Instructional Materials for Craig White's Literature Courses


Rewriting
&
Revision:

Principles & Practices

Rewriting or revision is an advanced but essential practice for successful academic writing or any serious writing for a public audience.

  • "Advanced" because revision is a later stage in the writing process, after pre-writing and drafting, and because only serious writers do much of it. (Casual writers want only to get the writing done so they can forget it.)

  • "Essential" because academic and public writing is held to a higher standard than personal writing: in order not to waste other people's time, you have to put in extra time before and after writing.

Rewriting is largely reserved to the 10-20% of the population who are serious readers and writers. Serious writers know that nothing is ever really good enough, but nearly everything can get better with reps.

(A very small percentage of people get everything right the first time, but the behavior of geniuses doesn't apply to the rest of us, and even geniuses are notoriously dissatisfied.)

Writing Process (from syllabus)

from Obj. 2a. Learn and adapt writing process to your own personal practices:

Production: prewriting, note-taking, drafting, re-drafting till you get it right.

Revision: Use sound and sense to make writing better; repeat.

Final prep: editing: touch up, clean up, make it look and sound good. ďIf it canít be said, it canít be read.Ē Use common sense over rules?

Techniques for rewriting and revision:

Work-rest-work.

Draft, then rest or work on something else, then look at your draft again. (This work-rest-work pattern works especially well if "rest" actually includes sleeping, which lets your subconscious or unconscious work out some problems you can't work out consciously.)

 

Expand and condense

Expand: Draft freely. Write ideas down so you can see how your words look on paper. Get the juices flowing.

Condense: Keep the words and phrases that work, and cut the words and phrases that waste time and space.

 

Look back and forth from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, end to beginning.

Keep asking yourself questions about what's working or what's not. Try to see your writing as another reader would see it.

Look for . . .

  • good material that can be picked up, reinforced, and extended later in your paper.

  • a line of thought that disappeared. (Either keep it alive or kill it off completely?)

  • late examples that can be connected to early examples, or vice versa.

  • anything memorable that's likely to stick in your reader's mind. If the reader remembers it, so should you. Treat as capital you've invested that should be developed.

Use handouts on Unity / Continuity / Transition; Thesis-Topic Sentences-Supporting Sentences; Transitions.

 

Unify your material is the one rule that seems always true and productive. Doing so . . .

  • helps your reader keep reading, even with pleasure;

  • enhances content: putting one idea with another makes bigger ideas;

  • a key metaphysical principle of the human mind is unity and multiplicity, order and variety. When you connect ideas, you succeed in organization, content, and style.

 

Relocate your best writing up or to the front of your essay.

After drafting, read through what you've written and highlight the best parts. Usually those best parts appear near the end of yourMove your best or strongest material up or forward

The sooner you start your best or most central ideas, the farther they can go.

After you've learned how to write it, don't save it for the end.

 

 

"Purposeful revision" exercise: students turn in a revision with everything bolded that has been fixed, changed, or added.

take ownership of revisions.  To encourage actual extensions of thinking, I stipulate that the additions (the bolded passages that go beyond a couple of words) must total two pages, so that the added passages can come anywhere in the essay, as long as all the bolded material adds up to two pages.  Some of them, afraid of disrupting intact paragraphs, will just tack on the added material to the end, but others will open up those inside paragraphs and at least get some practice in extending thinking or elaborating on existing points. After all, for some students, the task of sprinkling in a few sentences here and there will seem less daunting than the idea of adding two brand-new pages. 

Word feature to find out their "Readability Statistics"

Personal habits:

My best rewriting is immediately after waking in the morning. If I've written something stupid or strained, it's exposed by the clear light of day and my mind being as fresh as it will be for another 24 hours.