Whew! The first draft of you paper is now complete. This is an accomplishment, but it does not mean that you are done with your paper. It is rare that your first draft accomplishes everything you intend it to, even if you are a talented writer or a one who has a tendency to edit and revise as he or she is writing. Reviewing and revising a completed draft can drastically improve the quality of writing and your grade, and asking yourself the following questions about your writing can help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your draft.
According to Professor Lisa Lister, the first step to revising your writing is to ask yourself “big picture” questions about your draft. After all, “there’s no sense tinkering with paragraphs or sentences if you haven’t accomplished what you want to with you paper, and there’s no sense rearranging information if the information itself isn’t valid to your argument.”
Does your paper have a central argument?
If yes, is the argument complex and contestable enough that it allows your paper to move beyond mere description?
If your answer to either of these questions was, “no,” you have probably written a descriptive paper instead of an analytical one. Refer to the section on crafting a thesis for tips on creating an argument to sustain your paper.
Is the argument clearly stated and easily identifiable to readers?
Does your paper explain why your topic matters?
If either of these answers was, “no,” consider revising your introductory or concluding paragraphs.
Does your argument progress logically?
Can your reader easily comprehend the logic behind your paper’s organization?
If you are uncertain about whether or not your paper is well organized, Professor Lister suggests making a “reverse outline” that lists the main ideas of each of the paragraphs in the body of your paper. This can help you to verify that each of your paragraphs has a single main idea (paragraphs containing more than one idea should be divided) and that the content of your paper is arranged in a way that flows well.
If you feel confident that your paper is well organized, but want to make your organizational structure easier for readers to follow, review the section on using transitions.
Once you feel comfortable with the “big picture” of you paper, Professor Lister suggests asking questions about your individual paragraphs.
Does your introduction contain your thesis statement?
Does it frame your paper by setting a tone and a framework for your argument?
Does it catch the reader’s attention?
Does the idea contained in each paragraph support your paper’s main argument?
If so, will the connection between each paragraph and your overall argument be apparent to your readers?
Do your paragraphs contain textual evidence?
If yes, do you make an analytical argument about the evidence?
Is each sentence logically connected to the ones preceding and following it?
Does your final paragraph pull the paper together in a way that does not merely repeat or rehash what
you have already argued?
Does your conclusion make it clear to the reader why your topic matters?
Many students have a great deal of difficulty editing papers even if they are aware of the weaknesses in their drafts. Professor Lister attributes some of this to reluctance on the part of students to throw away parts of their writing. “Writing is hard for a lot of people. It can be difficult to let go of thing you’ve spent a long time working on.” Professor Lister understands the frustration students feel when they throw away parts of their writing, but she says that editing out content can actually enhance a paper by making it more streamlined and clear. She applies this advice even to students who are worried that cutting out parts of the paper might hinder their ability to meet a certain length requirement for papers: “I assign page numbers as guidelines. I tell my students that if they have a three and a half page paper that is complete, they should end it there rather than turning in an extra page of nothing… Accomplishing what you want to accomplish is more important that page numbers.”