The only reason to write a rough draft is to give you something to revise.

How to Revise a Paper

First things first:

There is no great writing, only great rewriting. —Justice Brandeis

Ask yourself:

Who is my audience? What am I trying to do to them?

If your answer is "anyone who is reading this paper," you are being lazy; you don't have an answer yet. You cannot really revise until you know your audience and your message.

If your answer is "my teacher" and "persuade the teacher to give me an A," that's a start. Ask yourself what sort of writing the teacher really respects.

If your answer is more focused, you have a better idea whether the draft is a success—and how to change it.

A procedure:

You will notice that the process below takes time. Most working writers think of a finished rough draft as the halfway point; if you are beginning the revision process an hour before the paper is due, you are already in trouble. My best advice is to run the spell checker, give it one good read for stupid errors, and promise yourself to do a better job next time.

Begin by letting the rough draft rest—overnight is ideal, but at least a few hours if you can. The idea is to approach the revision process with fresh eyes and brain.

Read through the draft and use the following list as a diagnostic. You should at least take a look at each item, but then decide where you want to enter the process.

Where to enter the revision process?

  1. Basic direction of the piece.
  2. Thesis.
  3. Gathering.
  4. Organizing.
  5. Copy-editing. (This is different from finding support for your points.)
Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it. —Michael Crichton

All the material up to this point has been fairly mechanical. At this point in the revision process, you have a paper that responds to the assignment, makes its point, and (with any luck) tells truth with good-quality evidence to support it.

Now comes the hard part. To quote the English Department's grading standard for a "C" paper: "The paper responds to the assignment in an ordinary way." The standard for an "A" paper says, "Sentences are carefully crafted. Words are accurately chosen; informal language, slang, or dialect is used only when appropriate. The paper is insightful and vivid. The writing is tight and effective throughout."

You want to work toward "writing is tight and effective," not "responds in an ordinary way."

For professional writers, the most time-consuming part is getting the style right. You cannot do this at the last second.

I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter. -Blaise Pascal
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. —Thomas Jefferson

Now that you have gone through all that work, we come to the items that most freshmen think of when they are asked to revise a paper.

  1. Reading for sentence grammar and word usage.
  2. Finally, run the spell-checker.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 6/20/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.