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How Do You Revise Essays

Many students tell us that they don't know what to check for once they have finished their essay. They usually know to check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but other details are often seen as less important because of the high emphasis placed on these problems in their early education.

Writing experts generally agree, however, that while details such as grammar and punctuation are important, they are far less important than solid organization,  fresh writing, and creative content.

The following guidelines are designed to give students a  checklist to use, whether they are revising individually or as part of a peer review team.

Organization

  • Is there a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Does the introduction provide sufficient background for the reader? Are the "who," "where," "why," "what," and "how" questions addressed?
  • Is there a thesis sentence? Is the purpose of the essay clear?
  • Does the essay move from general to specific?
  • Are there sufficient transitions between related ideas?
  • Is the overall organization murky or clean? In other words, does the writer avoid introducing new material in the conclusion or switching subjects in the middle of a paragraph in the body?
  • Does every paragraph address the subject matter of the thesis in some way?

Content and Style

  • Does the essay show that the writer has a knowledge of the audience?
  • Is the length appropriate and adequate?
  • Has the writer used sufficient examples and detail to make his or her points clearly?
  • Has the assignment been addressed?
  • Is the tone of the essay appropriate?
  • Has the writer avoided insulting the reader?
  • Is the tone of the essay professional and appropriate?
  • Is the language convincing, clear, and concise?
  • Has the writer used fresh language and a creative approach?

Research and Sources

  • Are all sources credible?
  • Is the research accurate, unbiased, and complete?
  • Has the writer fully interpreted the findings?
  • Has the writer commented on each source used?
  • Is the analysis based on hard evidence?
  • Is the analysis free of faulty reasoning?
  • Is the documentation in the Works Cited page and body of the essay correct?
  • Have all quotations been checked against the original?
  • Are all quotations introduced? Is the flow of the essay seamless?
  • If material was paraphrased, are the sources still mentioned?
  • If necessary, are limitations clearly spelled out?
  • If included, are recommendations based on accurate interpretations?
  • Have all facts been checked for accuracy?
  • Have any potentially libelous statements been eliminated?

Proofreading

  • Has the writer checked grammar and punctuation?
  • Has the writer spell checked the essay?
  • Has the writer checked for his or her particular pattern of error?
  • Are the page numbers correct?
  • Is the title capitalized correctly?
  • Has the writer used the correct margin and font?

So I figured something out recently. I was looking back at a couple of my favorite student essays and I realized that the structure of a couple of those essays is ridiculously sound. Rock solid. And not only is it rock solid, it’s teachable. Take a look at this essay, for example:

As a kid I was always curious. I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.

And it didn’t stop in second grade.

A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white. Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.

In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones. Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard, or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.

And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars. Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.

My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.

I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.

I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.” A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.

You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?

Wrong. Well, kind of.

Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with thetooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.

The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference. In the future I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.

The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?

You might notice the first lines are all in bold. Why? Because if you just read those lines in bold the essay still makes sense. It’s like a mini-essay. Kind of awesome. 

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