Revision strategy: cut your paper to pieces (seriously!)

by Liza Hagerman

So you’ve been told to revise a paper. What does that actually mean? Beyond making minor grammatical corrections, you need to make some significant changes to what you’ve written, considering your professor’s feedback. Often the toughest question that plagues anyone is: where to begin?

First off, don’t fret! Revising a paper isn’t so bad once you get started, and there are practical first steps you can take. I’ll tell you about my favorite strategy.

Print out a copy of your paper (without your professor’s comments) and find a large open floor or table space. Cut your paragraphs apart and spread them out so that they are each in different spots on the floor (or table) and won’t mingle. Then, cut your sentences apart in each paragraph, still keeping them in your separate groupings.

You’re off to a good start! Time to make some major improvements.

Focus on one paragraph at a time. Reorganize your sentences by moving them around. Try a variety of scenarios, and see what order makes the most logical sense. Each sentence should lead to the next, building upon one another. Physically moving them around will likely open you up to a new organization you haven’t thought of before but makes so much more sense!

See a sentence that’s irrelevant? Move it off to the side. Later you can see if it belongs in a different paragraph, should be the starting point for a new paragraph, or should just be removed.

Repeat the previous steps for each paragraph.

Once you finish reorganizing each paragraph, treat them like you did your sentences and make sure that they are presented in logical order too.

After taking these steps, you will likely have found sentences or phrases that you know you should rewrite. You also might have found logical gaps that need to be filled to clarify your argument for the audience. Rewrite these portions and fill the gaps, and don’t forget to proofread (multiple times)!

If you follow all these steps, chances are that you’ve written a solid revision!

Liza Hagerman graduated in May 2013 with a major in English; she served as a writing tutor for a year and a half, and was editor-in-chief of The Pilot as a senior. She is the English Department post-graduate teaching intern for 2013-14.

For another take on this strategy, check out Organizational issues? Rip it up!

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