Drafting and Revising

Will Rogers

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Define drafting and revising
  • Develop strategies for drafting and revising

Introduction to Drafting and Revising

Throughout this chapter, we’ll discuss some of the methods we can use for drafting essays, but remember that your drafting process is yours to choose. Find a method that produces the kinds of writing that reflect both your ideas and your writing voice. Many instructors recommend a practice that is referred to as fast drafting, in which the student writes under the pressure of a time limit, much like freewriting. This allows students to create without their inner critic undermining their momentum. It empowers the “creator hand” to work with agency while silencing the “editor hand.” It is important to note that creating on one hand and editing and revising on the other are not, however, stages that exist respectively at the beginning and the end. You might, for example, revise and edit some of your drafts before deciding to add more new material. And as the section below makes clear, the editing and creating “hands” are very similar often in the stages of revision.


Drafting

Throughout this chapter, we’ll discuss some of the methods we can use for drafting essays, but remember that your drafting process is yours to choose. Find a method that produces the kinds of writing that reflect both your ideas and your writing voice. Many instructors recommend a practice that is referred to as fast drafting, in which the student writes under the pressure of a time limit, much like freewriting. This allows students to create without their inner critic undermining their momentum. It empowers the “creator hand” to work with agency while silencing the “editor hand.” It is important to note that creating on one hand and editing and revising on the other are not, however, stages that exist respectively at the beginning and the end. You might, for example, revise and edit some of your drafts before deciding to add more new material. And as the section below makes clear, the editing and creating “hands” are very similar often in the stages of revision.

To do fast drafting, students first need to set up the conditions that will help in their success and are appropriate to their abilities to focus. The following are easy steps writers follow:

  • Create a block of time in which there are no interruptions. This should be a realistic length, given a writer’s ability to focus, from 10 minutes at a time to 75 minutes or longer.
  • Decide on the goal: Write a paragraph in 10 minutes, 2 pages in 1 hour, or a complete essay in 1 hour and 15 minutes.

For some, 75 minutes is a good length, but some students find that after 30 minutes, they can no longer concentrate. If that is the case, they should plan on several shorter sessions of distraction-free time.

During this time, students should turn off their phones and social media, let the dog outside, and ensure that it’s time for children to sleep. This needs to be quiet, concentrated time.

As the section above makes clear, drafting can be messy—you might include ideas that you later cut, and it is wise to maintain a separate file for this material as you work through the writing process. But again, you should let go of your worries about good and bad ideas. There will be time to rethink, rephrase, and rework during the revision process.

Revising

The Revision Process

Revision literally means to re-see or re-envision a piece of writing. This process may involve adding, rearranging, removing, and replacing (ARRR) words, sentences, and ideas. Since writing is recursive, revising may require revisiting the prewriting stage. A recursive process means that you will create, edit, and revise and return at various points to all three of these stages. Writing is not a strictly linear act, with a beginning, middle, and end. In fact, revision will help you understand that the writing process is as important as the writing product!

      • Adding

What else does the reader need to know? If the essay doesn’t meet the required word or page count, what areas can be expanded? Where would further explanation help key points to be more clear? This is a good time to go back to the prewriting notes and look for ideas that weren’t included in the draft.

      • Rearranging

Even when writers carefully plan their writing, they may need to rearrange sections for their essays to flow better.

      • Removing

Some ideas just don’t work or don’t contribute enough to the overall goal of the essay. Often when writers delete excess words or paragraphs, the ideas become clearer.

      • Replacing

Vivid details help bring writing to life. Writers need to look for strong examples and quotable passages from outside sources to support their arguments. If particular paragraphs aren’t working well, writers need to try rewriting them.

Other Useful Strategies

      • Reverse Outlining

In reverse outlining, the student reads through the written text and notes, noting down the topic of each paragraph. This way, the student can review if each paragraph has a clear focus and if each paragraph fits the overall organization of the paper. More on reverse outlining is available at The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), “Reverse Outlining: An Exercise for Taking Notes and Revising Your Work.

      • Reading Aloud

The act of reading one’s essay aloud allows the student to “hear it” in the way a reader will. This act permits the writer to slow down and pay attention to all words in the essay. They get a sense of what a reader experiences, where words are clear and effective, and where they are weak. Poorly structured sentences are hard to read out loud, indicating that this would be a good place to start revising. This technique is a great precursor for receiving feedback from others. It also helps writers take responsibility for their writing.

      • Peer and Instructor Feedback

No one becomes a good writer in a vacuum. Sometimes, writing is done for ourselves, but more often, writing is done to connect to others, to share thoughts, and to communicate something  others need to know. At this stage of the process, it’s important for writers to get the measure of how well their writing works for readers that they want to entertain, educate, or persuade. Showing the writing to someone else is essential. This might be done in a writers’ circle or just with a friend who is good with words and can be asked for feedback. It’s best to show our work to several people to get more than one opinion. Receiving feedback helps writers discover the strengths in their writing as well as areas that may be improved.

After receiving feedback—whether through track changes in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, on paper, or verbally in a peer-review session—the writer can discuss the comments with the reviewer. It’s important that a writer consider these comments. Every reader comes from a different point of view, and the writer may not agree with everything that is said by various readers. Sometimes, comments will be contradictory. It is the writer’s responsibility to ask further and decide how to use comments received. A community that embraces and nurtures its members through the revision process works to communicate feedback so that everyone can grow and learn.

Successful college students utilize their resources, specifically their instructors and peers, to get feedback. Tutoring is an effective means by which students can receive knowledgeable one-on-one feedback about their writing. It can also be an effective way to help manage time.

Peer mentors provide students with additional one-on-one and group support in writing classrooms or during office hours. The peer mentor has had the previous experience of completing similar writing assignments, and students find it helpful when they revise with their expertise in mind.

Something to Remember

Handling Peer and Instructor Reviews

In many situations, you will be required to have at least one of your peers review your essay (and you will, in turn, review at least one peer’s essay). Even if you’re not required to exchange drafts with a peer, it’s simply essential at this point to have another pair of eyes, so find a classmate or friend and ask them to look over your draft. In other cases, your instructor may be intervening at this point with ungraded but evaluative commentary on your draft. Whatever the system, before you post or trade your draft for review, use your answers to the questions in “Reviewing for Purpose” to tweak your original statement of purpose, giving a clear statement of your desired voice, audience, message, tone, attitude, and reception. Also, consider preparing a descriptive outline showing how the essay actually turned out and comparing that with your original plan, or consider writing a brief narrative describing how the essay developed from idea to execution. Finally, include any other questions or concerns you have about your draft so that your peer reader(s) or instructor can give you useful, tailored feedback. These reflective statements and documents could be attached with your draft as part of a writer’s memo. Remember, the more guidance you give your readers, regardless of whether they are your peers or your instructor, the more they will be able to help you.

When you receive suggestions for content changes from your instructors, try to put aside any tendencies to react defensively so that you can consider their ideas for revisions with an open mind. If you are accustomed only to getting feedback from instructors that is accompanied by a grade, you may need to get used to the difference between evaluation and judgment. In college settings, instructors often prefer to intervene most extensively after you have completed a first draft, with evaluative commentary that tends to be suggestive, forward-looking, and free of a final quantitative judgment (like a grade). If you read your instructors’ feedback in those circumstances as final, you can miss the point of the exercise. You’re supposed to do something with this sort of commentary, not just read it as the justification for a (non-existent) grade.

Sometimes, peers think they’re supposed to “sound like an English teacher,” so they fall into the trap of “correcting” your draft, but in most cases, the prompts used in college-level peer reviewing discourage that sort of thing. In many situations, your peers will give you ideas that will add value to your paper, and you will want to include them. In other situations, your peers’ ideas will not really work into the plan you have for your paper. It is not unusual for peers to offer ideas that you may not want to implement. Remember, your peers’ ideas are only suggestions, and it is your essay, and you are the person who will make the final decisions. If your peers happen to be a part of the audience to which you are writing, they can sometimes give you invaluable ideas. And if they’re not, take the initiative to find outside readers who might actually be a part of your audience.

When you are reviewing a peer’s essay, keep in mind that the author likely knows more about the topic than you do, so don’t question content unless you are certain of your facts. Also, do not suggest changes just because you would do it differently or because you want to give the impression that you are offering ideas. Only suggest changes that you seriously think would make the essay stronger.

Your Turn

Here are some activities to work through different kinds of drafting. Remember, drafts are about not perfection but practice and process/production. In the same vein, you might need to practice several different strategies and tactics in order to find the best way to reach that draft that is ready for peer review and revision.

  1. Prepare for writing a 75-minute fast draft by doing several prewriting activities, including brainstorming, focused writing, outlining, and perhaps reading and researching, depending on the assignment. Then, in an intense, 75-minute time span, write your entire essay as quickly as possible, including the introduction and conclusion. Don’t stop to concern yourself with word choice, citations, or grammar. Just get into the flow of ideas and write your essay all the way to the end. Remember: You can go back and revise and edit all you want, but that is much easier to do once you have a draft.
  2. What kind of writer are you? Look at the following list. Thinking about your past writing experiences, pick out both what kind of writer you think you are and what kind you want to be—how are the draft processes similar to and different from these two choices of writers? (Try to choose two different kinds of writers!)
    • Are you a sprinter?
      Do you have lots of ideas and want to get to them quickly?
      If so, you probably skip to drafting and spend a lot of time on revising. Try spending more time on the start of the writing process. Spend more time on defining the audience and purpose and on exploring and planning. Then revising might not be a Herculean task.
    • Are you a jogger?
      Do you try to go through the writing process one step at a time? Maybe some parts are harder than others, like the organization or writing a thesis? Try new strategies for those parts of the writing process that are most difficult. If revision is hard, get lots of feedback and learn to critique others. If the audience and purpose make no sense, spend some time looking at how other writers bend their writing to their audiences and purpose.
    • Are you a tightrope walker?
      Do you want everything to be perfect before you set it down on paper?
    • Are you a perfectionist?
      If so, you probably spend a lot of time at the start of the writing process but have more trouble with revising. Try being willing to make changes in revision based on looking at the organization, audience, and purpose. Is everything in the paper really working together? Don’t be afraid to get rid of parts and start over.

Key Terms

  • Brainstorming
  • Fast drafts
  • Reverse outlines
  • Recursive

Summary

Drafting and revising are important parts of the writing process and not optional activities. Drafting and revising are ongoing parts of the writing process, and like most of the process, drafting and revising are activities that are often helped by assistance from peers or your instructor.

Reflective Response (Optional)

Think back to a paper you’ve written: What were its weaknesses? What kind of revisionary strategy would have improved those weaknesses?

Additional Chapter Sources

This chapter has been adapted and remixed by Will Rogers from the following textbooks and materials:  English Composition licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License; http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/writers-handbook/s12-revising.html licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License; and You, Writing!, also licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This remixed chapter in Writing Rhetorically is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, as well.

definition

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Writing Rhetorically: Framing First Year Writing Copyright © 2022 by Will Rogers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book