Loyola University Chicago

Writing Center

4: Revising

Revision means to "see again," to move from discovering what you want to say (writer-based planning and drafting) to considering your readers' needs. One of the biggest pitfalls in writing is making connections in your own head that don't get down on paper, so the reader doesn't see what you see. That's why distance from your writing and feedback from others are essential if you are to communicate clearly to your audience.

After finishing your draft, set it aside, preferably for at least a day, and then reread it. Also ask others to read your draft and give you feedback. For both revising strategies, work first on global concerns, leaving surface concerns for later (see). Ask yourself and those reading your draft the following questions:

  • Who is my audience? Determine whether your audience is specific (perhaps other students in the class) or more general (perhaps any student at Loyola or readers of the Chicago Tribune). If you were writing about stem-cell research, you would write differently in a science class than in a composition class. If you were writing a literary analysis, you would write differently for readers in your literature class who have read the text than for a general audience unfamiliar with the text. What will your readers need to know?

  • What is my purpose? Be sure to know whether your primary purpose is to inform, explain, argue a point, summarize, synthesize, reflect or describe.

  • Is my paper unified? Whatever discipline you're writing for, your paper should revolve around a controlling idea. The parts should add up to a single whole. In many disciplines, the controlling idea is expressed in a THESIS statement that indicates the focus and a claim about the focus that the rest of your paper proves.

  • Are paragraphs unified? Each paragraph should develop a single idea that relates to your controlling idea. The idea should be expressed in a TOPIC sentence which functions for the paragraph the way the thesis functions for the paper.

  • Is my paper effectively structured? There should be a logical reason for one paragraph to follow another.

  • Is my paper coherent? Sentences within paragraphs should be connected with logical links to show relationships between ideas, between claims and the evidence meant to support them. Paragraphs should also link logically to each other with conceptual transitions between them. Ask yourself how ideas within paragraphs and between paragraphs relate to each other.

  • Is my paper well developed? Readers need examples, definitions, details and explanations to fully grasp your points. When you make a generalization, be sure to support it sufficiently. If some paragraphs seem much shorter than others, you probably need more support for what you are saying.


Unity, Structure and Coherence

Write a single sentence summary of each body paragraph to check the following:

  • If it's very difficult to write a single sentence summary, your paragraph is probably not unified and you'll need to revise it.
  • Check to see if the single sentence relates to your thesis; if not, you may need to alter either the thesis or the topic sentence (and subsequently the paragraph)
  • Check to see if paragraphs follow a logical sequence.
  • Check to see if paragraphs relate to each other conceptually; when you see a connection, work on a meaningful transition.



1. Just as the topic sentence introduces the paragraph, the last sentence should wrap ideas up. If your paragraph is about disobeying unjust laws and you discuss ideas of two or three authors, don't end the paragraph with a detail, quotation or reference to just one of the authors, but pull ideas together before moving on. Doing so will help with a transition to the new paragraph. For example, "Both Fromm and King argue persuasively that unjust laws and irrational authority must not be obeyed."

2. The topic sentence should link back to the previous paragraph and introduce the new idea. For example: "While there are good reasons for disobeying unjust laws, many argue that as citizens we are obligated to obey all laws."


Thesis Statements

1. Be sure your thesis is not too broad or vague as is the following: "Home schooling can have negative effects on children." A narrower, more concrete claim is "Children with a home-schooled education can develop poor social skills, may receive an unsatisfactory education, and may have problems obtaining a higher education." Not every thesis needs to lay out points to be covered, but doing so cues the reader for the discussion to follow.

2. Be sure your thesis makes some kind of claim rather than stating an easily verifiable fact as does the following: "Immigrants take a test to become citizens." The revised thesis makes a claim to prove: "The current citizenship test should be revised to more accurately assess immigrants' knowledge of American government as well a citizens' rights and responsibilities."

3. In disciplines such as the social sciences, it is conventional to directly declare what you are going to do in the paper. For example: "In this paper, I will compare and contrast x and y in order to show z." In the humanities, it is not conventional to say what you are going to do but rather to make your claim. For example: "Together, four variants of 'Cinderella' from a wide range of cultures show that humans across the globe fear abandonment."



1. Your introduction must prepare readers for what is to follow in the paper by clearly introducing your focus and claim. It should interest readers enough to continue reading.

2. While the first sentence should serve as a "hook" to engage readers, don't worry if it is less than amazing; just be sure that your first sentence cues the reader for what is to follow in the introduction.

3. While each discipline has its own conventions for introductions, a common convention is to begin with a general statement about the topic and move gradually to your focus and claim, becoming ever more specific as you move along. The movement of ideas in the introduction is especially important.

4. For example: For a paper on "Cinderella" variants, you could begin with a statement about folktales in general: "Stith Thompson claims that folktales are worthy of study because they reveal truths about human culture and about human nature."

You could then move to the particular folktale under discussion: "With over 700 variants, 'Cinderella' is a folktale that exists in nearly every culture in the world."

You could indicate your focus: "In all the versions, a kind hearted, hard working young woman rises from her debased condition, through the help of magic, to reclaim her lofty position through marriage to the most coveted man in the community."

You could then move to the versions you will discuss and the reason for discussing them: "Walt Disney based his film on Charles Perrault's 'Cinderella' but also incorporated elements from the Grimm Brothers' 'Ashenputtle,' thereby creating a character that is not only kind but also takes the initiative to create her own magic in order to realize her dreams."

Finally, end your introduction with your claim, your thesis: "Disney's version reflects his view of women in the 1950's, with an emphasis on the traditional female role of nurturing, but he moves away from the traditional female characteristic of passivity."



1. Conclusions are very difficult for most writers. It is especially difficult to move from the last body paragraph to the conclusion.

2. Don't begin with "in conclusion." Your reader knows this paragraph is the conclusion. Work on a better transition by looking carefully at the last body paragraph and trying to see how it could lead to wrapping up the whole paper.

3. Conclusions need to wrap up your paper by summarizing ideas in condensed form. Doing so is just an okay conclusion. A better conclusion adds to the wrap up by moving the reader into the wider world without beginning a whole new paper. Think of your conclusion as an inversion of the introduction. Very good conclusions connect with the introduction to create a frame for the paper.

4. The last sentence of the conclusion for a paper based on the above introduction could link up to the opening sentence about folktales: "While Disney's Cinderella reflects his perception of women's role in 1950's American culture, it also reflects the desire of humans everywhere to see goodness rewarded."


Source Material

1. Check to see that all material from sources is documented whether you are summarizing, paraphrasing or quoting ideas from a source. Be sure to know the documentation format your professor wants you to use: MLA or APA parenthetical citations, Chicago style footnote or endnote.

Sample MLA citation: "Erich Fromm argues that we are obliged to obey rational authority but not to obey irrational authority (359)." Because the author is mentioned in the sentence, there's no need for the name in the citation.

2. When including exact language from a source, you need to document the source AND put the exact language into quotation marks.

3. Quotations should not stand alone as sentences; they must be attached to your own prose in some way. Unattached quotations are sometimes called freestanding or dropped quotations. The citations below are MLA style. The following dropped quotation can be corrected in a variety of ways:

Fromm explains the psychology of obedience. "Man must want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey" (360).

Correction 1: Colon replaces period:

Fromm explains the psychology of obedience: "Man must want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey" (360).

Correction 2: Sentence is reworded:

Explaining the psychology of obedience, Fromm claims that "Man must want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey" (360).

Correction 3: You don't need to use the full sentence when you quote a source:

Fromm claims that the majority of people are conditioned to "want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey" (360).

4. Make sure the citations in the paper match your works cited or bibliography list. Consult your handbook for proper documentation format.

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