Revision Stage 1: Idea Structure, Purpose, Audience

Set your draft aside for a while (at least a day) so you can approach revision processes with a fresh mind. First, re-read your draft and consider the draft in the context of your purpose and audience. If the draft doesn’t “fit” your writing purpose or audience, you will need to do some major re-thinking and revision.

Then, still on the level of big ideas, consider your thesis and topic sentences to make sure they are thesis and topic sentences, and that they relate to one another. Ask and answer the following questions:

  • As a reader, can I clearly identify a thesis and topic sentences?
  • Do I actually have a thesis with a topic and an angle/argument/assertion about that topic?
  • Do all of my topic sentences and their units of support also have topics and angles, and do my topic sentences relate
light bulb with idea bubbles radiating from the center

One method that may help you answer these questions is to annotate your draft and do a reverse outline. Annotation involves noting the main ideas in each section of the essay. Number your paragraphs in the essay. Then make a numbered list and write the main idea of each paragraph, in the order in which the ideas actually occur in your draft, and analyze your list.

  • Are the ideas organized into categories or groups that make sense?
  • Is the order of ideas (topic sentences and units of support) logical, given the thesis?
  • Are there paragraphs that should be shifted to other locations, because they really relate to different topic sentences and units of support?
  • Is there an overall introduction-body-conclusion structure?
  • Does the introduction appropriately introduce the topic of the essa, interest a reader, and offer the main idea?
  • Does the conclusion re-state the main idea?

The following video explains how to do a reverse outline:

Rachael Cayley’s blog entry on Reverse Outlines, mentioned at the end of the video, is a useful resource for information on doing “big” revisions.

(Note: If you find low-contrast text difficult to read, you may view a text-only version of Rachael Cayley’s blog entry.)