5 November 2013
When writing a paper, getting your thoughts collected, organized and onto paper is the first major hurdle. This alone is enough to send some students into a panic as they feel the pressure is on to churn out a final draft on their first try. The truth is that the first draft of your paper should be little more than an extended stream of consciousness on which you can build, tweak and finally produce your masterpiece. Revising your paper doesn’t have to be difficult, though. Here’s we’ll give you a 5 step road map to revising that rough draft into the literary masterpiece you know it can be.
Step 1: Just Write!
The first step is to just get your thoughts down onto paper. Many times, this is one of the hardest steps since staring at a blank page can be intimidating for even the most seasoned writers. To get the ball rolling, begin by setting up a loose outline of what you want to write. Even if your rough draft outline begins with just vague ideas, questions to yourself and off topic tangents, it doesn’t matter. This is simply meant to give you a framework on which to build. Bulk out your outline with quotes, statistics and other facts to act as touchstones throughout the paper. As you copy and paste facts, figures or relevant quotes, be sure you’re keeping all sources in a separate document. For now, don’t worry about formatting, spelling, grammar or even lucidity. See also How to write an introduction to an essay and How to begin and end your essay.
Step 2: Begin Tying it Together
Now that you have a basic framework, you can start tying everything together. This draft should be more cohesive and you can consider it your Working Draft. You may still go off on unrelated tangents and there’s still no need to worry about spelling or grammar. You should, however, focus on tying arguments into your main point. You can help this process by
identifying your paper’s main point
establishing the point of the paper (to inform, argue, defend, etc)
write your thesis statement (highlight this or put it in bold so you can find it easily as you continue to write)
make sure each paragraph has a topic sentence and evidence or support directly connected to it
get rid of off topic sections (if you think they could come in useful later, save them to a different file)
This will help you bring the paper together and, by now, it should start reading more fluently. Read through it a second time and continue to cut the fat until it reads well and doesn’t have a lot of superfluous information that could distract readers.
Step 3: Read it Like a Reader
The best way to check this step off the list is to sleep on it. Once you have a working draft, save everything and then don’t look at it again for at least a day. Then, sit down and read it with your reader in mind. Consider the arguments they may come up with against your point or how they may interpret some of your conclusions. Look for any spots of fuzzy logic and begin to highlight and fix any problems in structure, grammar, spelling or in the way the paper flows. If you find sections jumping around too much, use transition paragraphs to help make it easier to follow. Move around paragraphs or entire sections if that’s what it takes to make the paper easier to follow for readers.
Step 4: Read it Out Loud
Reading through your paper out loud engages your hearing which can help you identify misplaced punctuation and also helps to engage other parts of your brain which can boost creativity. Read from a hard copy so that you can easily make notes as you go through the paper. You can also record your reading so that you can just make verbal notes which may help since you won’t have to stop and write things down. You can also highlight clunky areas on your hard copy to come back and rework later.
Step 5: Get Critical
Now is the time to read through your paper with a truly critical eye. Once you’ve added your notes from your final reading and tightened up the paper, it’s time to read it like you want to find something wrong. Get as critical as you can and highlight any areas that don’t read well or which seem confusing. You should have some idea of what your instructor wants as well as what they are likely to focus on. Does this professor love shooting holes in a student’s argument? Look for any tiny loophole and address it in the relevant section. Or maybe it’s a professor who looks for errors in formatting, bibliography or footnotes. Tweak the paper with the reader in mind in order to deliver a perfectly tailored paper.
Useful samples and examples: