Tag Archives: revising

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.

The other side of tutoring

by Ariana Dale

When I was a student I never took the time to go to a tutor, or any academic workshop offered on campus. Now that I am no longer a student and am working in an office that hosts workshops and works with writing tutors, I am beginning to realize how much I actually missed out on.

Like many college students, I found tons of reasons why not to go to the workshops or writing tutors. These excuses ranged anywhere from “My paper isn’t due for another two weeks” to “I have way too much going on” or “I don’t need the help and work better on my own.” These all boiled down to my lack of awareness and inefficient use of time, or simply a lack of willingness to ask for help when I really could have used it.

I think this idea of thinking we don’t need help is one of the biggest pitfalls in the writing community. Everyone can use a little help with their writing. (Professors too!) Revision is a process that requires multiple read-throughs, and having an extra pair of eyes makes each additional read-through that much more beneficial. I always did OK when I turned in papers: I never got an “A++, you’re great! 100%,” but I never completely tanked (a.k.a. F–) on an assignment either, so I didn’t think getting help with my work would matter much in the end. I was blind to the fact that everyone asks for help, especially good writers. I found that many of the students getting the A’s in class were the students who were asking their peers or writing tutors to look over their paper with them.

This year it dawned on me:

If you want a better grade, be willing to ask for help.

Now that I’m on the other side of tutoring, where people are asking for me for help, I see just how valuable this collaborative resource is. Not only are tutors helpful in finding and addressing different issues or patterns within your work, they’re also great to bounce ideas off of so that you can further develop your ideas and master the concepts in your paper. An added perk to this is that you’ll get better and better at writing and editing your papers the more you ask for help. If a tutor helps you better understand commas this week, maybe next week you can dive deeper into more complex sentence structure and word choice to make your paper stronger and clearer.

So, when in doubt, ask a tutor!

Ariana is the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern (PGTI) for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). She graduated in the spring of 2016 with a B.S. in biology and a creative writing minor.

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.

Students’ advice for students: Issue trees

by Stuart McFall

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.

I think that when it comes to revising and editing, a writer should have a strategy that works well for them to structure and develop their ideas. I think it is important to have a well-organized piece of writing so that the content is more easily understood. A great strategy that writers can use is called an issue tree. Issue trees make it easy for a writer to expand on their ideas, revise their content, and organize their work into a well-structured piece of writing. It is important for a writer to have a well-structured piece because it makes the reader’s job a lot easier. It also helps a writer expand on the main idea to write a fully developed piece of writing.

Making an issue tree is very simple. Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. (You’ll need a pencil with an eraser to make any changes to your issue tree.) Draw a small circle at the top of your paper large enough to fit the topic of your paper in it. Write your topic, or your thesis if you have one, in that circle. Now draw more circles below your topic for each of your main points. Once you have done this, expand on each topic by drawing more circles underneath each main idea-circle. Fill this third tier of circles with specific statements, ideas, or questions you have for each main point. Continue to expand each idea and sub-idea into more circles until all your topics are expanded to your satisfaction. Finally, organize your tree into a structure that makes sense for the topic of your paper. If this means you need to take out parts or move parts around, do so.

I have used this strategy before in an assignment for Fiction Writing class. We had to write a personal story from someone else’s perspective. I built my issue tree, organized it, and then wrote my paper from that issue tree. It helped me organize the plot of the story really well so that it was easy for the reader to follow. It also helped me expand each of my main plot points for the story. I felt the issue tree really helped me write something great, and that’s why I use this strategy for a lot of my papers. I hope you try this out with your own writing and see how well it works for you.

 

Stuart McFall is a junior majoring in business administration and minoring in economics.

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.

 

Revising or Editing?

by Shannon Naylor

Many students hear “revising and editing” and think of them as synonymous terms. This isn’t the case. While both are practices that improve pieces of writing, revising and editing are actually two different ways of approaching that goal.

  • Revising is intended to help you address the big picture: content, organization, the form and structure of a narrative or argument.
  • Editing, on the other hand, focuses on details like sentence structure, proper grammar, punctuation usage, and other mechanical aspects of writing.

These two activities have a shared purpose and often occur at the same time, but they are separate processes with their own merits.

To illustrate, let’s imagine that a student takes time to revise her paper, but spends no time editing it. She looks over her piece and notices that her introduction and conclusion contain completely different ideas. She re-reads her paper and discovers that her main ideas are better stated in her conclusion, so she rewrites her introduction so that her paper has a unified direction. She also repositions some paragraphs, changing their sequence, in order to strengthen her argument. However, misplaced or missing commas riddle her paper, and several of her citations are formatted incorrectly. She revised, but didn’t edit.

Another student, feeling rushed to finish before a deadline, only edits his paper. He notices and corrects several typos, and adds a citation for a quote he’d overlooked. He realizes that many of his sentences have a repeated structure (it “sounds” a bit monotone). These sentences are improved once he edits them. However, he fails to notice that some of his paragraphs have too many ideas in them. And while his thesis is a clearly written sentence, it doesn’t capture the essence of what he argues in the body of his paper. He has edited, but not revised.

Each paper needs BOTH processes.

I hope that the example of these imaginary students clarifies what revising and editing look like and how they can each improve a paper. Just remember that revising and editing work best when you make time to do them both.

 

Shannon Naylor is a former Principia writing tutor and the current post-graduate teaching intern in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

How to write a research paper without feeling overwhelmed

by Laura Tibbetts

  1. Find a topic that interests you. Even if professors assign an overall topic for the paper, the topic will often be broad enough for you to find some aspect of it that interests you.
  1. Get sources. Use the library, I-Share, and databases to collect as many sources as you need about your topic.
  1. Research! Skim or browse through all the sources you’ve found, taking note of information that strikes you as particularly relevant to your topic or that provides an interesting opinion/perspective. Be on the lookout for short passages where an author expresses an idea clearly and concisely, because those passages may be useful to quote later in your paper. This stage of the process would also be a good time to start a bibliography so that you can keep track of your sources.
  1. Formulate a thesis. Based on the research you’ve done and the different opinions you’ve found on your topic, come up with a specific and arguable thesis—one that shows what the focus of your paper will be and illustrates your opinion about a question/perspective on your topic that came up in your research. Your thesis can always evolve as you write your paper.
  1. Outline. Now that you have a specific topic and thesis, make a basic outline with an introduction, conclusion, and the main topics supporting your thesis that you want to cover in the body of your paper. Add a few supporting points under each main topic. After making the basic outline, expand it by adding details to all of your paragraphs in the outline, and include specific quotes, paraphrases, or summaries from what you’ve found in your research (don’t forget to cite your sources!). Sandwich the research in between your own thoughts and opinions about the research. (See “A quote sandwich to remember.”)
  1. Make the outline into full sentences. You essentially already have your paper—now you just need to turn all the phrases in your outline into full sentences. You may need to add transitions so that everything flows smoothly, as well as introductory and concluding sentences to each paragraph.
  1. Revise and edit. This is arguably the most important step in the process of writing a paper, so make sure you leave enough time for as much revising as possible. It doesn’t matter if your initial paper is terrible; as long as you devote enough effort to this stage, you could still end up with a great paper.

One of the benefits of this process is that if you follow it, you entirely avoid the problem of staring at a blank page and trying to create a paper out of thin air. Breaking up the process into steps has made writing research papers much less overwhelming for me, and I hope you find it useful as well!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.