In college, you’re going to have to write. Writing anything in general is difficult, especially if it’s not something you’ve done because you’ve been out of school for years or your high school didn’t stress writing as a skill. Regardless of your major, you will have to take at least English 2010, which usually includes essay writing of some sort.
But no matter what your writing abilities are, your first draft can be improved upon, and that means revision. Fortunately, there are numerous techniques you can do to revise your paper and get it to the best it can be.
1. Read the paper out loud.
Being able to read quickly is a skill you will need in college, regardless of the field you are going into. However, when it comes to needing to carefully look at a piece of paper for mistakes, typos and stylistic errors, speed is often the enemy. By reading aloud, you force yourself to slow down, look at each individual word on the page and actually hear how it sounds. This is especially useful if your sentences tend to ramble on for more than ten words, like mine.
For more creative pieces, like poetry or fiction, you get to hear how the words sound together. Because, alas, that amazing act of alliteration you have attempted does not astonish your audience as you aspired it to. Also (and I’m probably going to be hung by my fellow copywriters and tutors for saying this) you can hear pauses in your voice that may indicate when you need a comma or that the sentence has gone on for far too long.
2. Have a physical copy.
This is more along the lines of taking your time to comb through your essay. A physical copy is nice to hold in your hands. You can caress it, love it, burn it, but also, you can make actual physical marks on the paper. Doing revisions on a computer screen is fine and dandy, but sometimes our eyes just skip over words that appear twice. The act of holding a pen and making red marks all over the pages also feels a lot more productive than hitting backspace three or four times before moving on. You can physically see places where you are making revisions before you go back and fix them, giving you that nice feeling of productivity.
3. Don’t think about it for a while.
This is where procrastinators can thrive and meticulous people can sink. I know how counter-intuitive it is to purposely ignore a paper, but, trust me, it works. Of course, this only works if you have a finished paper written, so procrastinating writing the damn thing doesn’t help, no matter how many times I try. By stepping away from the paper a bit, you can view it from the perspective of an outsider. You can see where you might need to expand an idea because you mentioned it in a vague way. Or perhaps it was one in the morning when you wrote that sentence and now it makes no sense because you are awake and sober.
4. Take it to the Writing Center (or to a friend)
This is a shameless plug for where I work, but it is — as I said — shameless. Honestly, it is okay to ask for help. Sometimes, you get so caught up in your head, you write yourself into a corner. You have no idea where to go, whether the grammar looks good or not or even if the subject you’re writing about is worth spending your and your reader’s time on. Having another person’s eyes on your paper can give you a new perspective and ask hard questions, forcing you to see a new angle.
If you don’t have a friend who’s willing to read your draft, take it to the Writing Center down in Elizabeth Hall, Room 210. My fellow tutors and will take a look at it and try to answer all of your questions.
Of course, these are all suggestions. Revision is something that is personal to each person. What works for me may not work for you. It takes practice and time to know what fits you best, and the type of essay you’re writing and amount of time you have available may change what strategies you use. Just know you’re not alone. Creating good writing is hard, but there are strategies you can use to conquer the beast that is writing.