Process #

This page strives to connect the revision process to its general significance. It should also help you understand the meaning behind grades, and the strategies you can use to improve them.

Revision is the writer’s equivalent of “learning.” It is like making a mistake on a quiz or debugging code. On a surface level, the point of fixing something is to get something to function properly. In school, this translates to earning a good grade. But understanding why a mistake is a mistake, and why it was made, is the route to deeply understanding a thing. Nearly all essays written for this class go through a revision process. The hope is that you can learn how to learn through revising, in a way that is applicable to all other endeavors in life.

In some cases, the first draft is strong and only requires a few minor changes at the sentence level, or a quick rearrangement of paragraphs. It clearly puts forth a narrative or idea that others can incorporate into their own experiences of the world. Essays of this kind may come out in one fell swoop, but are the result of previous experiences with radical revision. They are also the result of a more immediate history of rewriting that comes with drafting thoughtful slack comments, discussion board posts, and talking to peers. If you are producing competent essays at the outset, challenge yourself to read with greater intensity. Identify texts you admire and mimic them; try on their rhetorical strategies. Seek out supplemental materials. Practice writing multiple introductions. Most decent essays could benefit from a more incisive first paragraph. (A to A-)

Essays that require more than one revision usually need to be re-thought. Something about the organization of ideas lacks impetus, force. There is no single discovery being made, knowledge being produced, because the parts do not form a functioning, living organism. This may be the result of an overflow of interesting observations, or a lack of oversight, in which a miscellany of first impressions are listed on the page, often due to some kind of unfavorable time constraint. Avoid this state of affairs by starting earlier. Even the most forgiving readers can become anxious or antagonistic when reading something that seems rushed, and become less effective editors as a result.

On top of this, essays requiring multiple revisions may have many issues at the sentence level which obscure the reader’s ability to discern the larger issues. It’s always best to start revising for structure, but it can be difficult to determine where to begin with structure when the essay is hard to read. In this case the editor may prefer to clean up the sentence-level issues first. This way, the structural issues become crystal-clear, and thus easier to fix.

Like structural problems, issues at the sentence-level can be caused by a lack of time. Reading your writing out loud will help you catch awkward phrasings and grammatical mistakes. More subtle issues are best addressed by spending more time reading essays in the relevant genre or other prose which you admire. When this kind of immersion is not possible, seek out dialogue with a tutor or your instructor. (B+ to B-)

Finally, there is the case where the writer seems not to have been present in class or to have reviewed the assignment carefully. The resulting essay may need substantive additions or a complete rewrite. (C+ to F)

Time is always limited, but there are steps you can take to revise more efficiently and therefore earn higher grades. Step 0: Read carefully. Step 1: Contribute your best work to discussions and slack comments. Step 2: Start drafting early, and re-structure your observations until they form a coherent sequence. Step 3: Re-read what you’ve written to make sure the sentences work. Step 4: Get another pair of eyes on your essay, through a tutor or friend, or turn in your work early, as the instructor will approach what you’ve written with a fresher mind.

These paragraphs appear to construct a hierarchy, in which good essays require the least revision. This is only partly true. The strongest essays, which delve deeply into a complex topic and produce surprising or innovative results, are the result of many stages of writing and re-writing. They may be highly chaotic at the outset, and involve some degree of pain and obsession. At this point, you are advised to take frequent breaks, and to share your drafts with trusted readers, who may help you retain bits of writing that would otherwise be deleted by an overzealous mind. The resulting essay is alive and beautiful. It grows into something like H.D.’s sea rose, and persists like the pear trees of Ponge. (A+)

Last update: 5/22/2023
Powered by Hugo Book