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Once the simple math is in place, be creative. The point of structure is not to lock you in, but to assure clarity and proper communication so that you may feel free to be creative with your details, your voice, and your ideas. [Image: James Zwadlo | Unsplash]


Definition to Remember:

  • Revision = Content → Mechanics → Formatting

Rules to Remember:

  1. Revision is a three-step process:
    • Content – First read your work to gauge whether your content is as effective as it should be. Is your introduction clear and engaging? Is your thesis statement broad yet focused enough to be manageable? Do your body paragraphs each contain a clear topic sentence that falls neatly beneath your thesis? Is your evidence specific, applicable, and memorable? Is your conclusion persuasive and final-sounding? Are there places where your language could be more clear and cohesive? Is your purpose focused, your audience clear, and your voice intentional?
    • Mechanics – Once you are confident that your content is sound, read your work for mechanics, watching for errors in word choice, punctuation, structure, etc. If you see a content error as you are reading, pause in your step two of the revision process and take yourself back to step one until you are content that your work is done. Be wary of muddling these three varying steps, as writers who muddle them typically never complete them adequately.
    • Formatting – For this final step, select a formatting style that is required by your instructor or appropriate to your purpose, audience, and context. As you edit for proper formatting, watch for consistency, and be sure to look up any citation requirements that you are unsure about. If you are following an academic formatting style like APA, Turabian, or MLA, the requirements are precise.
  2. While you might revise your work in this order – Content → Mechanics → Formatting – keep in mind that your readers will likely judge you in the opposite order: Formatting → Mechanics → Content. How can you ensure that your formatting and mechanics are nearly error-free, ensuring that your readers will get to your content and still have confidence in your authority as a writer?
  3. Once the simple math is in place, be creative. The purpose of the revision process is twofold: One purpose is to afford you time to ensure that you are aligned with the simple math of effective writing: at the sentence level, at the paragraph level, and at the essay level. The second purpose, once you are assured that the simple math is in place, is to allow you to be creative. The point of structure is not to lock you in, but to assure clarity and proper communication so that you may feel free to be creative with your details, your voice, and your ideas.
  4. If you are writing an academic essay or an article for publication, don’t forget the important of a good title. For many readers, the title is the first thing they see, which means they will sometimes decide whether or not to continue reading based on the title. Be sure yours is creative, enticing, and accurate.
    Consider the following examples. Would you keep reading? Why or why not?

    • A Tough Lesson to Learn
    • Essay 3: The Visit
    • Discipline Issues: Absenteeism
    • The Man Who Turned into a Stick
    • A Small Incident
    • The Happy Man
    • The Lemon Trees
    • The First Long-Range Artillery Shell in Leningrad
    • Berry Picking
    • The Summer My Grandmother Was Supposed to Die
      “I have always been longwinded in my writing but learned the trick of stepping away before submitting something final. When I am finished typing an email, I move onto something new before returning for one last proofread. I often find words or phrases that can be removed to create a more clear and concise message.” Meghan Gifford, Undergraduate Admissions Counselor

Common Errors:

  • Skipping revision. Many writers neglect to save time for this critical step in the writing process. Always, always allow proper time to read through and critique your own work in the three-step process outlined above. Accomplished writers will tell you that the most challenging part of writing comes in the revision; if you are simply writing a rough draft and calling it good, you are hardly writing at all.
  • Limiting the creativity. While the simple math structure is the best way to ensure clarity and consistency in your work, it is not the ending point. Remember that the information age has virtually erased our need for informative pieces: Why would we need an explanatory essay when most of us can ask a smart watch or an in-home portable speaker? Therefore, your ability to add your own unique voice and perspective to the conversation is far more important than ever before. How will you ensure that your voice is authentically you and uniquely memorable?
  • Forgetting the title. Whether you are writing an essay, an email, or a blog, titles are increasingly more important. How can you ensure that your readers find your title intriguing enough to want to read your ideas? What kinds of titles are both engaging and revealing, mysterious and accurate?


Exercise 20.1

Select a writing task that you have completed recently, whether for school, work, or home. Walk it through the three-step revision process outlined above, and take notes on how your paper fares with each of the three steps. What changes do you need to make, and why? How does it help to separate the revision process into three individual steps?

  1. Content
  2. Mechanics
  3. Formatting

Exercise 20.2

Consider five writing tasks that you have completed recently, whether for school, work, or home. How does your creativity show in each of these writing tasks? How might a reader know that each was written by you rather than another person of similar age, background, and intentions? What do you bring to your writing that is unique and memorable?






Exercise 20.3

Track down at least 10 writing tasks that you have completed recently that required some kind of title – whether an essay or an email or something similar. List the titles that you chose on the lines below. Consider each title with the same critical eye as you considered the list of titles above. If you were reading your own ideas and spotted the title at hand, would you read on? Why or why not?












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The Simple Math of Writing Well Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Jennie A. Harrop is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.