You’ve just gotten your paper back from your professor and there are a few comments written in the margins. Staring at the red pen, you become overwhelmed; revisions are due in two days and you have no idea where to start. Naturally, you make a trip to the writing center where a writing coach is prepared to help you tackle revisions with ease.
One of the most important things to remember when revising is that high-order concerns come before low order concerns. In other words, some aspects need to be revised before others, because those aspects have a larger impact on the overall success of the paper. A writing coach can help you through this process using the “Ladder of Abstraction”.
At the top of the ladder, content is the first aspect to revise. The piece of writing should have a thesis, or main idea, that is strongly supported with relevant detail. If the paper has a vague or unclear thesis, or if the thesis doesn’t satisfy the assignment guidelines, the content isn’t strong. Another sign of weak content is a lack of strong supporting details. If a thesis has nothing to back it up, there isn’t any meaningful content.
The next aspect is organization. If a piece is not properly organized, it becomes difficult to follow. Have you ever tried to read a book that uses a lot of “flashbacks” and “flash-forwards”? If the writer isn’t careful, it just becomes confusing. A properly organized paper should have a clear progression that is easy to follow and understand.
Once the organization is revised, it’s time to look at paragraphs. Most papers require an introduction and a conclusion paragraph. These paragraphs should be strong because they introduce the audience to the thesis and give the piece a natural ending. Likewise, each paragraph should begin with a proper topic sentence to introduce the reader to its content and end with a smooth transition into the next paragraph.
Next on the list are sentences; it is vital that the sentences be complete and coherent. The writer should be sure to avoid run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and comma splices. Another important aspect of sentences is variety. If every sentence starts and is built the same way, the reader may quickly lose interest. Clear and accurate sentences help to create a strong and coherent piece of writing.
If the sentences meet the proper criteria, the writer and coach may then begin to work on diction. The writer should put thought into their word choice and be sure that the same words aren’t being repeated too often. The choice of words should also reflect the relationship between the writer, the material, and the audience.
Finally, at the bottom of the ladder, are the mechanics of the paper. The mechanics include aspects such as proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and citations. It is a common mistake to begin the revision process with this step, but as we have seen, it doesn’t make sense to start here.
Peer writing coaches are always happy to help you through the revision process. The “Ladder of Abstraction” is also here to help. The organized approach will aid in creating an easier, less stressful experience.