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Then Again




Revising a Manuscript



I. Change your attitude.

One of the most difficult parts of revising a manuscript, but one which is absolutely essential, is changing your attitude towards your manuscript. You must develop emotional distance. While you may be aware of some problems, you have put a lot of hard work, emotional energy and time into your rough draft. There are also parts about which you probably feel some pride. But revisions require that you detach yourself from your work and realize that everything about it is subject to change.

One way of achieving this emotional distance is to set your paper aside. Don't look at it; don't even think about it. The process of reading other papers during the critique sessions should help to create some emotional distance.

II. Rethink the big picture.

In writing your rough draft you made a number of decisions about your paper: what the thesis was, how you would structure your argument, what evidence you would use, and so forth. In revising your manuscript, you should rethink all of those original decisions. In light of the rough draft and the comments you received from the critique group, did you make the right decisions?

    A. Make sure you're on the right track.

Does your paper have the right thesis? Does your paper in fact prove what it set out to prove? Do you in fact have the evidence you need to support your argument. If not, nothing else in the paper matters. Rework the thesis and argument until you have the right evidence to support a sound argument which proves a good thesis.

    B. Tear the paper apart.

Once you are sure of your thesis and argument, don't be afraid to make radical changes in the manuscript. Take a pair of scissors and physically chop up your rough draft. Throw out all of the pieces that aren't necessary. Move the pieces around until you've found a better arrangement. Don't worry about how the pieces connect; you can write transitions later. Leave blank sheets of paper to represent any holes that have to be filled in. If there were parts you left out of the original rough draft, be sure to leave room for them. (While using a word processor has many advantages, I've found that structural revisions are better if done using physical paper, marking pens and tape. There's a great emotional release once you start tearing your own work apart.)

    C. Put it back together.

Once you've decided on a new structure, turn your manuscript back into a coherent whole by writing any new sections, re-writing sections which need revisions and finally by making new transitions between sections.

III. Sweat the details.

Not only is the basic structure of the paper subject to revisions, so is every individual paragraph, sentence and word.

    1. Begin with each paragraph. Do each of them have a topic sentence? Does each paragraph contain but a single idea? Are there unnecessary, superfluous sentences?

    2. Look at the individual sentences. Are there long sentences which should be made into smaller ones? Are there short sentences which can be joined into longer, compound ones?

    3. Look at the individual words. Are there others which can better convey your ideas?

    4. As a check, read the paper aloud to yourself or to a friend. The ear is much better at detecting bad prose than the eye is.

    5. Look for grammar and spelling errors. There is absolutely no excuse for a misspelled word.

    6. Finally, add the documentation. Be sure both your endnotes and bibliography are in proper form.

IV. It Takes Time.

Consider writing a second draft. This is especially important if you made major revisions to your original rough draft. While the revised version may be an improvement over the first draft, a second draft may produce an even better product.

Rewriting a manuscript takes time: much longer than you think. Just as you can't write a good rough draft the night before, you can't do a good job of revising in an evening. Good writers are never satisfied with what they write. As is often said, "There are no good writers, just good re-writers."

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