Revision & Drafting Strategies Organization, structure, and fine-tuning your words

Organization & Structure

In terms of each individual paragraphs, Portland State Writing Center puts it nicely: "The easiest way to make sure your paragraph has a clear, single focus is to include a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph that states the main idea. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph should develop, support, or elaborate upon the main idea stated in the topic sentence. This might involve: discussing examples, details, facts, or statistics; using quotes and paraphrased material from sources; examining and evaluating causes and effects; defining or describing terms." Simply put, each paragraph should incorporate the following:

  • A claim
  • Evidence
  • Interpretation and application of evidence to your topic
  • Transition to further exploration of this area or the next idea/concept/analysis needed to fully explore your thesis.

First and foremost, each paragraph you include in your paper should tackle one specific thing. As you build you paper, you will stack well-constructed paragraphs on top of each other to form a logical piece of writing that makes sense and expresses your ideas clearly.

  • First, introduce the topic and convince a reader to read on by answering the most important question you can answer for a reader: so what?
  • Then, your next paragraph should provide a road map of what is to come. This will help a reader feel anchored and build trust as you deliver what you promise. (Highly skilled, published writers can sometimes evade this step, but for most college papers it will be important to include this information.)
  • Then, before you launch into the main body of your paper, you will also want to spend some time defining key concepts and terms a reader needs to understand to follow your paper, reasoning, and claims. If you are writing a paper about James Baldwin and racism, you may want to include historical perspective that helps situate your author's text in a timeline that will make sense to all readers, even if they aren't history majors. If you are writing a paper on a particular theory, such as media framing, you will want to provide the definitions for the key concepts will be discussing in this paper. In communications studies, media framing is one of the most studied topics and key scholars have developed often conflicting definitions of what they are looking at. If you don't share the definition you are using with a citation, a reader won't understand your analysis.
  • Your body paragraphs are the meat of your paper. Here is where you get down to what you really have to say or explore.
  • After you have presented the main points of your paper, you may need to address obvious counterarguments or problems with the topic. For example, if you are writing are analyzing an important research study that examined race, you will need to include any flaws you may have found in the research thus far. Often research studies rely on college students as participants and this can influence the results in specific ways. You should state this in your paper clearly and make suggestions for future research that could address that flaw. Or if you are writing about a topic for which there vocal and outspoken opponents, this is where you would describe their criticisms and answer them to the best of your ability.
  • Finally, your conclusion should provide a concise summary of the paper with a thorough analysis. This is where you get to insert your view, because this is where you are interpreting all you've found and put together so far. It may be worth including a call to action, depending on your topic.

Remember, while you may be covering a wide range of concepts, everything you write and include in your paper should serve your larger purpose by supporting your thesis. If you are including something that doesn't support your thesis, you've been distracted and the information needs to be cut or clarified. Once your paper is complete, you should be able to summarize each paragraph in one sentence that describes the paragraph's purpose like introduces topic, provides evidence, addresses problem our counter argument, suggests future action, etc. If you can't provide this summary, then you may need to cut that section.

Examples In Popular Press and Scholarly Texts

Revision Strategies for Polishing Your Writing

Revision is not just proofreading; rather, revision involves looking at you paper on two separate, but equally important levels: globally and locally.

Global Revision

What on Earth does that mean? Global revision is, simply put, focused on the big picture. This is where you look at the structure of your paper and the evidence you incorporate. Have you given credit for all of the ideas that you borrowed from the scholars who have dedicated their lives to studying this thing you are trying to understand? Do your ideas make sense in the order in which you've presented them? Do you explain key concepts and theories used to make your claim? University of Arizona provides students with this handy checklist, which I think is pretty simple and easy to understand:

  • Is each sentence complete?
  • Have I fulfilled the needs of the assignment?
  • Who is my audience?
  • Am I writing in a style appropriate for that audience?
  • Do I convey the purpose and context of my paper in the introduction?
  • Have I included a highly specific thesis? Why have I organized my paper the way I have?
  • Is there any logic to it? How could I make the organization more progressive or sequential?
  • If not, how have I organized my argument for maximum effectiveness?
  • Do I use topic sentences that show clear transitions from one paragraph to the next?
  • Do my paragraphs stay focused on the one idea I present in my topic sentence?
  • Does the closing sentence of each paragraph emphasize the purpose of the paragraph and/or tie back clearly to the overall argument of the paper?
  • Is my argument consistent?
  • Do any of my paragraphs introduce a concept or argument I did not prepare my readers for?
  • Do all of the paragraphs “hang together” (cohere)?
  • How do I support my arguments?
  • Do the examples I give in the paragraphs illustrate the point I want to make?
  • Have I used quotations for good reasons, or am I just filling up the paper?
  • Do I explain thoroughly what each quotation illustrates?
  • Is most of my paper analysis of the examples I present, or have I quoted too much?
  • Is my tone/voice consistent?
  • Do I seem light-hearted in one place and deadly serious in another? Do I stay consistently in one tense (past or present) and point of view (third person)?
  • Is my conclusion strong?
  • Does it answer the question, “so what” by giving broader implications of the argument?

If you have answered yes to these questions, then it is time to move on to local revision, which deals with the technical aspects of the paper: grammar, sentence structure, and citations.

Local Revision

  • Is each sentence complete?
  • Have I used proper punctuation and capitalized proper names, titles, etc.? (Are there comma splices?)
  • Have I formatted the paper correctly -- including citations and a works cited page? (See next section on MLA for links and samples.)
  • For those of you who have already mastered some of the mechanics of writing, the next level would be to address the following: eliminating to be verbs (is, am, are, were, be, was) and cutting excessive adjectives and adverbs. I'll expand on this below...

What's wrong with to be verbs?

We write for reasons too numerous to list -- argumentation, persuasion, education, inspiration, organization and so on. Therefore, the words we choose matter. To be verbs are problematic because they tend to make the writing weak and flabby; they lack specificity and they often lead to false conclusions. Here are a few examples:

  • To be verbs lack specificity. Stating "modern day protest movements are weak" reveals little. The statement is missing descriptive elements that inform and make my case. "Modern day protest movements struggle to maintain the attention of the American public because [insert copious amounts of brilliantly formed conclusions with examples...]" -- this statement tells a reader much more and does so in an engaging manner.
  • To be verbs imply a state of permanence that is rarely the case. Saying "I am hungry" implies a consistent state of being that is rarely the case in American society (although, sadly...). But, "Skipping lunch caused my stomach to grumble through my last class that day" - this offers a reader a ton of information. Make every word do as much work as possible in your sentences.
  • To be verbs are vague. Northwest Academy is a great school. Ok, so what? Who cares? But: With small classes, gifted students, and committed teachers, Northwest Academy excels in preparing students for college. On it's own, the statement warrants further explanation, but the second statement, if followed with concrete examples and evidence like quotes from teachers or students, does much more work than the first statement.
  • To be verbs can come across as being absolute with little room for debate. Jazz is sophisticated and intellectual. This statement is rather presumptive and can lead a reader to false conclusions about either jazz or the author of the statement. How about adding greater specificity in to the statement and using more active verbs that support the statement: Charlie Parker's brilliant and innovative improvisational solos challenge the ear and mind.
  • For more, Here's a helpful video.

Additional Resources & Tip

  • Crafting a Balanced Text: Highlight the facts/quotes/definitions with one color and your ideas/analysis/commentary/interpretations/claims with another highlighter color. Which color won out? Is there a balance between your input/analysis and those of your sources? If not, which paragraphs/sections, if any, will require cutting, revising, condensing?
  • Reverse Outline

Happy Writing! - Jenny

Created By
Jenny Woodman
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