ESL: Revision Strategies

From the ESL Student Handbook, by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

There are various techniques and strategies you can use when you revise your paper. Revision means much more than simply fixing grammatical mistakes or typos. Try to see the revision process as “re-vision”, which means you see the same text from a different perspective. Your active engagement in the re-vision process will ultimately help you become a better reader and writer and also teach you that reflection is a really powerful learning tool.

Read Aloud

One of the most effective ways to check your work is to read the text aloud to yourself. By doing this, you will be able to see the development of your ideas more clearly as well as to catch grammatical mistakes on your own. If you want to check the logical development of your argument, you should also try reading the text from the conclusion to the beginning. By reading your paper from the end to the beginning, you can see the connections of your ideas in your paper and assumptions you made in your paper more clearly.

Change the Medium and the Location

It is a great idea that you change the location when you revise your paper. If you usually work in the library, you may want to try a different location. Perhaps you have already experienced that you see the same text quite differently when you change your location. The same idea applies to tools. If you read your paper only on the computer screen, print out your paper during your re-vision process! There is a huge difference between reading your paper on the computer screen and reading the same text on a hard copy. Your mind will be much more actively engaged when you read on a hard copy with a pen in your hand. It is also much easier for you to check out the connections of your ideas both at the paragraph level and at the essay level on a hard copy rather than on the computer screen. 

Because of the advancement of computer technology, we are used to processing information on the computer screen. Although it is still possible for you to annotate the readings on the computer screen, there is a huge difference between reading the material on the computer screen and reading the material on a hard copy holding a pen in your hand. Therefore, you should print out the readings whenever possible instead of reading from the screen. You can print out a certain number of pages for free in public libraries (e.g. the King County Public Libraries 75 pages per week) as long as you have a library card. 

It is also a great idea that you change the location when you revise your paper. If you usually work in the library, you may want to try a different location. Perhaps you have already experienced that you see the same text quite differently when you change your location.

Create a Coherence Map

Many international students often have difficulty organizing their ideas and developing their argument logically because rhetorical conventions differ from culture to culture. Developing your argument coherently by providing specific details and data is a very important aspect in US academic writing.

A coherence map is one of the most effective ways to check the connection of your ideas in your paper. The concept map is also known as “reverse outline” since you make an outline of your paper after you have finished the main ideas of your paper. Write down the main idea of each paragraph—which is called a topic sentence—on a blank piece of paper. Check to see if the topic sentences are connected to the thesis statement of your paper or if you have strayed from your main argument. As you repeat this process, it will help you become more aware of how to develop your argument coherently and how to organize your ideas effectively.

Here is a coherence map template you can use.

Meet with Your Instructor

Sometimes you may not know how to interpret your instructors’ comments. If you don’t understand your instructor’s comment, ask the instructor! Fully understanding feedback is essential in your revision process. Although it may not be the case with every class you take, you will learn that students here are strongly encouraged to revise their early drafts based on the feedback they have received from their instructor. And don’t get discouraged if you see that your teacher has written numerous comments and suggestions for revision. Visit your instructor during his/her office hours and let the instructor know the specific aspects of the assignment about which you need further guidance or explanation. The individual meeting with your instructor is a great opportunity for you to learn the specific steps you should take in revising the paper as well as to better understand the goals of the particular assignment.  

Keep Logs

As you get feedback from various people (e.g. instructors, classmates, Writing and Communication Center peer tutors, librarians, etc), it is very important for you to reflect on their feedback when you revise your paper. Do not just correct simple errors, such as awkward sentence construction or word choices, and put away your paper. Many international students may feel quite embarrassed about grammatical mistakes in their writing and want to clean up all the errors that their instructors or Writing and Communication Center peer tutors pointed out. Although it is understandable that you do not want to show the grammatical mistakes to other people, you may make the same mistakes over and over again if you just put away your paper after inserting other people’s feedback.

It is, therefore, critical to develop a systematic way of incorporating the comments and feedback from other people into your revision process. Keeping a log of your frequent mistakes or weaknesses can help draw your attention to the areas where you need to improve. Often, students do not even realize that they make the same mistake over and over. If you are not aware of the problem, you won’t be able to fix it. Keeping a feedback log and an error log can help you become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a thinker, reader, and writer.

Here are an error log template and a feedback log template. 

Visit the Writing & Communication Center

You should definitely utilize the Writing & Communication Center during your revision process. You can discuss any aspects of your writing which include understanding the assignment, researching a topic, constructing a thesis statement, synthesizing and integrating readings, developing and supporting ideas, organizing and clarifying ideas, grammar, vocabulary choice, mechanics, etc. The tutors who are trained to work with students on all types of writing assignments will guide you to recognize the aspects of your writing to which you should pay closer attention during your revision process and learn from your revision process. However, the tutors will not simply proofread your paper for grammatical or typing mistakes. Instead, they will teach you how to proofread and edit your paper. (See the section “Writing and Communication Center” for further information).

Peer Review

By seeing how other students think and write about the same topic, you will learn to look at your own writing from a different perspective. By critiquing your peer’s work, you will learn various aspects of academic writing—both content and writing issues—and you will be able to strengthen your own arguments and edit your own work more effectively. So, utilize the opportunity to get comments on your early drafts from your classmates. Make sure that you mark your peer review dates on your calendar and prepare a draft of your paper by the due dates! (See the section “Peer Review” for further information).

Created by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

For More Information on this Handbook

 Contact Young-Kyung Min, PhD
Lecturer, Education Program