Our CWE blog topic this month is about revision strategies. How do we revise our work? What does our revision process look like? Although my revision process itself is complex, I can describe it rather simply: it’s a mess.
It’s difficult to say how, exactly, I revise because I’m constantly reworking sentences and paragraphs as I write them. There is no “stream of consciousness” or “rough draft” for me because I meticulously seek to perfect my writing as much as possible while I write this so-called first draft. As a result, by the time I have a full-length draft, there are usually few typos or issues with higher order concerns. I’ve reread it at least 50 times by now. So for this post, I don’t think it would be as beneficial for me to share my revision process as it would be for me to share some of the strategies I use when helping others revise.
In addition to my work as a consultant in the CWE, I assist many peers in their academic and professional work. I’ve also served as an adjunct writing instructor. In both cases, I have provided feedback online to assist others in their revision. Here’s how it looks:
When peers send me their writing as a Word document, I love using the “track changes” and “comment” features instead of simply “making corrections.” In this picture, you can see that I’ve added my suggestions in the margin of this personal statement so that the writer has a written record of the feedback that points to certain phrases or sections. I also use “track changes” so the writer maintains authorship by accepting or rejecting each change individually. This reinforces the idea that I’m not “making corrections,” but providing feedback as an interested reader.
As a writing instructor, Google Docs provided me with an easy way to read through students’ drafts and write comments that were instantly accessible to them. In the photo above, you can see that the comments in the margins are connected to highlighted portions of the paper. The comments are geared toward higher-order concerns related to documentation and content. You’ll also notice that I’ve included positive feedback, which is so important when helping someone revise. In addition to offering strategies for improvement, it is helpful to share what you think is effective so the writer can continue to build upon his/her strengths in future drafts or papers. In this writer’s case, I thought the “very good balance of evidence and analysis” was praiseworthy. The comment was intended to assure the writer that I recognized his hard work and that my focus was not solely on “errors” in his paper, as students often believe when receiving feedback.
In addition to providing in-text comments that directed the students’ attention to specific sections of the paper, I always offered them comments geared toward global revision at the end of their papers. Here you can see an example of my note to a student on a draft she submitted using Google Docs. First, as is my usual practice, I began with a positive comment. Next, I offered my suggestions, which included critical thinking questions. Each of the comments correlated with the point values included in the grading rubric on the right. My goal was for students to not only see the grade “44/50” and then shrug it off and correct grammatical errors in the draft or totally toss the draft to the side and choose not to revise and resubmit it. Since I encouraged students to revise all drafts for a higher grade, I knew it was important to give them the tools they needed to effectively rework their papers with a “revision roadmap” at the end of each draft.
As a collection, it’s interesting to consider what these pictures say about revision. For one, they reinforce the significance of having another pair of eyes on your writing to offer feedback as an interested reader, rather than as a brutal critic or grammar police officer. Secondly, they demonstrate something so valuable, but too often lost in evaluation: positive feedback. Sometimes we’re so quick to point out what we consider “wrong” that we forget to compliment their strengths in writing that can/should be duplicated in future drafts. We forget to instill in them the confidence that will motivate them to continue writing. In addition, I believe, revision comments must emphasize higher-order concerns and higher-level thinking because idea development is so critical to writing well. Finally, it is important for feedback to be considered as indicative of larger conversations. In the responses I wrote on my students’ papers, I tried to connect my comments to conversations I had with them in class. In the second photo, I mentioned signal phrases with a reminder that we discussed these in class (so he could look at his notes or the writing resources on our course webpage). Likewise, I referenced the “so what” or “bigger picture” in the third photo, terminology continually used in class throughout the semester. Even “Comment ” in the first image represents an in-person discussion I had with the writer. Ultimately, the thinking light bulb is much more likely to turn on when the comments relate to past or ongoing conversations that enable the writer to make meaningful connections between listening and applying. And I think that is what revision is all about: being able to anticipate readers’ responses and adjust accordingly or to critically listen to feedback and successfully incorporate it into drafts in order to produce the best possible work.