Now that you are equipped with all the tools you need to create a well-written, effective, engaging essay and have worked your way up the ladder one step at a time . . . you’re almost at the top. It’s time to revise your first draft putting all you’ve learned into use and write your final draft.

Covered in This Chapter

  • The revision process. Think about how to improve your writing.
  • The review process. Look over your writing to make it even better.
  • Three-stage review checklist. Watch for content, accuracy, and style.

Choose the Best Time and Place

Some people need complete quiet when they work, and some people can work with the TV or music on. Even if you fall into this latter category, when it’s time for you to concentrate on finalizing your essay, find a place to work that is quiet, comfortable, and well lit.

Also, you know yourself and your work habits better than anyone else. And you know what time of day you’re most productive. If possible, don’t put yourself in a time crunch where you are forced to work at times when your energy is low. Work when you are most likely to be alert, focused, and creative.

Your Work Tools

You probably created your first draft using a word-processing program. If you work well and creatively revising completely on the computer, that’s great and will save you time. But if you know that you organize and think better looking at your words in print, don’t hesitate to take the time to print out your essay (double-spaced) and make your revisions in print before typ- ing them into the electronic file.

Even if you work on paper first, you’ll be surprised at what you decide to edit or revise when you’re typing in your changes. That’s okay. It’s all a process.

In addition to your computer, have a good dictionary and style manuals handy—either print versions or trusted websites, like:

  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or Merriam-Webster Online (merriam-webster.com)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style or chicagomanualofstyle.org

Take Short Breaks

It’s human nature to want to stick with something until it’s finished. And there is great merit in staying focused on your goal. At the same time, if you’re overtired, you don’t concentrate as well, you aren’t as sharp, and everything you do takes longer. Instead of working hours at a time, take a break at least every hour, even if it’s only for a few minutes. This will refresh your body and your mind. And if you find, for whatever reason, you just can’t stay focused on what you’re doing, either take a break or work on a different part of the project that’s easier and less taxing—like putting your bibliography together.

The Review Process

People work best in different ways. Following is a three-step process that has proved successful. If you feel a different process will work better for you, then follow your natural pattern. The key is that no matter how you work, you want to keep moving forward and not let yourself get stopped.

When you try to do too many things at one time, it’s harder to do all of them well. For that reason, review and revise in stages:

1. In the first stage, read through your essay by paying attention to the content you’ve included as opposed to looking for typos and accuracy of sentence structure or improving the style of writing. If you notice errors and can quickly correct them, of course do so, but don’t make accuracy your focus at this point. Instead, focus on content.

2. Next, read through your essay again. This time you do want to focus on accuracy. Focus on correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors or improving the style of writing. You’ll still need to do a final proofread, but by paying attention to several of these items now, your final proofread will take less time and you will be more accurate.

3. Now read your essay one more time with an eye to adding appropriate elements of style as we discussed in Chapter 8 to bring your writing to a higher level.

It may seem like it will take a long time to go through your work in stages, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it goes when you’re focusing on one area of review at a time.

Three-Stage Review Checklist

The following checklist will help prompt you for items to consider in each stage of your review.

1. Content

The Subject

  • Did I stay focused on the subject of my essay?
  • Was I clear on the purpose of my essay – to inform, explain, or persuade?

Title

  • Does the title grab the readers’ attention?
  • Does the title give a clue as to what my essay is about?

Introductory Paragraph

  • Does the introductory paragraph capture the readers’ attention?
  • Does the introductory paragraph have 3–5 sentences ending in a clear thesis statement?
  • Does my thesis statement have both a subject and a controlling idea?
  • Does the introductory paragraph include at least one of these:
  1. Ask an intriguing question.
  2. Use a startling fact.
  3. Use a quote.
  4. Tell a story.
  • Did I maintain my chosen method of development throughout?

Developmental Paragraphs

  • Does each developmental paragraph have a clearly stated topic sentence?
  • Is each topic sentence directly related to my thesis statement?
  • Does each developmental paragraph contain 3 points with 2–3 sentences per point, and a concluding sentence?
  • Is each developmental paragraph fully developed with the major and minor points needed?
  • Do I have sufficient and accurate details and facts—like names, dates, statistics—that make the main ideas in each paragraph clear?
  • Do any of my ideas need more support?
  • Did I provide clear connections between sentences?
  • Did I provide clear connections between paragraphs?

Concluding Paragraph

Do I have 2–3 sentences that accomplish one of these:

  • Wrap up my ideas.
  • Restate my thesis statement in a new way.
  • Give a brief summary of the subject.
  • Leave my readers something to think about.
  • Call my readers to an action.

2. Accuracy

Spelling and Capitalization

  • Are proper names, common words, and special terms spelled and capitalized correctly?
  • Are shortened forms (abbreviations and acronyms) spelled and capitalized correctly and defined when first used or as needed?

Grammar

  • Do subjects and verbs agree (I work, he works)?
  • Are verbs in correct tense (I work, I worked, I had worked)?
  • Do pronouns agree in gender and number with what (or whom) they refer to (Tom and Bill rode their bikes; the tree dropped its leaves)?
  • Are there run-on sentences, comma splices, or fragments?

Punctuation

  • Is there missing, duplicated, or misplaced punctuation?
  • Are apostrophes used only for possessives (Jane’s) and missing letters (I’ll; rock ’n’ roll), not for plurals (two Janes; 1900s)?
  • Do apostrophes face the correct way (’04, not ‘04)? □ Is a comma used before the last item in a series (Tom, Dick, and Harry) or not, whichever style I’ve chosen, but used the same throughout?
  • Is a comma, without a connecting conjunction, not used to separate two complete sentences (use stronger punctuation, like a period or semicolon, instead)?
  • Are em dashes (—) used correctly—in pairs if they’re in the middle of a sentence?
  • Are there always opening and closing parentheses and brackets? □ Is the period inside parentheses when the parentheses enclose a separate and complete sentence?
  • Is the period outside parentheses when the parenthetical matter— even a complete sentence—is included in another sentence?
  • Are there always opening and closing quotation marks as appropriate?
  • Are single quotation marks used only around a quote within a quote? (British usage differs.)
  • Are periods and commas inside quotation marks? (British usage differs.)
  • Are semicolons and colons outside quotation marks?
  • Is other punctuation inside or outside quotation marks, depending on whether it’s part of the quoted item?
  • Are words separated by one (and only one) space?
  • Are periods and colons followed by only one space?
  • In electronic copy, do web links in text work correctly?
  • Is the bibliography complete?

3. Style

  • Do my sentences vary in type and length?
  • Do I include too many details?
  • Is each paragraph complete, or do I stop before I make my point?
  • What can I cut from my essay?
  • Do I repeat myself? Perhaps I made the same point twice or use the same phrase too often.
  • Do I just say too much?
  • Do all my sentences make sense?
  • Do all the words work together to make a point?
  • Do I repeat the same verbs or adjectives?
  • Do I need to reorganize in my essay?
  • Do all my sentences sound alike?
  • Does my essay have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
  • Do I maintain parallel phrasing—using similar word patterns for similar ideas?
  • Do I use precise vocabulary?
  • Do I use strong, active verbs?
  • Did I minimize use of “to be” verbs?
  • Did I eliminate expletive sentences?
  • Do I use vivid examples?
  • Was I aware of connotations, using them appropriately?
  • Is my text coherent?
  • Was I concise in my writing?
  • Do I use similes, metaphors, and analogies for extra flair?
  • Have I avoided wordiness, redundancy, clichés, and mixed metaphors?
  • Do I use gender-free writing? □ Did I follow the Twelve Tips for Compelling Writing?

1. Be brief.
2. Be specific.
3. Limit pronouns as sentence subjects.
4. Use a variety of sentences.
5. Put important content first.
6. Stick to a single topic.
7. Know and target your audience.
8. Address readers with “you.”
9. Make it active, not passive.
10. Be respectful.
11. Use positives, not negatives.
12. Leave your readers satisfied.

Next Steps

As you revise and rewrite, remember that finding things in your essay that need to be fixed is not a sign that you’re a bad writer. It means that some sections of your writing need more attention. And, it means that you are careful enough to notice such problems. Congratulate yourself for that. Now go on to hone your skills as you proofread your essay.