To get us started thinking about what revision can accomplish, here is a general list. Good writing is:
1. Clear. Instantly understandable.
2. Unobtrusive. A good writer tries to be invisible. Good writing is writing that seems not to have been written at all. It's like a window. You see through the words to grasp the meaning. You're unaware of the language.
3. Grammatical. Almost invariably. A truly good writer is not hide‑bound by grammatical rules. But students must know the rules before they can ignore them.
4. Well‑organized. Structure‑‑what you say where in a piece of writing‑‑is as important as the language you use. Some people have said it's more important (Hemingway: `Prose is architecture, not interior decoration').
Specific things to emphasize:
- Use active verbs (not passive ones).
- Be wary of adverbs. Don't use them to shore up weak verbs.
- Be wary of adjectives. Don't use one because you can't find the right noun.
- Keep subject and verb close together.
- Anticipate the reader's questions and answer them promptly.
- Don't use two words when one will do.
- Don't use unfamiliar words.
- Read your prose aloud before you edit (the ear often picks up problems that the eye misses. It's also important to hear the voice of your prose)
- Remember that rhythm in writing isn't there only for beauty. It facilitates understanding.
- Remember that any good writing --fiction, essay, term paper--any type of writing, begins with good reporting, meaning good observation, good analysis, good study.
If you are not yet convinced about the importance of taking time with your writing, here's a last word on cramming everything into a single sitting from a higher authority, the Book of Ecclesiastes:
There is one that toileth, and laboreth, and maketh haste, and is so much the more behind.
When you’re revising a standard expository paper, you may find the following list helpful. Thanks to Janet Cochran, long-time writing teacher at Guilford for providing it.
- Does my TITLE relate directly and specifically to my thesis?
- Does my OPENER state the obvious or will it attract the attention and interest of the reader?
- Have I made a commitment to the reader by stating my THESIS (main idea) clearly in my first paragraph?
- What is my PURPOSE in writing this paper?
- Do each of my PARAGRAPHS relate to my thesis?
- Do each of my paragraphs have UNITY, with every sentence relating to the topic sentence?
- Are there SPECIFIC EXAMPLES in my paper?
- Are there CONCRETE DETAILS in my paper which will make it vivid to the reader?
- Does my CONCLUSION restate the thesis idea?
- Does my CONCLUSION answer the "So what?" question?
- Does my CONCLUSION have a sense of finality and closure?