OK, So I Wrote a Draft. What’s Next?

Many times, getting a first draft on the page is the hardest part. But it’s also only the first step of writing a successful essay. The key to a great final product is revision: the process of rethinking and reworking the paper, including the thesis, organization, evidence, and prose style. Here are some tips about how to start revising.

1.)   Leave enough time. Turning in a hastily revised paper (or worse, a rough draft) is never a good idea. Budget ample time for revision.  Try to schedule it so that you can set your first draft aside for a day or two: that way, you start the revision process by looking at your essay with fresh eyes.

2.)   Check the assignment. Students sometimes lose points because they don’t write the kind of paper the professor is looking for, or they don’t follow the directions. Read the paper prompt carefully, and ask for clarification if you are unsure.

3.)   Start with the big picture. Distinguish between “global” and “local” issues: global issues relate to the whole paper (thesis, organization, evidence and analysis), while local issues are smaller scale (mechanics, style, citation). Start by addressing global issues.

4.)   Focus on the thesis. Most college essays require an argumentative thesis. For that kind of assignment, it is vital that your thesis is legitimately arguable—which means that someone who is familiar with your paper topic would potentially disagree with your perspective. For instance, if you are writing on college sports, arguing that “Hockey is a big part of the culture at Boston University” is weak—not many people would really dispute your point. However, asserting that “College athletes should be paid” would certainly cause some debate!

5.)   Get feedback. If you want to discuss how to revise your essay, or need help identifying which aspects need the most work, meeting with a Writing Fellow can help. That’s what the ERC’s Writing Assistance is for! Go to http://www.bu.edu/erc/writingassistance/schedule-writing-assistance/ to schedule an appointment.

To read more about revision, consult:




Claire Kervin is a Senior Writing Fellow at the ERC.

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