Developing a revision plan is not an easy task, but it is a necessary process if you want to ensure that your paper has met the requirements of the professor and the essay prompt. When we initially write, we begin the task with a different process. We just put something down on paper so we won’t forget anything. We don’t really care about whether we have structured the paper well; instead we merely come up with a thesis, hope that our topic sentences match, and pray that we are able to find the required number of reference sources, even if they don’t fit the thesis or the topic. By the time we finish writing the paper, all that matters is that we have met the page count, we have formatted our papers for MLA, and we have turned in the essay on time. This is the way instructors have taught us and this is the habit we pursue for writing all of our essays.
Writing a college essay should not be a task that we merely gloss over, because it is a very important process. It should not be an item on a checklist to mark complete. We should give time to every college paper: time to examine the essay prompt, time to develop an outline, time to research the reference sources, time to write the paper, time to structure it for logic, time to format it for MLA, and time to evaluate and revise it. We are not taught this in school. We are given assignments and expected to know whatever it is we need to know about writing by the time we enter college. The college writing textbook even glosses over the revision process which is very important in the scheme of writing. Most textbooks have one section on revising the essay and another lengthier section on grammar mechanics.
In addition, we typically call revising the essay “checking for grammar.” Grammar is important. Correcting sentence structure, subject-verb disagreement, pronoun errors, and fragments is central to the writing process, but it is not the only method for revising college papers. Therefore, the following steps will help you as you reconsider your views about revising the college essay. Consider these steps as you contemplate your own revision plan:
Step 1: Highlight those areas that represent plot summary.
Professors typically give these instructions: write on the topic; research three references; and provide an analysis. What we do is summarize the literary text. When I think back to our experiences with writing in grammar school we were taught how to write the five-paragraph essay. We were never taught how to analyze, so we honestly don’t know how to take a quote and break it down into parts and analyze each part. Of course, this is no excuse. We just need to learn this language of analyzing. The best method for revising/removing plot summary is to take the part of the essay where you “retell” the story and consider the following process:
- Start with the first section of plot summary. You can number all sections if you like.
- Take a highlighter and underline the part/sentence where you narrate the story.
- Draw a square around the information.
- Circle all of the verbs in the sentences. Look them up in a dictionary or a thesaurus.
- Study the main character’s actions in relation to the context you provide.
- Ask yourself about the significance of these actions. What do they mean to you?
Once you are able to locate the plot summaries and you have finished the process above, develop a plan in which you will break down the narration into manageable parts and analyze each part.
Step 2: Verify assumptions.
In general, we live and hold tightly to our assumptions. We believe in them even when we know that they are wrong. When it comes to writing college papers, we make assumptions because we haven’t fully researched the topic and honestly because we are just lazy. It’s much easier to assume than it is to be certain. Finding out the truth about something takes time, effort, patience, concern for accuracy, and attention to detail.
Therefore, for every part of your paper that does not represent truth either revise these parts or remove them completely. What do I mean here? Compare what you write and what actually happens in the literary text (i.e., short story, poem, criticism, etc.). For example, if you write “Faulkner informs the reader that a certain character comes from a mixed nationality background,” but he doesn’t do this as the author of the text, then you are misrepresenting Faulkner’s work. Consider the following as you develop your revision plan:
- Examine the first one to three sentences before each quote you have incorporated into the paper.
- Verify these sentences.
We usually make our mistakes within the first few sentences before a direct quote. Before we incorporate the quote, we typically provide some kind of summary of ideas. After this we add the quote and follow this up with another statement. Then we either continue with the analysis or move on to the next topic sentence. This method is acceptable as long as you remember this one thing: if you write that the narrative “begins” in a certain way or that the author begins the narrative in this or that way, then check to make sure that the narrative actually begins in the way that you write.
For example, in a paper I submitted on John Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums,” a short story, I wrote that the narrative “starts out” with the main character working in her garden. However, if you read the story, you will find that the author begins the narrative with imagery; he identifies the location and the time of season; he introduces a character by the name of Henry Allen; we read about a dog and other information about farmers; and then Steinbeck presents the main character, Elisa Allen. It wasn’t until I used my student paper in my classroom discussions as a teacher that I realized the mistake. One word can change the meaning(s) within your paper.
Therefore, develop a revision plan that includes evaluating and validating assumptions. The plan should reference time needed for examining statements before quotes, proofreading quotes, and restructuring your analysis. In addition, if you provide a few sentences that represent plot summary, verify those assumptions as well.
Step 3: Confirm that quotes support the topic.
Quotes add credibility to your topic and to your analysis, but it is sometimes difficult to add these resources within your paper. You have your ideas about the topic. Then there are many ideas within each reference source that you use. Each source offers additional quotations and opinions. What do you do with all of this information? How do you incorporate sources without plagiarizing and without filling up your paper with information that is unnecessary to your thesis or to your topic, for that matter? The first part of the process begins with you taking out time to understand the text. Consider the following pre-writing process as you develop a revision plan:
- Know the author’s thesis/main purpose for writing.
- Search for the author’s topic sentences.
- Examine the author’s supporting evidence.
- Evaluate the author’s conclusion paragraph.
Don’t be intimidated by this task. You have to do it. This is the only way you will be able to determine really if a particular quote you incorporate within the paper is appropriate or even necessary. Once you have finished this process for each quote you use from all reference sources, then you can consider the following:
- Verify that your thesis parallels the author’s thesis.
- In other words, does the author’s quote support your purpose?
Never let the author’s work take over your paper. Therefore, develop a revision plan that includes confirming that the quotes and reference sources you use within your paper align, or parallel, the ideas you express within your paper.
Step 4: Double-check for thesis—topic sentence agreement.
We learn in grammar that subjects and verbs must agree. If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular. Likewise, if the subject is plural, then the verb must also be plural. Below is an example of each type:
- Singular Subject: Jane is nice.
- Plural Verb: Jane and John are nice.
Each verb agrees with its corresponding subject.
Similarly, your topic sentences must agree with your thesis. The purpose of topic sentences is only one-part: to support the thesis. They don’t do anything else. They don’t support the quotes or any other information housed within the body paragraphs. They only have one job which is to support the thesis. I can’t help but to be redundant so you can understand how important this information is to your paper and to you.
Therefore, if your thesis has three parts such as Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly, make sure that you address each part by creating a topic sentence. Here’s an example:
- Thesis: Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.
- Topic Sentence #1: Jane is a very enjoyable and agreeable person (nice).
- Topic Sentence #2: Jane is attractive and very good-looking (lovely).
- Topic Sentence #3: Jane has many friends. She is very approachable (friendly).
- Conclusion: Jane is a wonderful person to be around. She has such a delightful heart. She is equally pleasant and very open to friendship.
Develop a revision plan in which you reexamine your thesis and your topic sentences. On a separate sheet of paper, write out your thesis on the first line. On the second and subsequent lines, write down each topic sentence of your body paragraphs. Check to see if your topic sentences match your thesis. If they don’t, either revise the thesis or add/subtract one of your topic sentences.
Step 5: Proofread for grammar.
There are two processes: the writing process and the revision process. After we finish writing our papers, the first thing we do is check for grammar. It is my contention that all students should first evaluate their papers to make sure that they have met all of the requirements and that the thesis, topic sentences, supporting evidence, quotes, examples, and analysis all agree. If any one of these parts in the paper doesn’t agree, then the student has to go back and revise the information. The revision process may involve rewriting and removing sections. Sometimes it may also involve rewriting the thesis. All that is important to remember is this: the revision process is not just about “checking for grammar.”
With this in mind, develop a revision plan that incorporates this step (i.e., checking for grammar) only after you have completed all of the other steps. This is the first thing you must do. The second thing is work out a strategy for correcting some of the most common grammatical errors that undoubtedly every student of research papers and every professional writer makes. Here is a list of grammar issues and errors to consider as you develop a revision plan:
- Commas/Periods/Other Punctuation
- Mixed Verb Tenses
- Comma Splices
- Subject-verb Disagreement
Take any writing textbook and look these terms up in your book. Study the examples. After this take your own papers sentence-by-sentence and check to make sure that your papers don’t house these errors.
The most important thing to remember is to do the assignment. If you do anything but the assignment, then you have not met the requirement. Consider the following essay prompt:
Write on Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” Compare three tales. Use at least two characters from each tale. Analyze each tale within ten pages.
- If you provide only two tales and you do everything else, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.
- If you provide three tales but you only write about one character from each tale and you do the rest of the assignment, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.
- If you do everything but compose only eight pages, or even nine, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.
Do the assignment and nothing else. You can only reach toward excellence once you have completed the requirements.
- Check your plan to make sure that you have all of the required number of reference sources.
- Check your plan to make sure that you have allowed time for MLA formatting.
- Check your plan to make sure that you have allowed room to meet all of the requirements of the assignment.
- Don’t forget to eat. Rest and go to sleep. Get back up again and confront the task. You can do it. Finish it.
About the Author
Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University. In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas. She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.
Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.
NOTE: Favors Learning Center is currently developing teaching videos based upon the ideas expressed within each blogging post. Below is a link to a YouTube video that we are currently developing. It represents a brief review of the ideas expressed within this post. Thank you in advance for your patience. Click here for the test video link. Last rev. April 4, 2012