Re-vision: Seeing the Essay Again, Through Fresh Eyes

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Revising the College Essay

  • Prepared by Dr. Amy Berry Assistant Professor Southwestern Minnesota State University 9/17/2011

RE-VISION: Seeing the Essay Again, Through Fresh Eyes

  • College writers write multiple drafts and revise the entire essay or large sections of the essay for higher order writing concerns of meaning, structure, logical development, and concrete support of ideas and assertions
  • Revising the college essay is far more than simple editing for grammar and word choice
  • College essays must say something important and meaningful. Deep Revision helps to ensure that the essay SAYS SOMETHING INTERESTING AND WORTHWHILE

Summary: Deep Revision

  • College writers focus on higher order concerns—meaning, support, structure, clarity, logic. Revising for high order concerns is Deep Revision. College professors expect this
  • Deep Revision requires revising the entire essay or large sections of the essay
  • Deep Revision requires a critical, objective review of your writing. Stepping back and taking a clear and unemotional view is essential

Surface Revision

  • College writing should be free of grammar, word choice, spelling, and punctuation errors. College professors have low tolerance for error
  • Surface Revision is important, but secondary to Deep revision

Real Revision is More than Editing

  • Most of us who compose on a computer understand revision as an ongoing, even constant process. Every time you hit the delete button, every time you cut and paste, every time you take out a comma or exchange one word for another, you're revising.
  • But real revision is more than making a few changes here and there. Real revision requires that you open yourself up to the possibility that parts of your paper -- and even your entire paper -- might need to be re-thought, and re-written

Cultivate The College Writer’s Mindset

  • College writers pay attention to their writing process
  • Studies have shown again and again that the best way to learn to write is to rewrite. In the revision process, you improve your reading skills and your analytical skills. You learn to challenge your own ideas, thus deepening and strengthening your argument. You learn to find the weaknesses in your writing. You may even discover patterns of error or habits of organization that are undermining your papers.

Revision is More than Making A Few Changes Here and there

  • There are two kinds of Revising: Deep Revision and Surface Revision
  • Deep Revision is the writer’s real work. You will review your essay to assess the quality of its meaning. Does it say something of value? Can the reader understand what you are trying to say? Is the thesis clear? Is supporting information presented in an orderly, logical, and understandable way? Do the ideas presented hold together? Is what you say important enough to make the reader care about the topic? Have you convinced the reader to agree with your thesis or opinion? These elements are called Higher Order Writing Concerns

Deep Revision: Fry the Big Fish First

  • Deep Revision for meaning, reasoning, definition of terms, and factual detail
  • Real revision is Whole Essay Revision. Deep revision addresses higher order concerns of thesis, meaning, structure, supporting detail, and logic. This kind of revision involves looking at the entire paper for places where your thinking seems to need clarification, or where the thesis needs additional development and supporting details. You might need to provide more specific and concrete evidence, define terms, or add an entirely new step to your reasoning. You might decide to restructure or rewrite your paper completely if you discover a new idea that intrigues you, or a structure that seems to be more effective than the one you've been using.

Cutting and Rewriting

  • Be prepared to cut out parts of the essay that don’t work and be ready to write new sections to develop your ideas in a deep and detailed way
  • This may be difficult, but cutting less successful sections of the paper will pay off in the long run

College Teachers Expect Deep Revision

  • College professors expect to see Deep Revision as you write multiple drafts, and expect to see changes in meaning, supporting paragraphs, and supporting details as you develop your essay through multiple drafts. Do not expect to write a rough draft and submit it as your final draft, and do not expect that simply proofreading and correcting grammar and word choice will satisfy the revision requirement.

Deep Revision for One Section of the Paper

  • Deep Revision a smaller scale needs to happen when you know that a certain part of your paper isn't working. Maybe the introduction needs work. Maybe one part of the argument seems weak. Once you've located the problem, you'll focus on revising that one section of your paper. When you are finished you will want to reconsider your paper as a whole to make sure that your revisions work in the context of the entire paper
  • Taking care of the Big Fish will improve the essay and possibly your final grade

Surface Revision: The Small Fry

  • Writing an excellent essay only to have surface errors stand in the way is useless
  • Once you have taken care of the Big Fish, you should concentrate on proofreading and editing to create an error-free text for your reader to enjoy
  • Eliminating surface errors--grammar, word choice, spelling, and punctuation—is essential to success in college writing
  • Many professors have a zero-tolerance policy for surface errors

Surface Revision: Editing

  • Editing. Too often students confuse editing with revision. They are not the same processes. Editing is the process of finding minor problems with a text -- problems that might easily be fixed by deleting a word or sentence, cutting and pasting a paragraph, and so on. When you edit, you are considering your reader. You might be happy with how you've written your paper, but will your reader find your paper clear, readable, interesting? How can you rewrite the paper so that it is clearer, more concise, and, most important of all, a pleasure to read?


  • Proofreading. When you proofread you are looking for lower order mistakes in your paper. Common mistakes caught in proofreading are punctuation errors, spelling errors, subject-verb agreement, its/it's confusion, their/there confusion, and so on. When you proofread, you need to slow down your reading, allowing your eye to focus on every word, every phrase of your paper. Reading aloud can help you slow down, pointing your attention to errors that have gone unseen. Also, USE YOUR SPELL CHECK. Professors are less forgiving of spelling errors and typos than they were before the invention of this very helpful tool. College readers--and your teacher in this course--require grammatical and sentence-structure correctness and have little tolerance for error.

Deep Revision and Surface Revision are Important

  • The very best writers will revise in all the ways listed here. To manage these various levels of revision, it's very important that you get an early start on your papers so that you have time to make any substantive, large-scale revisions that your paper might need. Good writers also understand that revision is an ongoing process, not necessarily something that you do only after your first draft is complete.


  • The best college writers can step back and review their writing objectively.
  • Developing the ability to review your own writing with a clear and critical eye requires you to step away from owning the essay. You must be cool and manage your ownership feelings
  • Plan ahead, start writing early, and you will have some time to create this healthy distance from the essay


  • The first step in gaining objectivity is to get some distance from your work. If you've planned your writing process well, you'll have left yourself a day or two to take a break from your work. If you don't have this luxury, even an hour of air hockey or a walk over to pick up a hard copy of your draft might be enough to clear your head. Many writers find that their mind keeps working on their papers even while their attention is turned elsewhere. When they return to their work, they bring with them a fresh perspective. They also bring a more open, more detached mind.

Does the Paper Meet My Expectations—and My Professor’s??

  • When you return to your paper, the first thing that you'll want to do is to consider whether or not the paper as a whole meets your (and your professor's) expectations. Read the paper through without stopping (don't get hung up on that troublesome second paragraph).

Then, Ask Yourself These Questions:

  • Did I fulfill the assignment?
  • Did I say what I intended to say?
  • What are the strengths of my paper?
  • What are the weaknesses of my paper?
  • Do I need another revision? Is there enough time to review and revise well?

Writer, Know Thyself

  • Getting to know yourself as a writer is an important step
  • Start writing your assignments early, and make sure you have enough time to review and revise the essay
  • Spend time to reflect on your experience in writing the paper. Metacognitive monitoring matters!
  • What sections of the paper are most successful? What steps did you take in writing the successful sections? What writing processes did you use?
  • What sections are weak? What processes did you use? What changes will improve the process?

Review and Be Reviewed

  • Find a writing partner. Ask them to review your paper and give you reader feedback on its strengths and weaknesses
  • Review their papers and provide feedback. Reviewing the work of others helps you to understand and improve your own writing

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