Category Archives: Revision

Take a step back before moving forward

by Mackenzie Batten

Sometimes when I am writing a paper, I get so excited about the subject that I start writing down anything and everything. In high school when I would do this, I would have to go back afterwards and read sentence by sentence to make sure everything fit. My FYE tutor, however, taught me a more efficient way of making sure my content relates back to my thesis and that thoughts are in the right order.

It is called the reverse outline, and I am going to explain how I use this helpful tool!

In order to fully take advantage of this technique, I start out by writing a complete rough draft. (You could also use a partial draft if you want to review the organization of what you have so far. If you have not started your paper, a normal outline would be more helpful.)

Once I have something to work with, I make the reverse outline. At the top of the paper, I like to write the main thesis of the writing so that I can reference it later. For each paragraph, I construct a sentence that summarizes the main idea. Sometimes I just use the topic sentence of the paragraph, when it accurately represents the contents. But when it doesn’t, I write a new sentence that expresses the main purpose of the paragraph.

It is useful to number the paragraphs and the sentences in the outline for easy reference.

Now that the outline is complete, I can ask myself questions to improve the organization and content of the paper. Some questions I ask myself are:

Does every paragraph have a purpose? Or are there too many important points in one paragraph? Sometimes a paragraph doesn’t have a clear purpose, so I either need to further expand on the subject or combine it with another unfinished paragraph. But occasionally the paragraphs work better separated if there are too many ideas in one section. Breaking up or combining paragraphs so each contains one complete point is the goal.

Do the main ideas of my paragraphs relate back to my thesis? If not, should I alter my thesis because I see I’ve made a new, important point? Occasionally, I like what I have written so much that I choose to alter my thesis to match the subject of my pre-existing paragraph rather than change the paragraph to match the thesis.

Does the order of my paragraphs make sense? This is when numbering the paragraphs becomes very useful! Paragraphs are moveable, so be open to reorganizing.

I hope this reverse outline technique helps you organize your thoughts! I know this technique has helped me revise my papers and make sure I am producing my best possible writing! (For more ideas on reverse outlines, check out “Reverse outlines to get you to the finish line”  and “Put it in reverse.”)


Mackenzie Batten is a political science major. She enjoys competing in Principia’s Moot Court and on the Mediation Team.

Reverse outlines to get you to the finish line

by Maddi Demaree

The final weeks of the semester are often very full with classes, wrap-up activities and performances, and, if you’re anything like me, a lot of late nights. This might make it hard to get in to see the writing tutors for help on the revising process of your paper. Just in case you find yourself revising at 2:00 a.m., here’s a strategy you can use without help: the reverse outline.

You are probably familiar with the process of creating an outline at the beginning of the writing process to map out the structure of your paper. This helps to ensure that the ideas in your paper flow in a logical way, with each paragraph tying back to the one before it. Unfortunately, sometimes your writing doesn’t quite go as planned, and when you reach the end of the paper you find that it isn’t as coherent as you’d like it to be. This is a perfect time to utilize the reverse outline.

Reverse outlines function in a similar way to a typical outline—they help you to check the logical unfoldment of ideas in your paper—and quickly reveal to you if something doesn’t make sense! They also help you check for paragraph unity.

The simplest way to create a reverse outline is to look at each paragraph of your paper, and decide on a word or phrase that describes the purpose of that paragraph in relation to the rest of your paper. If you are struggling to find one phrase to describe any given paragraph, it is possible that your paragraph is covering too many ideas at once. At that point, it might be wise to think about how you could restructure the paragraph to have a more singular purpose.

Once you’ve chosen a phrase that can adequately describe the purpose of the paragraph, write that phrase in the margin of your paper. For example, the phrase that might describe the first paragraph of my paper might be: “introduction—giving  context to the issues.”  Later on in the paper, I need to introduce different parties that are interested in the issue that my paper is about. I would describe the paragraph that introduces one of these parties using the phrase “stakeholders’ policy preferences.” These phrases help me know what function each paragraph serves in relation to the rest of the paper.

Go through each paragraph of the paper, writing the phrase you determine in the margin next to the appropriate paragraph. Once you have finished completing that process for each paragraph, write (or type) these phrases out in outline form.

Now, examine your outline. Ask yourself: Does each concept lead to the next one? Does each paragraph accomplish the purpose you hoped that it would accomplish? Should any of your paragraphs be re-ordered to make more sense?

I just used this process with a capstone writer I was working with, and we found that one section of this student’s paper was missing the appropriate introductory context. We were so glad to find that content was something that was already in the paper, but the writer had placed in an earlier section. By creating a reverse outline, we saw how we could reorder content that was already in the paper to best support the flow of ideas.

Maddi Demaree is a senior who will be traveling abroad to New Zealand in the spring.

Revision: Run the whole race

by Anna-Zoë Herr

At this point in the semester, you might feel overloaded with the amount papers you have to write and hand-in on time. If this is the case, you might feel tempted to turn in a paper without any revising or editing (as I have done a few times, but have learned to never do again). It has been proven, though, that revised papers receive higher grades and better feedback from professors. 

I like to think of each paper as a thought marathon, and in order to finish strong and improve our performance, we need to run the whole race and not drop out 50 feet before the finish line. To overcome the last 50 feet, you have to go through one of the most underestimated but powerful parts of writing a paper: the revising and editing process.

Let’s differentiate these two processes: Revising relates to the inner structure of your paper. It is looking at how the ideas flow, how paragraphs are structured, and how the paper sounds from beginning to end. This process requires time and attention. Editing is the mechanical process of finding punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, and sentence fragments. This can typically be a quick process.

Here are three tips on how to make these processes a little bit easier:

1) Value your writing

I realized that sometimes I have turned in unrevised writings because I didn’t value what I had written enough to give it a little bit more time and love. At first, it really didn’t seem to matter to me. But the truth is that it does matter to me, and I feel much better when I hand in something that is coherent, revised and strong. Valuing yourself and your writing shows that you respect yourself and the amount of time you have invested in a paper. Giving your all to these last feet in the “race” is absolutely worth it.

2) Eat one piece of the pie at a time

It is a crazy undertaking to want to revise a whole paper in one pass. To make sure that you really do every part of your revision, create a strategy that is broken up into chunks. Your strategy could look something like this:

  • Check the flow of writing, especially how one paragraph flows into the next. Don’t be afraid to move paragraphs and sentences, add new material, or delete material that doesn’t quite fit.
  • Read the introduction and conclusion and make sure that the ideas relate to each other and connect to the rest of the paper.
  • Go over the paper to correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure errors.

3) Give yourself time

This is a crucial part, because writing a good paper requires time. Ideally, you have a week to revise, in which you can commit to one part of the strategy a day. That way, you spend very little time on it each day and avoid getting overwhelmed with stress or boredom with your paper.


Anna-Zoë is in her last semester and the final week of her capstone, which she will present during the last week of classes. Afterwards, she will stay on as a PGTI for the sustainability center for one semester and then hopefully go to grad school in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Quick tips for editing in a pinch

By Jessica Barker

At some point throughout your academic career, you’ve likely been taught that editing is essential to writing polished papers—that you should write multiple drafts, peer review, and maybe even meet with a writing tutor. These are all important steps that you should ideally take, but what if you are running short on time or you just need to do some final edits? Here are some simple steps you can take to improve your paper.

  1. Distance yourself from it

This may seem like an unnecessary step, especially if you don’t have much time, but it can make a world of difference. When you allow yourself to take time away from your paper and do something else, you will find that you are able to approach it with a new outlook. This will allow you to be more objective and catch mistakes that you might not otherwise find.

  1. Print your paper

It is helpful to print your paper—more helpful than you may realize. A simple change in format can help you spot mistakes that you might not have originally seen.

  1. Read your paper aloud

When reading silently it is easy to overlook typos and skim over grammatical errors. However, when you read out loud you are more apt to find errors since you are able to both hear and see what you have written. Use your printed copy for this.

  1. Cut out unnecessary adverbs

As you begin to read your paper out loud, one of the first things you can do is eliminate adverbs such as “really” or “very.” These words are often used with the intention of strengthening a sentence, but they tend to have an opposite effect. They usually don’t add anything to what you are trying to say and oftentimes come across as fillers, so it’s often best to just cut them out.

  1. Look for repetition

It is easy to accidentally repeat yourself when writing, particularly when you are working on a first draft. Because of this, it is important to search for repetition in your paper. Repetition may look like two consecutive sentences that contain similar ideas, or use of the same wording throughout a given section of writing. If you happen to find repetition in your paper, you can either remove it or combine the repeated ideas into one stronger idea.

Happy editing!


Jessica Barker is a sophomore majoring in theater and minoring in sociology and anthropology. After college she hopes to use theater to create social change and empower others.

Students’ advice to students: Buch Method Revision

by Nigel Graham

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

While there are many revision strategies to choose from, I have found one in particular that works well for me. This is the Buch Method Revision strategy. This method has worked so well for me because it has helped me develop the content and details of my writing. These are areas that I have previously struggled in. I have found that using the Buch Method Revision (BMR) strategy has helped me to improve my writing. This strategy helps add depth, which makes my writing a lot more persuasive and clear. I think using this strategy can greatly improve your writing as well.

BMR starts by focusing on a certain paragraph. From there you will add a new sentence after each sentence in the paragraph (starting after sentence #2). The new sentence should expand on the previous one. Then, you repeat this process for each sentence until you have a paragraph that is much more detailed than the original one. Lastly, look at the paragraph as a whole to see and remove any sentences that are redundant. Not only will the paragraph be more complete in terms of factual content, but it’s likely you’ll find ways to add needed analysis.

I have used this particular method in writing my grant proposal in Revising and Editing. This was an important strategy to use for the proposal because the assignment required my writing to have lots of detail and be very clear for the reader. BMR helped me make my sentences say what I wanted them to while making clear to the reader what the message was. I have also used BMR in non-persuasive pieces. When reading the final version after BMR had been applied to my proposal, I found that my writing had a much nicer flow and was also more interesting to read since the details made the paper easier to understand. I recommend that if you use BMR, you should also do a peer review session. By doing a peer review session, my partner and I were able to pick out and remove the weaker, redundant sentences.

Nigel Graham is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in sustainability and management information systems. His grant proposal focused on his great passion of waterskiing.

Organizational issues? Rip it up!

by Haley Schabes

Have you ever been so frustrated with a paper that you just want to rip it up? It turns out that you can—and have it be helpful.

When writing, sometimes I struggle with the direction and the clarity of my paper, or I struggle to keep all the information straight. For example, there might be paragraphs that have overlapping material or points that I feel like I can’t connect well. In cases like these, when I revise my paper, it feels like the paper is either repetitive or not cohesive. It can be frustrating as a writer to have all your evidence there, but seemingly jumbled on the page. But there is a fun and easy solution to this!

  1. Take some scissors (yes, scissors!) and “rip up” a hard copy of your paper by cutting between paragraphs.
  2. From there, find a big open space (like a table or the floor) and place your introduction and conclusion on opposite ends of the area.
  3. Begin experimenting with the remaining paragraphs’ order by placing them between the two. This will help you see what information connects and flows together.
  4. If there is a part of a paragraph that does not fit and should be moved, just take the scissors, carefully cut away the sentences, and slide them to a better position. In some cases, you may find that you need to create a new paragraph.
  5. When you are satisfied with the flow and order of your paragraphs, make the changes in your digital copy.
  6. Double check to make sure your thesis and topic sentences still hold despite having rearranged information. You may need to place additional transition sentences or make small edits to topic sentences to solidify connections between your thesis and other paragraphs.
  7. Read through your paper to make any further changes, finalize it, and celebrate!

This hands-on exercise allows you to visualize your paper’s direction more easily. By seeing all the components side-by-side (instead of just on the computer screen), you can see your thought process throughout the entire paper. This exercise can help you rearrange your evidence from a new angle, understand which material should be taken out, unveil where more transitions are needed, and improve the clarity and flow of your paper.

But remember: changes do not need to be revolutionary! Sometimes just changing the order of your paragraphs can make a big difference. By the end of this exercise, your seemingly jumbled information should be presented in a clean and logical order. For another take on this strategy, click here!

Happy organizing!

Haley Schabes is a junior majoring in business administration with minors in economics, Asian studies, and education.

Purposeful paragraphs

by Bailey Bischoff

To keep papers from seeming like an endless stream of words, we break them up into bite-size chunks through the use of paragraphs. Without paragraphs, readers would get lost in a sea of black and white. However, by using paragraphs, writers can help readers focus on the main ideas of the paper so that readers come away with an understanding of the writer’s organization, structure, and intent.

In order for readers to follow a paper’s ideas through the structure of paragraphs, each paragraph break must be purposeful. Inserting a paragraph break because you think there should be a break on every page or because it feels like there should be a break? Not the best strategy. Instead, you should focus on communicating one idea within each paragraph. This means that when you introduce a new idea, you should probably start a new paragraph.

Another way to think about paragraphs is to determine how the main idea in each paragraph relates to your thesis. The paragraph can support, negate, concur, analyze, or expand upon your thesis for the paper. One reason paragraph breaks are there is to make sure that you aren’t doing all of those things at the same time.

So here are some tips for improving paragraphs:

  1. Know what you are trying to communicate.

If you are unsure of what you’re trying to say, then you’ll have trouble saying it. Take a moment to think about your paper (or free write!) in order to gain a better understanding of the purpose of your paper as a whole.

  1. Know what’s happening within each paragraph to serve your paper’s purpose.

Is the purpose of the paragraph to support? Negate? Concur? Analyze? Expand? Make sure your paragraph has one purpose and contains one main idea.

  1. Let the introduction sentence lead.

The first sentence of the paragraph should give the reader an idea of where the paragraph is headed. Strengthening the first sentence will strengthen the paragraph.

  1. Read your paragraph and write down what you think is the main idea.

When you read the paragraph, does the main idea that’s actually there match up with the main idea you had in mind when you were writing it? If not, try restructuring your paragraph.

Purposeful paragraphs make for powerful papers.

Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Take your language game from vague to powerful

by Maddi Demaree

In my time as a tutor, I’ve discovered that sometimes a few quick fixes can drastically change the tone of someone’s writing. To change the tone from chatty or informal to more scholarly and professional, it helps to eliminate words or phrases such as “really,” “very,” and “a lot,” which are usually symptoms of a lack of clarity. More than that, they show a lack of specificity, which is prized in scholarly writing.

Here’s one example:

1a) While there were a lot of factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

While “a lot” is rather innocuous, it doesn’t really have a place in academic writing. Somewhat better alternatives might be these: “many,” “a number of,” or “countless.” But if you know the number, state it!

1b) While there were countless factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

Let’s look at another passage:

2a) Great Britain really wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a very hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

In this passage, “really” and “very” are unnecessary because the words “hastily” and “wanted” can stand on their own without emphasis. The only time the words “really” or “very” are appropriate in writing is to give emphasis to a word that does not have a stronger replacement. For example, instead of using “really hungry,” you can say “famished” or instead of “very tired,” you might say “fatigued.”

Other times you can just remove the troublesome words. Here, the passage has the same impact without “really” or “very”.

2b) Great Britain wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

Eliminating these colloquial words and phrases will immediately help take your writing from vague and general to specific and powerful.

Maddi Demaree is a passionate education major who loves helping others to realize, refine, and regain their innate writing abilities.

Creating and controlling

by Anna-Zoë Herr

“Writing calls on the ability to create words and ideas out of yourself, but it also calls on the ability to criticize them in order to decide which ones to use.” (Peter Elbow, p. 7)

There is no doubt: the quality of the papers and essays we write depends on the depth of thought that lies behind them.

Have you ever had a moment where you confidently bashed out a large paper the night before it was due because you had a sudden flash of insight? Those moments are great when they happen, but you can’t rely on a sudden flash of insight to produce high-quality writing.

Nobody is born being a perfect writer; rather, everyone learns how to write with time and practice. That’s actually the fascinating thing about writing, you aren’t a writer simply because you are talented. Everyone has to practice to become a good writer.

You are secretly a writing machine, but you may not realize that yet. Peter Elbow has discovered that at least two distinct stages are necessary for a written piece to be excellent: creating and controlling.

He noticed that we often neglect our creating process because we are already self-censoring, which in return curbs our creativity.

While the process of controlling our ideas in order to shape them into a coherent paper needs the critical eye of the detached artist, the process of generating ideas needs a faithful listener.

If you are sitting in front of your computer, staring at an empty word document, start like this:

1) Create, create, create. That means brainstorm, entertain impossible ideas, believe in your text and yourself as never before, make notes, write drafts, make mistakes, and even jot down ideas that don’t make any sense. Don’t judge yourself. Believe in your ideas.

2) Control. Now sort through what you have. Be critical with the ideas you find. If you find an idea that’s interesting, think through it and enlarge it. Look at your ideas through the lens of your end-goal. In this stage, you also do the editing and proofreading. You are your own critic.

These stages can be mixed and mingled while you write your paper—and they should. The important thing is that they represent different states of mind when it comes to writing. We need to give time to each.

We spend time as the biggest fan of our ideas in order to develop them fearlessly, then switch to being a critic to identify the best ideas and look for ways to improve them. By separating these two mental processes we save ourselves from disappointment with our own writing and also avoid writer’s block.

 Anna-Zoë is a double major in global perspectives and studio art. She has studied in a university in Germany prior to coming to Principia, where she also studied to be a writing tutor.


Elbow, Peter. An Approach to Writing in “Writing with Power”. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.


Crafting a conclusion

by Meg Andersen

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed when trying to wrap up your paper, you aren’t alone. It isn’t always easy to know what to include in your conclusion paragraph. Perhaps it feels repetitive, or you feel that you’ve exhausted all of your points and have nothing left to write. To make this process easier, here’s a simplified guide to writing effective conclusions:

Purpose: The conclusion helps readers know what to take away from the paper. They should reach the final word and have a clear idea of what you’ve told them and why.

The structure:

  • Restate your topic and thesis (your claim), but in a new way
  • Highlight the major points you made in your body paragraphs
  • Show us how those points fit together
    • The sum of the paper can be greater than the parts
    • You are synthesizing ideas, not just summarizing
  • Close with a statement that shows the reader the importance of your claim

How to make it happen:

  • Echo your introduction
    • Close the paper by incorporating a theme, quote, claim, or style from your introduction paragraph
  • Think big
    • Papers tend to start general (intro) and get specific (body paragraphs)
    • In your conclusion, you can go from specific to general
      • Start with the specific ideas from your paper and then zoom out to show the larger importance of the topic/idea
    • Look to the future
      • Looking to the future is another way of thinking big—it gives the reader something to chew on after putting the paper down
    • Defend your case
      • Close with a strong statement that supports your big idea—the “so what?”—without simply restating the thesis

Conclusions can be very helpful when wrapping up your thoughts at the end of a paper. I often find that my ideas become clearest when I get to the conclusion, because it forces me to ask the “so what?” question. Why did I make that point in paragraph three? What am I really saying in this essay, and why is it important that others read it?

For this reason and many others, conclusions really can be quite helpful, both to you and to the reader. Enjoy the process, and remember that you can always come see your trusty writing tutors in the library if you’re feeling stuck!

Meg Andersen is a junior and a Business Administration major. She loves travel, art, and breakfast food, and lives in San Francisco.