Drafting and Revising

The process of creating written text that expresses precisely what you want to say takes time, and academic writing is no exception. Some students tempt fate by starting to think about the essay that has to be in on Monday, sometime around Friday evening. Apart from the occasional genius amongst us, for most students, this is an open ticket to disaster. There has to be time for thought and there has to be time for planning, and once the writing starts, there has to be time for re-drafting and revising your material.

With computers all around us, drafting and revising has never been easier. Very few writers are pleased with their first efforts, so it's important to leave adequate time for reviewing and revision. The process of revision takes three main forms:

  • re-reading (many times)
  • reflecting (a lot)
  • revising (heaps)

The most important point here is that reviewing and revising is not a one-off activity. It is a process that could take place 5, 10 or even 20 times before you hand in your final essay. Every time you look through your essay ask yourself:

  • Have I said exactly what I want to say?
  • Have I said it clearly?
  • Is there any ambiguity?
  • Do my paragraphs address one particular point?
  • Is there a topic sentence for each paragraph?
  • Is it grammatically correct?
  • Are there any spelling mistakes?

Reading the essay through very carefully is important, but it is exceedingly difficult to read it through while looking for a variety of different features. It's not easy in one reading to check for grammar, spelling, fluency, paragraphing, the flow of the argument and punctuation all at the same time. A more effective approach is to read it through with a particular objective in mind, for example, to check the grammar. Having done that, a subsequent reading could be carried out in order to check the flow of the argument.

Three Suggestions

1. You will spot difficulties on a printed page of writing that you would not spot on the computer screen, so always print off a draft and check it through before you hand in the final draft.

2. A very effective way to check your writing is also to read it to yourself aloud. This might appear a rather odd suggestion, but in reality you will be able to pinpoint difficulties within your text much more easily by reading it aloud. This is a particularly effective way of checking your grammar as well as the overall flow of your argument.

3. Show your work to a friend and let him/her read it through. Your friend may or may not be doing the same course as you, but even if they are not their reading may pick out some difficulties with your text that you had not noticed.

Make sure you have signalled clearly what you are doing using introductory words and expressions like these:

  • Firstly,... Secondly,... Finally,...
  • At first,... Later,...
  • There are four reasons why...
  • Research studies suggest that the impact of global warming will have an impact in three main areas. Firstly, ...

Use verbs that reflect a quiet confidence in what you are saying, while also leaving open the possibility for debate:

  • The research suggests...
  • The evidence indicates...
  • The data reflect...
  • The findings support...

Do not overstate your case by using expressions like this:

  • It's obvious that...
  • It's clear that...
  • The evidence proves...

  • Anybody can clearly see that...
  • Use a variety of ways to refer to other's writing:

    • As Smith (1997) points out...
    • Research by Mohammed and Ali indicate that...
    • Johns and Gully found that...
    • In her study of Marx, Suleiman claims that...
    • McChlery notes that in addition to...
    • Her study provides an excellent...
    • The study conducted by Able and Tomlinson had similar findings and..
    • Rashid argues that...
    • Jacob identifies two reasons why...
    • Chande asserts that...
    • According to Berstein...
    • Fable and Heshim state that...
    • Fairbrother contends that...
    • A recent study (Opel 1999) maintains that...
    • Kanji's research findings confirm...
    • As can be seen from the table...
    • The discoveries clearly illustrate...
    • His research suggests...
    • Their research indicates...
    • Their analysis reveals...
    • The results of the study support the hypothesis that...
    • The findings clearly establish a link between...

    Avoid less objective expressions, where your attitude to the writer's ideas can be felt through your use of verb forms that have a subjective element:

    • White alleges...
    • Lema assumes...
    • Juma presumes that...
    • Axel claims that...
    • Innocent implies that...

    A final note with regard to your spell checker: use it, but don't trust it! Some writers are just too trusting:

    I have a spelling checker

    It came with my PC.

    It plainly marks four my revue

    Mistakes I cannot sea.

    I've run this poem threw it,

    I'm sure your pleased to no.

    Its letter perfect in it's weigh,

    My checker tolled me sew.

    (Anon)


     

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