by Shannon Naylor
I recently finished a draft of an important research paper. Like most of my first drafts, it needed many improvements before it was ready to be turned in. I printed out a copy, grabbed a red pen, and started editing. By the time I was done with the first page, I could hardly distinguish between the different edits, notes, and proposed additions that littered the page. Frankly, it was a mess. What to do?
Good revision, like a good paper, is organized so that you can make sense of what editing needs to be done. On my first pass, I hadn’t been looking for specific things to fix, and I had made the edits difficult to read. Here’s the revision strategy that I’ve been using since then in order to polish my papers.
This particular strategy works best with a hard copy of the paper. It allows you to have a tactile interaction with the process, but you can achieve something similar with Microsoft Word if preferred. I find that it is easiest to use three differently colored pens and a highlighter. Any colors will do so long as they are readable, but I like to use red, blue, and green pens with a yellow highlighter.
- Skim through your paper without making any marks to determine what its weaknesses are. (In mine, I needed to fix typos, add commentary, remove repetition, and edit for sentence clarity.)
- On your next pass, cross out typos and poorly phrased or unnecessary sentences with the red pen.
- Write in changes and additions with blue pen.
- Use the green pen to make marginal notes about what each paragraph says and does. (See Put It in Reverse for details on this strategy.)
- Go through with the highlighter to mark structural issues or patterns that need to be made visible. (This may change from paper to paper. For example, in one paper I marked places where I repeated words with a highlighter, but in another I used it to indicate where I already had commentary, where it was missing, or where I needed to add more.)
By the end of this revision process, you should have a good understanding of the current state of your paper as well as how you intend to fix it. You’ll be set to have a radical time revising!
Shannon is a junior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. She is looking forward to studying and performing Shakespeare with the England Abroad in the fall.