Revision focuses on getting a handle on what your writing is about, where you want it to go. Generally speaking, revision is when you are still dealing with changes that could be as large as entire paragraphs, how your argument is organized, developed. It means asking questions such as: What else? What’s next? As we discussed with reference to Joseph Harris: you revise arguments, ideas, paragraphs, essays; you edit sentences. Revision is rethinking, rereading, expanding, developing; editing is tweaking. This is what we will be doing through Wednesday or Thursday of this week.
Revision and editing can sometimes blend. But for the sake of our efforts in this course, I suggest that editing is what you do toward the end of a project. Editing concerns how your essay communicates to a different set of eyes and ears than the ones which wrote it. How it reads to a reader who is not in your head. This is what you will be focusing on Friday.
Therefore, a good strategy for editing is to become more self-conscious about the sound and shape of your writing–something we take for granted. In order not to take it for granted (since you have been working on this essay and it probably makes sense to you), we need to defamiliarize it.
- Read it aloud–hear the writing. Have a peer read it aloud or read it aloud yourself. Read it backwards, paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence: listening for places where the expression/communication (the how of the writing, the mechanics, the style) is not matching up with the idea. Usage errors would be one way expression and ideas get crossed.
- Workshop: in your writing group, select a paragraph you want to focus on for editing–want to improve. Have someone else read your paragraph aloud. Then discuss for a few minutes what you hear and see–suggestions for what you might need to do or want to do with the paragraph.
- Verbs, Nouns, and Actions. Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method (from Revising Prose, 5th edition, Pearson 2007): one strategy to pay better attention to the way your “voice” is informed by the machinery of sentence length, verbs (active vs passive), nouns, and the actions we want to emphasize in our sentences. These are not ‘errors’ but choices you make in presentation. We will be returning to this in later editing workshops. For today, let’s focus on the issue of crafting and clarifying the action of our sentences.
1]Circle the prepositions
2]Circle the “is” forms.
3]Find the action
4]Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb.
5]Start fast–no slow windups. [the passive construction is often connected with too-conversational kinds of beginnings:
“One of the things that I think about reading is that reading is engaging for the mind.” vs.
“Reading engages the mind.”
Or a sentence where the actor is buried or hidden, and therefore the action that is the focus of the sentence is also unclear.
“It was the main point by the author that I didn’t really agree written throughout the book that a reader reads alone in a room.”
“In The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts argues emphatically for reading as an act of solitude and privacy. I disagree for these reasons…”
focus today on 1-5: the issue of using active verbs and active voice [also discussed in the “Revising Style” chapter, the problem of nominalizations.
Another useful digital resource for identifying the potential clutter in our sentences is the Writer’s Diet Test.
- Some formal/presentational features to consider and not neglect at the end:
- Title? I will be crushed to see an essay titled ‘paper #1’
- introduction/conclusion: how do you bring the reader into your story? where do you leave the reader? A strategy to consider: start in with the narrative, or in the middle of an experience, before pulling back to more general set-up. And conclude by circling back to your beginning. [these are tricky–will continue to work on this in later workshops]
- Transitions: are there effective signals through the essay, toward the beginning of each paragraph (usually first sentence), to lead the reader and identify the focus at each point?
- Go back through the draft to recall/find sections you might have left unfinished, intending to get back to. [for example: a section that has something like “add quotation here”]
- Have in mind a few of the mechanical/surface errors you tend to make and will need to clean up–punctuation, spelling, wrong words.
- You can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing Center.
- Become active in getting a better handle on the grammar/mechanics/sentence-level issues you need to work on. I will focus on a few in workshops; but the point is for you to get used to using a resource like the Guide to Grammar and Writing to practice and correct on your own.
- Proper citation format for any works you cite (which means directly quote or paraphrase). Consult Purdue OWL as a useful resource for citation basics.
- Final Abstract: You will be turning in with your final version the final version of your abstract–the one with the latest, most refined statement of your argument. Remember the basic structure for the abstract or summary of the argument: identifies given/problem/response, identifies keywords, and provides a basic map for the evidence:
- [Given] Change and transformation are all around, and many people celebrate the rapid changes that digital technology have brought us, including access to information. [Problem] However, few people are paying attention to the effects these changes in the electronic age have had on our more fundamental ability to read, and the problems that accompany the shift from page to screen. [Response] This book argues that the meaning of reading fundamentally changes in electronic format; moreover, this fundamental change has consequences that go beyond literacy, since it affects our sense of self and even our soul. [Brief map of the evidence that will be brought forward] The author draws evidence for these consequences from his own experiences as a reader and reviewer of literature and from examples of changes in the experience of literature in the larger culture.
Strategies for Revising
In Chapter Five of Rewriting: How to Do Things With Texts, Joseph Harris suggests several ways to think about revising based on the concepts he develops in earlier chapters: Coming to terms, Forwarding, Countering, and Taking an Approach. Below is a summary of the strategies he offers on pages 108-121.
Coming to Terms with a Draft: What’s Your Project?
Create an abstract of your draft: An abstract is a brief summary (usually around 150 words) that sometimes appears at the beginning of an academic article. Once you’ve finished an initial draft, try summing up the entire piece in just a few sentences, making sure to include all the most essential points. Doing this will help you identify key words that might help you focus your draft, and it will help you clarify the real purpose of your paper. You can build this abstract upon the foundation of your Given/Problem/Response. Here is a basic abstract for the argument of Gutenberg Elegies:
[Given/Context] Change and transformation are all around, and many people celebrate the rapid changes that digital technology have brought us, including access to information. [Problem] However, few people are paying attention to the effects these changes in the electronic age have had on our more fundamental ability to read, and the problems that accompany the shift from page to screen. [Response] This book argues that the meaning of reading fundamentally changes in electronic format; moreover, this fundamental change has consequences that go beyond literacy, since it affects our sense of self and even our soul. [Brief map of the evidence that will be brought forward] The author draws evidence for these consequences from his own experiences as a reader and reviewer of literature and from examples of changes in the experience of literature in the larger culture.
Create a sentence outline of your draft: In the margins of your draft, try to sum up each individual paragraph in one sentence (or two at most). The result will be a kind of outline that shows how you move from one point to another in your paper. Reading back through the summary sentences by themselves will give you a quick version of the draft you’ve written, and it should also point out moments where ideas aren’t connected or logical moves need to be strengthened.
Revising as Forwarding: What Works?
Highlight the strengths of your draft: Look for the moments that you consider to be the strongest in your paper and consider ways that you might bring those moments forward and give them greater emphasis. Also, think about how you might replicate those strong moments in other weaker spots in your draft.
Revising as Countering: What Else Might Be Said?
Identify questions that a reader might have: As you look back through your draft, think about moments where a reader might question you. This strategy might simply make you aware of spots where you need to go into further detail, or it might open up a whole new line of thought for you. As Harris describes it, this process is more than just playing “devil’s advocate.” Instead, it’s an opportunity to look for alternate lines of thinking your draft might open up.
Revising as Looking Ahead: What’s Next?
Look at your final paragraphs to see how you’ve expressed your main idea: When we’re drafting, it often takes several paragraphs (or pages …) for us to “warm up” and begin doing our best writing. Often, the clearest, most articulate statements of purpose occur at the end of a rough draft rather than at the beginning. Take advantage of that by looking at your final paragraphs to see if some of the language there can help you to shape and refocus the earlier parts of your draft.
Look ahead to see the implications of your draft: Once you’ve reached the end of an initial draft, you might think about what the implications of your ideas are. Your conclusion should suggest why your ideas matter and what they suggest for further study. Harris suggests the questions “What’s next?” and “So what?” That last question is particularly powerful. Why should your reader care about what you’ve said, and why does it matter? Those are tough questions, of course, but they’re an essential part of making an interesting point.
Rubric: Think of the rubric I will be using as a guideline/checklist for revision. It identifies important terms and characteristics of effective writing (logic, rhetoric, grammar). I will be looking for them; and so you can also look for them in your writing as you revise.
Another revision strategy we will use is Peer Response, the kind that you can also seek in the Writing Center. Here are the guidelines for the response that you will provide to the peers in your response group–and a rubric for how I will assess it.
Guidelines for Peer Response:
These are the questions your peer response should answer. In addition to providing your response in the comment box at the side, you can also identify specific moments on the text (using the insert comment function) that direct the writer to elements of your response (for example: this section here is a strength; this section is an example of where I think the draft needs to elaborate the argument, etc.) I will expect to see all four of these questions addressed in order to receive full points.
- What’s the project? What does the focus/argument seem to be at this point? Report back as best you can what you take the argument to be (a brief abstract of the draft).
- What’s working? How can the writer build on the strengths of the draft? Identify one or two strengths, with specific reference to (or marking of) the draft.
- What else might be said? How should the writer acknowledge other views/possibilities for the argument? Where might the argument need to be clarified or complicated? Point to a specific location, raise a question, suggest a counter-perspective.
- What’s next? What are some implications that the essay might work towards in its conclusion? What does the writer need to do to get there?
Rubric for Peer Review (5 points)
5: peer response is thorough and thoughtful, responding to all questions/categories as assigned, providing the writer guidance with what’s working but also what else might need attention
3-4: responds to most questions/categories, providing sufficient guidance to the writer, with room to expand the response and explain further what’s working and/or what else needs attention
1-2: limited peer response provided, only general comments that don’t address the questions
0: no peer response
Rubric for the Draft you submit (5 points)
4-5: draft is at least 2 pages, submitted on time, in paragraph form, with sufficient argument (terms) and text (quotations, examples) that the reader can respond to
3: draft is submitted on time, but limited, barely 2 pages or less, not much for reader to work with
1-2: not submitted on time or very limited
0: not submitted
Some principles, concepts, and strategies from the course to remember and put to work in your final project…
Revision, as we have emphasized in each of the writing projects this term, is not so much “fixing” our writing and reading as taking it further. In that sense, writing represents a continual feedback loop of experimentation and recomposition of old and new ideas.
This final project in revised reading and writing tests your progress with the four main objectives of this course (remember those?): developing critical reading; developing rhetorical knowledge; developing effective writing process; developing your grasp of conventions, usage, style. Those objectives, of course, are ongoing; but your final project should demonstrate your development in those areas–in contrast, say, with the last ‘paper’ you wrote in high school or the first essay you wrote in this course.
The project also provides an opportunity for publication–what we do and want to do (in different forms and forums) as writers. For example, you might consider submitting this essay for consideration by one of the numerous publications on campus that highlight student work–and include critical writing, are not limited to fiction or poetry. Those publications include The Collegian and The Washington College Review. Alexandra Smythe’s essay, “I am a Reader, I am a Writer,” was published in the WCR–and was a final project from this course a few years ago.
The projects also provides an opportunity for you to put to work the rhetorical focal points we explored and practiced with each project. In a preface to a final project, a former student wrote this review of those focal points, informed by Joseph Harris’s terminology and our use of his book Rewriting:
When Coming to Terms with a text by another writer, I then make three moves:
- Define the project of the writer in my own terms,
- Note keywords or passages in the text,
- Assess the uses and limits of this approach
In Forwarding a text, I begin to shift the focus of my readers away from what its author has to say and toward my own project:
- Illustrating: When I look to other texts for examples of a point I want to make.
- Authorizing: When I involve the expertise or status of another writer to support my thinking
- Borrowing: When I draw on terms or ideas from other writers to use in thinking through my subject
- Extending: When I put my own spin on the terms or concepts that you take from other texts.
Countering– Three main ways of creating a sort of critical distance:
- Arguing the other side: showing the usefulness of a term or idea that a writer has criticized or noting problems with one that she or he has argues for.
- Uncovering values: Surfacing a word or concept for analysis that a text has left undefined or unexamined.
- Dissenting: Identifying a shared line of thought on an issue in order to note its limits
Revising-My aim is instead to describe revising as a knowledge practice, as a consistent set of questions you can ask of a draft of an essay that I am working on:
- What’s your project? What do you want to accomplish in this essay? (Coming to Terms)
- What works? How can you build on the strengths of your draft? (Forwarding)
- What else might be said? How might you acknowledge other views and possibilities? (Countering)
- What’s next? What are the implications of what you have to say? (Taking an Approach)
Remixing: What are the affordances and constraints, or the uses and limits, of the medium I am using? How can I most effectively present my argument in the medium of my writing?
Our focal point in the first project was developing ethos through reflection. There are two places you can see this critical reflection emerge in an essay and think about, going into the next project, how you can continue to develop it: a strong set up of your argument, its clarity and complexity (a statement in brief form of your argument as a response to a problem, a focused and arguable thesis); strong coherence of that argument as it moves through your body paragraphs (the elaboration of the problem/response and your keywords or terms–in other words, how you support, complicate, and reiterate the argument through critical and personal reflection ).
Some examples to consider from a selection of writers from past classes; these are not the only way to do it, but they offer some good models for practice.
Clarity and Complexity of the Argument
- Keita: Note how the title initiates the “problem” that the first sentence also wraps into the given. By the end of the first paragraph, the key term “conversation” identifies the essay’s response to the problem.
- Valerie: Example of a two paragraph set up, beginning with a narrative (placing the reader in a detail from the story), then pulling back for the statement of the problem and response.
- Kassie: Note the development of reflection in the second paragraph (first body paragraph), spending time (not racing through nostalgically) a particular experience, then using a critical quotation to reiterate her key terms.
- Jacob: a good example of using a critical quotation (first Birkerts, then Graff) in a body paragraph to elaborate and complicate the argument. Take a look at the second body paragraph where he uses Birkerts as part of his conversation–both to agree initially with him, but then to take his argument toward a different view of intellectual reading. This is a good example of what we will work on in the next project–forwarding someone else’s text.
- Alicia offers a good example of developing the critical reflection to elaborate an example within a body paragraph that also supports/reiterates/complicates the argument and thesis. Paragraphs 3-5 are particularly strong–and notice the ways she uses the critics (Harris and Birkerts) to develop the personal reflection.
- Strong example from Jillian–notice how she moves out from her argument with a new image/scene, but in doing so reiterates the argument. This helps send the reader from her particular argument with thoughts of other places/implications for the argument.
- We are talking about complicating our critical and rhetoric–developing the layers of our argument. That sort of complication is a good thing in our writing. In terms of grammar and style, we also want to give some attention to clarifying aspects of our sentences that might be confusing. This is something for you to consider when editing. For some useful guidance on confusion in writing and grammar, see this section of the Guide to Grammar and Writing on Eliminating Confusion.
Joseph Harris writes of “revising as a knowable practice, as a consistent set of questions you can ask of a draft of an essay that you are working on” (Rewriting 99). Throughout the course, we will be using Harris’ four questions to guide us in the practice of revision; this is a strategy for getting a better grasp on where we are in a draft, of talking/listening to our work in progress. Here are the questions:
- What’s your project?
- What works?
- What else might be said?
- What’s next?
Students often say they need to work on their organization. It is, however, not always clear to them what organization means–or more to the point, how it is stitched and structured into an essay. I emphasize organization as a matter of revision and, in many cases, of some simple stylistic choices that “thread” an argument: keywords (beginning with a title), basic transition words that signal continuation while also emphasizing–this idea, this passage, but, however. A critical essay, we know, needs a thesis; an effectively organized essay often just needs more conscious attention to its transitions and key words–to the ways the writer can move the reader through the essay. For an example, consider this review in NYTimes Book Review of Edward Hirsch poetry by Peter Campion. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Between Ordinary and Ecstatic
Contemporary American poetry is sometimes panned for being mundane. With all the splendor and terror in the world, why should we care about some guy’s memories of high school, or the quality time he spends with his cat? Glancing over it, you might suspect that Edward Hirsch’s poetry would lend evidence to this view. Hirsch will begin a poem with a line like “Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater” or “Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge.” Neither opening seems to burn with that hard, gemlike flame.
But in Hirsch’s work, things are not always what they seem. Certainly, his poems work to dignify the everyday. But they do more than that. What makes Hirsch so singular in American poetry is the balance he strikes between the quotidian and something completely other — an irrational counterforce, the “living fire” that gives its name to his new selected poems.
That phrase appears in “Wild Gratitude,” the title poem of Hirsch’s 1986 volume. On its surface, the poem seems to be about, well, a guy spending time with his cat. But as he listens to her “solemn little squeals of delight,” he begins to remember the 18th-century English visionary and madman Christopher Smart, who in his most famous poem, “Jubilate Agno,” venerated his own cat, Jeoffry. The memory leads to a chain of associations, and the poem ends in a nearly epiphanic moment:
And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry — and every creature like him —
Who can teach us how to praise — purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.
This passage could stand as an emblem for all of Hirsch’s poetry. Literary and allusive, but also domestic and intimate, as it rises toward praise, Hirsch’s voice resounds with both force and subtlety.
One of the pleasures of reading the new selected poems is the chance to see that voice develop and then range freely and surprisingly. Most poets are hot one minute and cold the next, depending almost on the day of the week. But Hirsch is worth reading chronologically. He not only gets better with each new book; he also provides a kind of model for the growth of poetic intelligence…[goes on in the next paragraphs to review briefly those books included in the selected poems.]
Some samples to consider from the first writing project. As you reflect on your own writing process (what worked well the last time, what you want to continue for the next one, improve or change), looking at samples of what some of your peers are doing will help you experiment and develop your own writing.
- Example of a clear thesis established in contrast to a critical voice (the basic they say/I say template): Sam; Robby; Tim.
- A stronger thesis toward end–might leave there (one option for a thesis) but might also want to revise up to beginning: Nick.
- Use of title for establishing focus/thesis up front: Devin