Posts Tagged ‘Revising’

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It’s a Deep Subject

posted: 3.13.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Your intrepid co-bloggers have, for about the past year, and especially the past couple months, been consumed with revising Writing about Writing for its second edition. This past week we finished its new material, and the 2e is much closer to our ideal book.

I thought I’d talk here about why that would be—what’s the difference between an ideal and what can actually be written? Why don’t the two simply correspond? Why don’t we “get it right the first time”? Or at least the second time? Several reasons:

1. We’re trying to hit a moving target. Every time we teach a WAW class, we learn more about how to do it well. Every new teacher using a WAW approach brings new considerations and ideas. We happen on approaches, readings, or ideas that make us happier. (For example, we’re learning now about threshold concepts, which the second edition is built to account for.)

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Categories: Douglas Downs
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Revising Inside a Classroom Management System

posted: 8.23.11 by Steve Bernhardt

It’s typical for writing teachers to use peer review to help students learn to revise. And as I pointed out in a recent Bits post, we can’t assume that even practicing scientists in companies that rely on documentation are able to offer effective review commentary. Doing so is a refined and complex art.

One reason I like classroom management software is that it provides an environment for structuring and facilitating peer review of draft papers. I now use Sakai, an open-source program, to which we migrated following not-so-good experiences with WebCT (now Blackboard). Neither application is designed for working with classes of writers, and each is clumsy in its own way. But both make it possible to exchange drafts, collect commentary, and create the conditions for learning.

The Forum tool in Sakai, a bulletin board for threaded discussions, offers a pretty good setup for peer review. The instructor can create a topic thread for a given assignment, and students can post their drafts for peer review, along with a message describing the state of the draft and identifying places that need help, under that thread. Posting to the forum makes review a public activity—everyone can see who has posted when. Students can tell whose draft is advanced and whose is sketchy. They can get a sense for how other writers are handling the assignment. They will likely feel a bit of pressure from putting their draft out in front of classmates, where saving face is more critical than in any interaction with an instructor. [read more]

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Categories: Peer Review, Teaching with Technology
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"Would you mind reading this and telling me what you think?"

posted: 8.2.11 by Steve Bernhardt

With my coauthor and consulting partner Greg Cuppan, I am now on the third round of revision on a research article to be published (pending revisions) in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. We’ve had two rounds of review from two anonymous reviewers, plus some feedback from editor David Russell. What’s remarkable is the deep, probing nature of the reviewers’ comments. They are testing our arguments, asking for additional evidence, and challenging our conclusions. They are asking for more context, offering open-ended questions and comments that encourage us to think about what we have written and see our way to substantial revisions. They are often focused on outcomes: what difference will this research make? What behaviors will it change? How can the findings be applied? Many of their queries were made with explicit connections to the audience of JBTC—what the audience would expect, understand, challenge, or need to know.

The review process has been especially interesting for me given the subject of our research.  We investigated document review practices inside pharmaceutical companies as research reports are taken through successive drafts, which are circulated to development teams for peer review. What we found was that the overwhelming preponderance of comments, both on circulated drafts and in long, face-to-face roundtable review sessions, focused on tiny bits—little corrections, word substitutions, rephrasings. Another, less frequent class of comments focused on correctness—were the conditions correctly stated, were the populations correctly described, were the data sets accurate in all details? But what was missing almost totally were comments that challenged the arguments, that tested the conclusions, that asked for more context, or that probed the weaknesses of the links between data and claims. Our drug company reviewers rarely asked about how reports would fare with the intended readers—those regulatory officers who would need to issue approvals for the proposed new drugs. [read more]

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Categories: Peer Review
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Online Peer Review

posted: 2.23.11 by Nedra Reynolds

Like most writing instructors, I have tried peer review in almost every possible configuration, often within the same semester: same groups all semester, different groups every time, self-selected groups, teacher-assigned groups, writer reads aloud, writer shares copies cold, writer shares copies well before class time. I’ve tried partners, groups of three, groups of four; I’ve modeled best practices, played instructional videos, and assigned plenty of follow-up reflection and evaluation.  A couple of times, in desperation, I even resorted to the ubiquitous “checklist”—a form readers fill out for the writer.

Despite trying it every which way, I still heard from students who were disappointed by the feedback they received from readers, and I still saw drafts that remained unchanged from previous versions. I kept wondering if all of the class time devoted to peer review was paying off for writers—giving them the experience of multiple readers who felt confident enough to offer concrete suggestions or genuine reactions. I considered making it “count more” in the final grade, but doubted that I could evaluate the quality of peer review with consistency or fairness.

I realize that I’m telling a “technology-to-the-rescue” narrative, and I’m aware how problematic that might be, but I do want to share that I am finally feeling excited about peer review again!  By moving the peer review process outside of the classroom, to an online environment, students do not have the constraints of a 50-minute class meeting to respond thoughtfully to each other’s ideas.  While I still haven’t figured out how to facilitate online peer review on Sakai (and neither have my more tech-savvy colleagues), nearly every publisher in our field has a course management system with a peer review feature, including Bedford St. Martin’s CompClass, and often you can try those programs for one semester at little or no cost to your students. [read more]

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Peer Review
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Selling the Value of Revision

posted: 12.3.10 by archived

I have used many technologies to comment on student drafts—green or purple (never red!) pen on paper essays, the comment feature in MS Word, Google docs—but my primary goal is always to open students’ eyes to possibilities for revision. I want them to experience the perseverance of trying to say, clearly and vividly, what you mean to say; the joy of deliberating over words like colors from a paint box, or moving sections of an essay the way you would play with building blocks; the sense of comfort that writing is not finished until you declare it final. But how do I go about teaching this? Surely not by grabbing the pen out of a student’s hand to “fix” his or her writing? I tell my students that words should drip off their pens like sand, that writers don’t work in concrete. But it’s a hard sell.

When I hear my students say, “I’m done. It’s finished. I said what I want to say,” I wonder about the sources of their intractability. Part of it is boredom, no doubt, with topics they don’t care about (maybe because they didn’t spend time enough at the invention stage, or because assignments boxed them in too tightly). For some, the demands of busy lives or old-fashioned laziness may be factors. But there’s also the sense, for many, that they only need concern themselves with “fixing errors,” that correct spelling and mechanics are the chief goal in writing. [read more]

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Proofreading/Editing, Revising
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Home Sweet Homes

posted: 11.22.10 by archived

In my last post, I contrasted course management systems (CMS) with blogs (or other more public, open-source alternatives) as possible electronic course “homes.” To make my own decision about which to utilize, I considered the different types of interactions that occur in the online setting:

  • Instructor to class as a whole (syllabus, assignments, “lecture-ish” material)
  • Back and forth between individual student and instructor (student turns in assignments; instructor responds)
  • Student-to-student interaction (peer review, collaboration)

For now, I’m using a mongrel sort of system:

  • Material addressed to the whole class goes on the CMS course space.
  • Student exercises are posted, for the most part, on CMS discussion boards (which can be set so that students cannot read the work of other students until they have posted themselves).
  • Rough drafts, my response to rough drafts, and peer review are posted on students’ individual blogs.
  • Final drafts are deposited into CMS drop boxes as document files; I make comments using MS Word’s Track Changes function. I also encourage students to post final drafts on their blogs as a way to share with the classmate-readers the revisions they’ve made and to archive the stages of their essays.

The most essential issue seems to me to be how to manage responses to writing, both my response and peer review, at various stages of the writing process. [read more]

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Uncategorized
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Revision and Remix

posted: 10.22.10 by archived

When I began teaching with Ways of Reading, I had a hard time coming up with assignments that fit with my pedagogical interest in multimodal composition.  However, I discovered that composing audio and/or visual remixes is a useful way for students to put authors Bartholomae and Petrosky’s concept of revision into practice.  For those of you who are interested in finding ways to integrate technology into your composition courses, the remix is a compositional genre worth exploring.

“The Remix Project” was the final assignment in my seminar on composition, a course designed around the concept of revision as a “re-vision, or re-seeing” as Bartholomae and Petrosky write. Throughout the semester, we practiced revision as an act of transformation that alters the meaning of the original text.  By the end of the term, students had already radically revised (or remixed) several of their textual essays.

The remix project, then, gave them an opportunity to experiment with revision techniques through multiple modes of composition. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Revising
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Introduction to Sequencing

posted: 10.6.10 by Barclay Barrios

This post is part one of a continuing series on building a course around the textbook Emerging. This series will continue through December.

Sequencing is a key feature of our pedagogy here at Florida Atlantic University. By sequencing, we mean that the assignments of the semester build on each other, often by developing a common theme. Thus, while the first paper focuses only on the first reading, subsequent assignments work with multiple readings, continually returning to previous essays.

We believe that using a sequenced approach to writing assignments emphasizes process-centered strategies for writing, since students return not only to their drafts but to the ideas and texts on which those drafts are based, encouraging them to revise not simply words but positions, ideas, and thinking.  Sequencing also shows students how ideas reverberate across readings and disciplines, providing them with a more complete model of how knowledge is created and circulated both inside and outside the academy.

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Categories: Basic Writing, Emerging, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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Tracking Revision

posted: 4.3.08 by Barclay Barrios

As they work on revising a draft, ask your students to turn on the track changes function in Microsoft Word (or any other similar feature in other word processors).  Have them submit their revised drafts electronically so that you’ll be able to see the extent of the changes in the draft.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Drafting, Revising, Teaching with Technology
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