Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Composition Writing 101: Revising Rough Drafts

It is that period in the semester when my composition writing students are submitting final drafts of essays. They write rough drafts, submit them for peer editing workshops and feedback from me, and then submit a revision for a final paper grade. Here are some tips for editing and revising your work.

Whether you are a beginning or experienced writer, writing anything requires many, many drafts. While you might be submitting two drafts to your writing teacher, you should be writing more drafts at home. The editing and revising process benefits from time: let your piece sit overnight (at least) so that you can read it more critically the next day. It is easy to fall in love with a first draft; after all, you spent so long thinking about it and laboring over each word, sentence and paragraph. What isn't easy is to cut out lines or rearrange ideas as you write that first draft. 

As you return to your piece, you'll have some distance to notice what works and what doesn't work. Start by reading your work aloud. Reading aloud slows you down. If your tongue trips over a sentence, there might be a grammar or syntax error. 

It is difficult to catch every possible error during a single reading. Make yourself a list of things you usually do well and those aspects of writing that challenge you. For example, perhaps you usually write strong topic sentences, but tend to overuse commas. Then, re-read your piece to ensure that you continue to write strong topic sentences and then again just for proper punctuation. This approach will help you to focus your editing eye as you revise and edit. 

A student once told me that her writing tutor suggested hat she read her paper backwards: the final sentence, the next to last sentence, etc. This trick will help you to focus on the grammar and punctuation, rather than worrying about the content. 

Of course, grammatically correct sentences are nothing without content. Use your outline to to keep your ideas organized. Play devil's advocate with yourself by writing an opposing thesis statement and opposing topic sentences. Ask yourself, "How would someone who disagrees with you write a paper on the same topic?" Find the holes in your argument - and fill them in - before the reader can. 

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