I'm Done Writing my Paper... Now What?Contributed by Janette Siu on 01 March 2008 at 13:57
You've finally finished that terrible essay that your prof gave you last week. What a relief that that's over with! Now, just to make absolutely sure that your paper is what it's supposed to be, you go back and check the assignment sheet one last time... and at the bottom, you notice this little sentence that says, "Be sure to revise your paper."
"Revise?" you say. "I thought my paper was pretty decent while I wrote it... and I did my best and I don't think I could do any better. Besides which, I just finished writing this monster. The last thing I want to do is read it over again... after all, it's 10 pages long!" After a moment's thought, you add, "I don't even know how to go about revising anyway..."
Fear not, my friend. There are ways to tackle this beast called Revision.
Here's a funny coincidence of the English language. "Revision" comes from "revise," but by one of those strange and happy occurrences, the noun form of the word can give us a hint about how to do the verb. Re-vision. Look at it again. "OK," you say, "I knew that already. So what?" So, you should look at it with fresh eyes. That means setting it aside for 24 hours or more before you read it over. Why? Because after a while, you will recover from being tired of writing this assignment, and you won't be thinking, "I'm so sick of this paper!" while you reread it. Instead, you can focus on the organization and flow of your writing. Also, you'll be better able to detect places where you did not clearly explain your thinking (which was so clear to you while you were writing it!), or maybe you'll be able to come up with that one word that escaped you while you were writing.
But I can hear you laughing now, "Silly! I always finish my papers an hour before they're due... I would never have time to set it aside for a day before revising it!" Well, though I would encourage you to try to finish earlier than that, I can certainly understand where you're coming from. And don't worry, there are still more strategies for revising, which don't take 24 hours.
As you reread your paper, try reading it out loud. Don't just whisper it quickly ("themosttellingcomponentofthisimageisitsdrabcolorpalette...") because that won't help as much as if you read it in a slow speaking voice. Pretend you're presenting your paper; read it like you're making a speech. (Don't be embarrassed; let your roommates hear what a great paper you wrote! Maybe they'll even have some good input about how you can revise it.) The point of reading out loud is to slow you down so that you actually read what's on the page, instead of what you know should be on the page. This will help you to catch places where you left out a word (which often happens to the best of us!), where you used the wrong word or the wrong form of the word, or other such mistakes. Also, reading your paper out loud will help you to pick out awkwardly phrased sentences ("That doesn't sound quite right..."), overly long sentences ("If it took me three breaths to get through this sentence, maybe I need to cut it down..."), or excessive repetition ("I used 'good' five times in two sentences... maybe I need to find some more descriptive words..."). If you find that reading out loud doesn't slow you down enough, try reading the entire thing out loud and backwards, word by word.
There are lots of other strategies you can try too. If you've been fighting with the phrasing of a sentence or two, try asking a friend if what you've written is clear. If you know that you've had trouble with homonyms in the past, use Control + F (if you're writing in Word) to search for all the instances of the troublesome words (such as "their," "there," and "they're") so you can check specifically to make sure you used them correctly. If you're struggling with a particular grammatical issue, try looking in a writing guide. We even wrote one just for you, and we put it online at http://studentaffairs.case.edu/education/resources/sagesguide/. Of course, you can always schedule an appointment with the SAGES Peer Writing Crew, and we would love to help you out!
Whenever you write, keep in mind that no matter how good your ideas are, people are less likely to listen to what you think if you don't communicate your thoughts clearly. Though it's sad, it's a fact that if you have a lot of small mistakes in your writing, you are less likely to be given credit for good thinking than if your writing is polished and professional. Therefore, go forth and revise, and knock 'em dead!