Both drafting and revising are creative, but they differ in emphasis. Drafting is more spontaneous and active; revision, more thoughtful and critical. As a writer of a draft you must keep going and not get hung up on small problems. As a reviser you change hats, becoming a demanding reader who expects perfection. When you write you see your words from inside; you know what you want to say and easily overlook lapses of clarity puzzling to readers. When you revise you put yourself in the reader's place. Of course you cannot get completely outside your own mind, but you can think about what readers know and do not know, what they believe and consider important. You can ask yourself if what is clear to you will be equally clear to them.
To revise effectively, force yourself to read slowly. Some people hold a straightedge so they read only one line at a time, one word at a time if possible. Others read their work aloud. This is more effective (though you cannot do it on all occasions). Reading aloud not only slows you down, it distances you from the words, contributing to that objectivity which successful revision requires. Moreover, it brings another sense to bear: you hear your prose as well as see it. Ears are often more trustworthy than eyes. They detect an awkwardness in sentence structure or a jarring repetition the eyes pass over. Even if you're not exactly sure what's wrong, you hear that something is, and you can tinker with the sentences until they sound better. It also helps to get someone else to listen to or to read your work and respond.
Keep a pencil in hand as you revise (some like a different color). Mark your paper freely. Strike out imprecise words, inserting more exact terms above them (here is the advantage of skipping lines). If you think of another idea or of a way of expanding a point already used, write a marginal note, phrasing it precisely enough so that when you come back to it in an hour or a day it will make sense. If a passage isn't clear, write "clarity?" in the margin. If there seems a gap between paragraphs or between sentences within a paragraph, draw an arrow from one to the other with a question mark. Above all, be ruthless in striking out what is not necessary. A large part of revision is chipping away unnecessary words.
As we study diction, sentences, and paragraph structure, you will become aware of what to look for when you revise, but we shall mention a few basics here. Most fundamental is clarity. If you suspect a sentence may puzzle a reader, out why and revise it. Almost as important is emphasis.
Strengthen important points by expressing them in short or unusual sentences. Learn to position modifiers so that tHey interrupt a sentence and throw greater weight on important ideas. Look for unsupported generalizations. Even when it is clear, a generalization gains value from illustrative detail.
Sharpen your diction. Avoid awkward repetitions of the same word. Replace vague abstract terms with precise ones having richer, more provocative connotations. Watch for failures of tone: don't offend readers and don't strike poses.
Be alert for errors in grammar and usage and in spelling and typing. Make sure your punctuation is adequate and conventional, but no more frequent than clarity or emphasis requires. Guard against mannerisms of style. All of us have them: beginning too many sentences with "and" or "but"; interrupting the subject and verb; writing long, complicated sentences. None of these is wrong, but any word or sentence pattern becomes a mannerism when it is overworked. One "however" in a paragraph may work well; two attract a reader's notice; three will make him or her squirm.
As an example of revision let's look again at the opening of our imaginary essay.
Dull opening. Perhaps: "Dee and Jack are an attractive couple____" 1 have some friends in their late twenties.
Not important enough for a Theylivein Chicago, where he is starting main clause out as a lawyer and she as an accountant.
Both are presently junior members of large firms, but they are and hope committed to their careers, eager to move ahead eventually either to track upward in their
companies or to get out on their own. They
Poor emphasis and wordy New paragraph live together; they say they are in love,
The point is that marriage is not a likely prospect.
New sentence for emphasis
"Repelling" is too strong.
Wordy and awkward
Rework these rhetorical questions; they seem heavy-handed and jar the informal tone.
and they seem to be. But they are surprisingly cool about it and about the possibility prospect of marriage. "Well," Dee says, "I
have my career and Jack has his. It's good we're together, but who knows where Or we'll be in two years ef how we'll feel?" 11 find
unsettling rable and yet a bit repelling. I admire their good sense. Still, I think to myself, should young love be so cool, so rational, so pragmatic? Is such good sense at so youthful an age purchased at too great a price?
1 Dee and Jack
My friends are not, I believe, unusual, not certainly among young, college-
Low-key ed educated professionals. The lack of emotionalism seems the dominant tone of their song of emotional intensity and commitment—
about leve at least the dominant tone of their How is it different from the attitudes 1 grew up with, the attitudes of the sixties? And why is it different? These are the questions want to consider.
Here now is the revision:
Dee and Jack are an attractive couple in their late bright, well-educated, ambitious. He is starting out as a lawyer, she as an junior members of large firms, they are commit ted to their careers and eager to move ahead.
They live together. They say they are in love, and they seem to be. But they are cool about it, and about the possibility of marriage. "Well," Dee says, "I have my career and Jack has his. It's good that we're together, but who knows where we'll be in two years? Or how we'll feel?"
find their coolness admirable, and yet a bit unsettling. Should young love, think to myself, be quite so cool, so rational, so pragmatic? Is good sense at so youthful an age purchased at too high a price?
Dee and Jack aren't unusual, not among college-educated young professionals. Low-keyed emotionalism seems the dominant tone of the contemporary song of love. It's all very different from the attitudes shared in the sixties. It occurred to me to wonder why.
1 don't think there is any single, simple reason.. . .
Probably you wouldn't write such extensive marginal notes to yourself, but those in the example suggest how you should be thinking. The revisions are toward precision, emphasis, and economy.
How many drafts and revisions you go through depends on your energy, ambition, and time. Most people who publish feel they stopped one draft too soon. Many teachers and editors are willing to accept corrections so long as they are not so numerous or messy that they interfere with reading. Some, on the other hand, do want clean is, pages with no corrections, additions, or deletions.
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