Revising: Seeing Your Work Again -->

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Revising: Seeing Your Work Again

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By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

Recently, the dissertation editors got together to discuss the different ways that we approach the early drafts of a student's writing. We were asked a couple of open-ended questions and learned that our responses and philosophies were similar. We shared at least two ideas: (a) we all took ownership of our core competency, that is, to develop a student's ability to demonstrate critical thinking skills in writing; and (b) we all have a personal dedication to the iterative nature of good writing and the need for a cycle of revision.

The idea of writing and rewriting and then rewriting again and then maybe one, two, three, or four more times before that one last and final revision, is not a new idea. Working over and over on a single piece of writing has existed in one form or another throughout history. Before the advent of the printing press, manuscripts were reproduced in medieval, monastic scriptoria. The task of a scribe was to reproduce word for word copies of important manuscripts. Fortunately, the task of the modern academic writer is not so tedious a job.

Keep in mind that revising is more than correcting spelling, adding serial commas, and double checking the format of a citation. That is called proofreading. A writer may do some proofreading during the revision process or decide to leave that task until the end.

Revising, which means “to see again,” is the chance to look at a manuscript in a new way, from a different perspective. It is a time for writers to ask themselves if the arguments are valid, if the evidence is adequate, and if their ideas are being communicated in an interesting way that is demonstrative of their critical thinking. Writing can be an opportunity for discovery. Ideally, writers will allow themselves the time to continue to think not only about the ideas of others, but also their own ideas, interpretations, and conclusions.

How then should you revise? Although there is no single answer to that question, here are a few suggestions:
• Before revising, let the manuscript, and your own mind, rest for a short period. Even a couple of days can change one's perspective.
• During that first read of a draft, avoid making revisions or corrections. In other words, read it as if it was already published. See what you think. Is there cohesion? How well does the narrative flow? Do you still agree with what you have written?
• Be honest with yourself. Take note of what is good and what could be improved. Use those passages where you are satisfied as a guide for revising those that you want to rework.

Writing a dissertation, a doctoral study, a project study, or even a course paper is not only an iterative process, it is also a collaborative process. Cooperate with faculty, committee members, colleagues, fellow students, and certainly with the Writing Center. Together we can be a part of that cycle of writing, revising, and then final submission.


For a multimedia presentation on revising, head here:

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