, you can always get a second set of eyes to catch any mistakes or make use of Smarthinking, the University’s tutoring service for students.
Written by Dr. Brandi Megan Granett