The revision process: Global concerns
There’s no sense in focusing on a sentence if the whole paragraph needs to be revised; there’s no sense in focusing on a paragraph if the whole section needs to be reworked or cut. For these reasons, global concerns should be your first order of duty in editing, and you should work from general to specific, leaving the fine-grained details for later. In looking at global concerns, concentrate on purpose and organization.
Double-check your assignment sheet, your essay outline, and any critical feedback you’ve been given to make sure you’ve addressed each point of instruction. In other words, confirm that the essay completes every task it needs to complete. This confirmation sounds easy, but it requires much care, so don’t rush it.
There are a few organizational priorities that you should address.
First, check for logical organization. Consider the ordering of paragraphs and sections, and think about what type of information you give in them. Look for anything that seems off in the general ordering of the essay, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Are you defining terms after you’ve used them rather than before, or do you use a theory before you characterize it?
- Do you give background information too late for it to be useful?
- Would one of your argumentative points be better placed earlier in the paper?
- What sort organizational pattern have you tried to follow? Do your paragraphs and sections actually follow this pattern?
Reorganize as necessary, and try to get this step right before moving on to anything else.
Second, check that the logic is clear and that each paragraph presents a unique point, clearly related to what has come before it. In other words, make sure not only that paragraphs are logically ordered, but also that the logic will be obvious to your reader. One of the best ways to verify clear logic is to ensure that good topic sentences are used at or near the beginning of each paragraph. Once you’ve ensured that each paragraph has a good topic sentence, you can quickly read over each topic sentence to get an idea of the organization of your paper.
Some writers use what’s called a “topic sentence breakdown,” in which they cut and paste into a new document each topic sentence, one after another, in the order that they appear in the paper. If you do this, it will allow you to see the ordering of the sections and paragraphs of your paper in a glance, giving you a sense of your entire paper all at once. You can also play with the ordering of these topic sentences to check for alternative, better organizations.
Here are some things to think about when you’re ensuring that your logic is obvious:
- Is each paragraph explicitly connected to the paragraph or section before?
- Is each paragraph’s purpose clear in relation to the paper’s overall goal(s)?
- Are any paragraphs redundant, establishing nothing useful beyond what another paragraph has already established? If you find a redundant paragraph, can it be salvaged, its unique contribution clarified and integrated, or should it be cut?
Third, now that you’re sure each is clear and unique, check paragraphs against the introduction and the thesis statement. The body of your paper should reflect everything in the thesis and nothing unnecessary to the thesis.
- Are all major sections, claims, or supporting points accounted for in general terms in the introduction? They should be.
- Does the thesis promise to argue anything more than you have covered? If not, you may have to add a paragraph or section to the essay.
- Do paragraphs and sections cover any topic matter not necessary to establishing the thesis? If so, this extra topic matter should be cut from the essay.
Finally, use your intuition. If a paragraph or section feels out of place to you, even if you can’t decide why, it probably is. Think about it for a while and try to get a second opinion. Work out the organizational issues as well as you can before moving on to more specific writing issues.